I have to admit, I’m a fan of MTV’s The Real World. I’m also a fan of Jersey Shore. This may come as a shock to some of you, especially if you’re one of my students who sees me as a guardian of quality storytelling and a steward of meaningful literature. But we all have to have our trashy entertainment, right? For me, these two “reality” television shows satisfy that base urge. The Real World is back in D.C., this time for casting, which may appeal to those local 20-somethings who have nothing at all to lose.
This weekend, MTV will be holding a casting call for the 26th season of their longest running show. The casting session will be on Saturday, April 2, 2011 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Town Tavern in Adams Morgan. You have to be at least 18 years old and “appear to be between the ages of 18 and 24.”
Today is April Fool’s Day and I’m resisting the urge to prank all of you by saying tomorrow I will be standing in line with my photo ID in hand, hoping to catch the eyes of the show’s producers. I don’t like to brag but with my youthful looks I might have a shot. (Looking as young as I do in the teaching profession can be both a blessing and a curse, which might also be true of being cast on The Real World.) To be honest, though, I’m really not at all interested in putting so much on the line.
As I get older, busier, and more focused, I find that shows like The Real World and Jersey Shore are for 18-24 year-olds who have absolutely nothing to lose. The cast members may be fresh out of college and may have dating histories but they usually do not have more than that. When we see cut-aways of the characters talking on the phone they’re usually talking to some unseen person named “Trevor, the boyfriend” or “Kelly, the girlfriend,” who may add tension to the drama by asking if the cast member is cheating with any of the housemates. If I were on the show — and that’s a big IF — my cut-aways would be me on the phone with English department chair at the college where I teach, discussing my courses for the following academic year or calling into the journal I help run to make sure we’re staying on deadline. These are different kinds of dramas with so much more at risk than whether or not Trevor will wait for me when I get off the show.
If I were cast, I’d be the gay cast member, but there’s no drama there, either, as my sexuality has become so much of who I am that it is comfortably situated within my character. Much of the drama on the show is “finding out” which housemate is gay, and honey, my light shines bright, so there goes that storyline. There are other “controversies” — the atheist, the small town boy in the big city, the ultra liberal facing off with the extreme conservative — which after awhile get kind of boring. They may be new controversies to the 18-24 year-olds, but after some time in the real work world, one learns how to co-exist and cooperate with all kinds of people with various backgrounds everyday.
Perhaps that’s part of the fun of the show: watching young people marvel at the fact that not everyone is like them. I teach 18-year-olds and I get to see similar revelations in the classroom on a daily basis. My students manage their awakenings with efforts to reach common ground not with violent outbursts or drunken tantrums that lead to tearful monologues in the confessional. Perhaps part of the fun then is also in watching how unreal and over-the-top the young cast members’ reactions tend to be and being grateful that I am long past (and have never been in) that stage. I am more grounded in my identity, and serve as a witness to young people who negotiate their way through the true real world with grace. Like I said, I prefer my role in this real world, but if you have nothing to lose, go to the casting tomorrow.