MTV’s The Real World made an entire generation feel unselfconscious in front of the camera. First airing in 1992, The Real World still runs today and twenty-five years later, the characters are anything but bashful. These are the same young adults that allowed Facebook to grow into today’s cultural phenomenon and what would we be today without Facebook? The answer is that we’d still be in the nineties without blatant talk of hookups and hotties. Thanks to MTV’s pioneering of the first reality TV show to identify with the 12 – 34 year olds, Facebook is now our go-to place for real world confessions.
In crediting The Real World with this epic responsibility, us 12 – 34 year olds must admit that the real world is not such a distinct place anymore. Once a television show gets called the The Real World, we have to let the line slip between this world and MTV’s. Besides, isn’t the point that the characters are just like us? With the blurring of entertainment and personal life, the real world and hence real life could now be said to include a certain amount of performance. We are a generation who assumes we are being watched. Whether by homeland security or CCTV cameras, we allow Big Brother into our homes with our chic built-in iMac cameras. We not only assume someone is following us (besides on twitter) but we place ourselves in the line of vision.
Speaking of confessions, do we all remember The Real World “confessional booth”? Once a word designated only to confessing spiritual impurity, the confession can now be used to describe acts in our daily lives. The cast of The Real World uses this private time to reflect on their week, divulging their true feelings about roommates and social interactions. Previously this would be diary material but with The Real World, cast members talk directly into the camera and confess to us, the audience! Besides inferring a startling cultural acceptance of narcissism, what makes MTV think that over a million viewers are qualified to hear the cast’s most intimate secrets? We are not therapists or priests but their twenty-five years of airtime means we are at least interested. It also proves that we have good listening skills and that raises the standards of most real world relationships.
MTV started a social revolution where strangers are friends with strangers. Gone are our morning prayers and quiet solitude. Instead, we invest time in each other, listen to each other’s confessions and become priests of a social order. We confess and comment and like and share. Conversely, MTV proved that we are the best ready-mades airtime can buy.
Hannah Hoel works as a writer and art critic in Santa Fe, NM. She blends her background in fashion with art and cultural theory while keeping roots in the Santa Fe art scene. She received her BA in Visual Culture from Goldsmiths College, London, UK and an MA in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM in 2006.