I signed up for Paramount+ a few weeks ago in order to watch Manchester City play in the Champions League, but I’ve decided to keep my subscription to check out their exclusive content. There’s a hodgepodge of random channels and shows that are cool, even though the last season of “Ex on the Beach” is missing, but what I’ve enjoyed watching the most is “The Real World Homecoming.”
The show is about the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a loft and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. In all seriousness, what makes this show special is that it brings the same seven people that were on the debut season of the show 29 years ago and puts them back into the same exact loft. It’s eerie how the conversations and issues that were important in 1992 are still prevalent in 2021, such as race relations and homophobia, but it’s equally as important that they’re willing to have such tough conversations.
The show splices clips from the original season and the current season, and it’s impressive to see how they’ve all grown and matured while also staying the same. All of the cast members are involved in the arts in one way or another, and while being cast for the original they believed they were filming a documentary about up and coming artists. Because it was implied that it was a documentary, and because reality television didn’t exist yet, they let the camera crews into their lives and are truly vulnerable for the viewers at home. It wasn’t until after filming was over when they were invited to attend the MTV Video Music Awards that they realized they had become celebrities and pop culture icons. It’s for these reasons that I think the 1992 season is the only reality television show to ever exist.
Every reality television show to come after that original season of “The Real World” is tainted by the knowledge that people can use reality television to achieve 15 minutes of fame. People are willing to portray characters and change who they are in order to be cast, as opposed to being their authentic selves. Every dating show has people on it that are there just to be on camera rather than find love, every contest or gameshow has people that try way too hard to go viral, and even lower-tier celebrities are willing to enter this fantasy world of reality television hoping to rekindle a fanbase. Between the casting agents, producers and the cast people themselves, everyone’s in agreement to play generic stereotypical roles in order to springboard their acting, modeling or music careers.
There’s a scene in the latest season of “The Real World Homecoming” where Heather laments the fact that the show’s producers didn’t air any of her interactions with her now late father during her original appearance on the show. To Heather, she was being true to herself the entire time she was filming, and part of her life is the reality of a Black woman being on good terms with her father. There was no precedent for that on reality television at the time, so the producers chose to omit that footage because it didn’t fit neatly into a more well-accepted stereotypical box. Rather than highlight a beautiful touching moment between the two, the show’s producers simply found other tropes to highlight, and found people more willing to lean into those tropes.
And unfortunately, there’s no shortage of people willing to be anything other than real.
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