Last night, for the first time in forever, I tuned in to MTV to watch The Real World. For the 21st season, they are heading to my hometown of Brooklyn, New York, and I couldn’t resist the urge to watch a bunch of spoiled attention seekers embarrass themselves in the place of my birth. I had nothing to do in the hour before the show started, so I let MTV babble away in the background while I puttered around the apartment. Wow, does MTV have some bizarre programming!
First up was a commercial for A Double Shot At Love, in which two vacuous blondes chirp “HI, WE’RE LOOKING FOR LOVE!” as the voiceover explains that this is a dating show about a pair of lonely bisexual twins. Ohhhhh-kay.
Then there was the highlight of the night, an episode of Bromance, another “dating show” in which former model and “reality TV personality” Brody Jenner searches for the perfect man.
Though this show claims not to be a dating show, that is essentially what it is, following all the same formulas as shows like “The Batchelor” and “The Batchelorette,” with a healthy dose of sexism and plenty of assurances of heterosexuality thrown in for good measure.
Throughout the episode, the contestants bicker with each other over who loves Brody more, debase themselves in embarrassing contests aimed at getting Brody’s attention, and go on dates with Brody, sitting in flickering candlelit, professing their truest devotion. They cry constantly, gossip behind each other’s backs, and get into catty fights.
This would be fine, if a bit awkward to watch, if the contestants didn’t feel the need to repeatedly insist that they were absolutely positively straight (FOR REAL!) and insult each other’s behavior for being feminine (The direct quote from the show would be “Female-ish,” a word inadvertently coined by one of the more dopey contestants as a deeply offensive diss) or gay (In one of my favorite exchanges from the show, one contestant moonily asks another if he ever imagined Brody standing in the dark, looking up at the same moon, to which the other replied disgustedly “Dude, keep it in your pants”).
This kind of behavior spilled over into “The Real World,” in which several male housemates insisted loudly and repetitively that they themselves WERE NOT GAY (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!), all the while obsessing over the hot bodies and sexual habits of the other male cast members, wondering aloud which one of them was this season’s inevitable gay participant.
As the New York Times pointed out in their review of the show, “The Real World” is almost a victim of its own success. Having premiered at a time when placing a gay man on TV was guaranteed to cause controversy, the show successfully brought about a generation of kids who fully expect each season to include at least one queer.
Desperate to hold on to their edge, MTV has, in addition to their dating show starring bisexual Hooters waitresses and their incredibly homoerotic (BUT NOT REALLY GAY, WE SWEAR!) buddy contest, included a transsexual woman to their cast of “The Real World.” While visibility is always nice, I wish MTV would try a little harder to not temper their network’s queer content with homophobia and sexism.
Hey MTV, why don’t you try making a bisexual dating show that doesn’t look like one of Hugh Hefner’s wet dreams? Or how about just calling your buddy show what it is and getting rid of all those women in bikinis that are always standing around in the background? I assure you, no one is paying attention them. Why not learn the same lessons that 20 years of Real World fans have absorbed, and start treating women and queers with respect?