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The Young & the Reckless

Redeeming moments on ‘Real World: Las Vegas’ are far and few between.

by Mark D. Johnson
February 21, 2003

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The Young & the Reckless_Mark D. Johnson-Redeeming moments on ‘Real World: Las Vegas’ are far and few between. Unscripted. Unreal. Unfortunate. The twelfth season of MTV’s "Real World" series can be summed up with these three adjectives. Though "Real World," the progenitor of all reality shows, remains a viable franchise, strong in concept and execution, much depends on the personality and behavior of its cast. While Season Eleven’s Chicago cast was lackluster, the current group of housemates has taken the show to new lows of foolishness with excessive displays of drunkenness and sexual promiscuity to the wild backdrop of "Sin City."

I’ve long been concerned with "Real World's" impact on its young, impressionable audience, but past seasons have served up some redeeming points along with the bad messages. There are outrageous scenes in every season – it’s an expected trademark – but the Las Vegas cast has been uniquely consistent in its poor moral conduct, and the amount of personal growth has been surprisingly minimal compared to years past.

The most refreshing aspect of the show is its documentary nature, in contrast to the competition or dating premises that dominate the genre: seven strangers in their late teens or early twenties from a variety of backgrounds living and working together while having their lives taped. A simple, interesting format. "Real World" has given those of us over thirty a glimpse of today’s reckless youth, a chance for us to see how things are different (or similar) to what we experienced at that age. Parents of teenagers see the madness played out in person, but the rest of us need our MTV to see it.

Needless to say, the participants are people who want to be on a hip TV show, become "famous," and the motives behind their words and actions are often suspect. Yet there are facets of their real personas that they cannot disguise – actual attitudes, emotions, and under-developed world-views are exposed one way or another over the course of the five or six months they live together. They make obvious mistakes without recognizing them as such until it’s too late, and usually, gratifyingly, they grow a tiny bit wiser before our very eyes. Witness Julie (New Orleans) struggle to understand her place in a secular world as a life-long Mormon. Or Mike ("Back to New York") overcoming racist perspectives to forge a warm relationship with arch-enemy Coral. Sadly, for many viewers, who think being young is all about doing what you want, the more crazy the cast gets, the more they’re entertained. They’re missing an important point: young people are prone to do real stupid things that mess up their real lives. Of course, the Vegas cast may yet see the error of their ways – the season is not quite over yet – and some members have more to learn than others.

For those who aren’t plugged in, here’s what Steven, Trishelle, Brynn, Alton, Irulan, Arissa, and Frank have been up to during their stay at a major Las Vegas casino: Steve "hooked up" with Trishelle (i.e., they had unprotected sex with each other for several weeks, leading to a pregnancy scare); out of jealousy, Brynn threw a fork at Steven, causing Steven to demand she be thrown off the show (she wasn’t); Alton is a ladies man who has the hots for Irulan, who is in an open relationship with her boyfriend back home... Oh, I just don’t have the energy to go through it all! Arissa and Frank have shown the most integrity so far.

The cast isn’t entirely to blame for the decadence — the producers are just as culpable. They gave the cast a job in the casino’s popular night club, where the kids spent a great deal of their time getting drunk. (Of all the "Real World" jobs over the years, this is unquestionably the weakest. Their responsibilities are light-weight (dancing, handing out flyers, doing surveys) compared to running a TV show (New Orleans), running a radio show (Seattle), or helping kids at a day care center (Boston)). Their boss at the casino was clearly sexually harassing some of the girls and has since been fired as a result, but not until the footage aired. The producers clearly try not to interfere with the course of events when it comes to relationships, but where do they draw the line when it comes to protecting their cast? They were fully aware that Steven and Trishelle were having unprotected sex, but did not step in to prevent a potential pregnancy. They had strong evidence that Trishelle has an eating disorder, but leave it to the roommates to dance around the issue at the risk of the girl’s health. They want to keep it all "real," you see. But what if there's a date rape, for example. Would they step in before it occurs? The producers (older and wiser?) have a responsibility to the basic health and welfare of their cast, even if it means breaking the "rules" by interfering to prevent a catastrophic reality. Someday, some producer of some reality show will learn the hard way, just like the "Real World" kids.

To be fair, we do see the Vegas cast coping with the fallout of their poor choices. A smart viewer can see the direct cause and effect. The unprotected sex episode, for example, clearly points to serious consequences. Irulan's open relationship has directly led to turmoil. But other instances of drunkenness and promiscuity leaves the judgment solely to the viewers, and when the audience is young there may not be enough to get the message across. There is practically no voice of reason on the show. Previous casts have generally included someone with a superior moral sense to take their wayward roommates to task. Not this time. While this season may go down as the most wild to date, it should also be considered the least successful.

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