Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by
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The Real World
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this landmark MTV series first aired in 1992 (making it one of the first reality shows) and has remained popular among teens and young adults over the years. Each season follows seven new roommates who bring a wide range of social, behavioral, physical, and sexual issues and experiences to the table, including (but not limited to) alcoholism, smoking, bar brawls, girls kissing for shock value, hot tubbing, drunken parties, lewd sex talk, one-night hook-ups, eating disorders, stereotypes, group showers, concerns about body image and self-worth, excessive drinking, homosexuality, and racism. The housemates' ages range from 18-24, so it's no surprise that the show's topics are really for a mature audience.
MTV's social experiment has grown stale over the years.
When The Real World began its run on MTV in 1992, the idea of putting 7-8 twentysomething strangers under one roof and watching them interact with one another was entertaining. Now in its 30th season, the reality television giant is no longer fun or inspirational. At one point, The Real World was known for casting your average, authentic person, and some of the stories they shared and their personal experiences were heartbreaking and many people could relate to their situation. The cast members used to get jobs while on the show and contribute to charity work. Nowadays, things have changed. The show casts attractive models and actors who are only looking to go on The Real World to have a good time, party, have sex, and apparently "find out who they are" in the middle of it all. The recent seasons have established "twists" which modify the original premise of the show. For example, Season 29 was named "Ex-Plosion": the housemates discover halfway through the season that their former lovers will move in with them and disturb their already formed relationships. The current season, Season 30, is called "Skeletons": the cast members get weekly visits from people from their pasts that they would rather forget about (such as former flames, ex-friends, bullies, horrible bosses, and estranged relatives). As one can expect, The Real World is jam-packed with drama, and pointless confrontations almost always ensue, with a healthy dose of "f*ck", "bitch," "whore," "d*ck," "bastard," "a**hole," and more. Some cast members get violent and are kicked off the show. For example, during the 2011 Las Vegas season, cast member Adam Michael Royer was kicked out of The Real World house for trashing the hotel room, throwing and knocking furniture, and getting close to hitting fellow female cast member Nany Gonzalez in a drunken rampage. In the 2013 Portland season, Nia Moore got physical with many of the cast members, including Jordan, Averey, and Johnny, culminating into a hair-pulling, fist-throwing brawl. In the end, Nia stayed in the house after a shocking house vote that was in favour of keeping her, even after the problems she caused.
In addition to fighting, sex is another large component of the show. One night stands, drunken hook-ups, threesomes, and infidelity are all common. The 2009 Cancun season, for instance, was filled with a surprising amount of sexual escapades. Most seasons have an LGBT cast member, and discussions about coming out and homosexuality cannot be avoided. The cast members discuss and engage in promiscuity. There is your typical kissing and flirting, as well as on-screen sex, and hot tub actions is practically a series staple, at times making viewing a little uncomfortable even for the most mature individuals. Drunken antics sometimes involve nudity (although sensitive parts are blurred out) and same-sex romance. The cast members visit sex shops and strip clubs. Discussion about sex toys, pregnancy, virginity, and references to masturbation are not unheard of. The cast goes out clubbing in the majority of episodes, and are seen drinking alcohol, dressing and dancing suggestively, smoking, and behaving sloppily. Some cast members have alcohol/drug addictions which are discussed in length and make for storylines. Finally, Subway restaurants are blatantly promoted, as are other locations that the cast members visit. Teens might find it amusing watching The Real World and laughing at the immature behaviour of its cast members, but other than that there is no substance to the show that was once a decent social experiment.
No matter which city is home to each new season of MTV's iconic reality series THE REAL WORLD -- be it San Francisco, New York, Austin, London, Seattle, Key West, or Denver -- the setup is always the same: Seven strangers are picked to live in a lavish house for six months and be filmed for viewers' enjoyment. Their close quarters always create the kind of drama that reality TV thrives on. Each season's cast is assigned to a specific job and works with a local organization, although considering how hard they party in the evenings, they often treat the responsibility of a job like a nuisance. In early seasons, jobs were community driven -- like helping build a playground for at-risk youths or serving as mentors -- but later seasons have featured the cast doing things like building, running, and marketing a MysticTan salon.
Is It Any Good?
In this very formulaic show, each housemate seems expected to conform to one of the following broad personality traits/backgrounds: naïve, small town/small minded, homosexual, bisexual, sexually confused, angry/bitter, drunken frat boy/sorority girl, loose, heavy drinker, or racist. In fact, so carefully are these boxes checked off every season that if you don't fit the bill, you probably won't make it to The Real World.
For the most part, conversations among the roommates are sexual in nature or center on their self-doubt. Occasionally, someone declares their sexual preference or their need to get some action. Housemates can often be found in the indoor Jacuzzi (a staple of every season) and drinking runs rampant. There are no televisions in the houses, but the Internet and phone are readily available. (Drunken phone calls back home to a loved one have become commonplace in the series.)
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the housemates. Which ones do you relate to? Why? What appeals to teens about the show and its stars? Is this something they might aspire to be part of? Why? What are the redeeming qualities (if any) of this fishbowl environment? Which issues in a particular season made a specific housemate stand out? Are there any positive role models here, or is everyone a stereotype? Do you think the housemates are chosen to fit a particular "type"? Why would producers want to do that? Why do you think they edit the show's content to emphasize sex, partying, and conflict?