Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Real Real World

One of my very guilty pleasures on television is MTV’s The Real World reality television show. The basic premise of the show is that it is the “true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start being real.” What it comes down to for me, especially in the earlier seasons of the show is that it’s an interesting look at how people get along and interact with each other.

I think another reason I really got into watching The Real World is because of its inclusion, right from the beginning of gay characters – just about every season has at least one gay person and as a young guy in the mid-90’s on the verge of coming out, a positive portrayal of a gay person on TV was pretty rare.

I also can’t say that I wasn’t affected by the San Francisco series, where Pedro died of AIDS. I know it colored the way I looked at AIDS and safe-sex. Plus Pedro’s courage in doing what he did helped to inspire me as I went to college.

So it was that I found The Real Real World in the bargain section at my local bookstore and I just couldn’t pass it up. The book provides a behind the scenes look at the first four seasons of the show: New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and London and includes information on the making of the Real World series, a behind the scenes look at filming and production on the show in London, and personal essays from the production crews from the various seasons.

What’s in the book… 

There are seven main chapters to The Real Real World, four of which are devoted to the first four seasons on the The Real World, two look at the production and making of The Real World and the last provides information on how to get onto a season of The Real World.

The first thing to realize though about this book is that much like the television show, the book seems like a random collection of thoughts, images and conversations edited into a somewhat coherent whole. There’s no over-arching narrative to the book, instead it’s a collection of photographs, facts, quotes and quick stories on the cast members. I know this is probably a turn-off for some readers, but if you’re familiar with The Real World, you probably won’t even bat an eyelash with the format.

For the four chapters that deal with the first four seasons of the show, each one goes into the same basic details for each season. It starts out with pictures of each cast mate and their basic facts (age, hometown, job, favorites, etc) and follows up with a synopsis of the season followed by a look at the city that hosted The Real World.

Following that, each cast member is profiled more in-depth with quotes from the other cast members along with their own thoughts about the Real World experience. That’s followed by a look at the ‘high-points’ of each series – you know, Kevin and Julie’s fight in New York, the blanket incident in Los Angeles, Pedro and Puck in San Francisco, the tongue-biting in London, Pedro’s death after the San Francisco season was wrapped. That is then followed up with some background information on the season.

Then it’s a “where are they now” for each cast member – but just remember that this was published in 1995, so the information is a bit out of date and for the London cast, the show had really just wrapped up, so there’s not much information for them.

The behind the scenes chapter looks at the The Real World from the eyes of the Executive Producers and the Director, along with several other members of the production staff in personal essays from each member of the crew. It’s interesting to hear The Real World story from the other side – we see the show and there are plenty of opportunities to hear from cast mates, but it’s rare that we see a show from the side of the people making it.

The production chapter (really just a section it’s so small) focuses on how The Real World, London was produced and put together. The book uses a photo-timeline with quick blurbs to explain the process of getting the show from the raw footage to what you see each week. It’s nothing earth shattering, but it’s cool to see and gives you idea the level of effort that’s needed for just a single episode.

Even though much of the remaining information on applying for The Real World is outdated, you’ll find everything from an application form with hints, tips and ideas to sample applications that have been received by the show. I wouldn’t suggest relying on this information if you’re interested in trying to be on the show, but it’s a good starting point and should give you an idea of what they’re looking if you are interested in becoming a cast member.

Finally the book closes out with information on the Pedro Zamora Fund, which was set up when Pedro from the San Francisco cast passed away after losing his battle with AIDS. He was an AIDS activist and since the show and his death, several of the cast members from that season worked to set up this fund and continue to work to raise AIDS awareness.

Why read this book? 

I can remember watching The Real World and being mesmerized by the show. I wasn’t that much younger (I was 15 when the show first started) than some of the cast and I guess in a way I was living vicariously through the show.

Then when it came to The Real World, San Francisco I was just taken by the entire Pedro storyline – from him being openly gay to his battle with AIDS. I was just becoming aware of my sexuality (well I knew I was gay, but I was scared to death to admit it to anyone) and seeing a show like The Real World lifted my spirits. If Pedro, his partner and his friends could be openly gay, so could I. That season even opened the door for me to talk to my mother about my sexuality – she too watched it and I think that in part, the portrayal of Pedro and his life (along with Norm from the NYC season) helped my Mom see that being gay wasn’t something bad, it was just part of me.

So when I saw this book, even years later – I knew I had to get it, if not just to relive some of what I enjoyed when I was younger. It was fun to flip through the memories and I liked the way it was set up – sort of as a collage of pictures, facts, quotes and stories, it really captures the feeling of the show.

For me, the first three seasons were and continue to be the best seasons of The Real World. The show was less polished, the cast members weren’t playing up their roles as much and especially in the San Francisco season, really important issues were explored in the show. This book gave me a chance to look back over those seasons, find a little more out about the cast members, take a look back at those ‘big events,’ and see a bit of the show from the other side of things.

Final Thoughts 

No one should buy this book expecting an in-depth exploration of MTV’s The Real World. What you get is a basic overview of the first four seasons, a closer look at each cast member and a look at what it takes to produce The Real World.

The book doesn’t offer much for readers who aren’t interested in the television show. If you fall into that group, I’d suggest that you pass this book by, unless you have an urge to see what the show itself is all about – the book will give you a good idea.

If you like The Real World and you’re looking for all you can about the first four seasons of the television show, then The Real Real World is worth reading.

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