I haven't watched The Real World since the sixteenth season set in Austin. Each season, I find myself getting excited for the premiere, and I turn in to watch the first one or two episodes. Usually, I then discover most of the cast members to be either dull or irritating, and find the unfolding events rather elementary. I know the ignorant Southerner will have an awakening one episode. Although I do enjoy the liberalization of anyone, it's not new or usually enjoyable to see the ignorance leading up to the meltdown.
I hoped that this season would be different. The producers caveat was that each cast member has some aspirations of a career in entertainment. Would this season hearken back to the good old days of San Francisco, when Judd was already a semi-successful cartoonist and Pam was in medical school? Hardly, but at least these young people are only partially focused on getting drunk. As many cynics will note, reality television has not historically been a pathway to an actual career in a respectable entertainment field. Consequently, I believe, the cast is made of rather delusional optimists (Kim, Will and Sarah) and those who are grasping at any opportunity because they have so few to begin with (Joey and Brianna). All of the cast members have chosen career connections over alcohol at least once already. Several are cognizant of the short time they have to live in Hollywood for free and make a move.
Over the course of the four episodes, we've discovered that Joey and Brianna, who both mentioned prior addiction problems with drugs and alcohol, are dealing with frighteningly recent addictions. Brianna tells Sarah she has been off cocaine for only a few months. Joey confesses that when he used to have a problem with alcohol and cocaine, he meant four months ago. He admits he replaced those addictions with an addiction to working out and taking supplements. These two, I would imagine, were in the throes of addiction during the casting process. It's a frighteningly real portrayal of addiction and recovery rarely seen outside of programs such as Intervention, whose main focus is dealing with addiction. We all know that addiction is consuming, but more often than not many people around the addict are unaware. Most addicts are functioning, at least initially.
Episode four ends with Joey leaving for rehab. The sad truth is that given his background, rehab would be unattainable if not for MTV. MTV is doing the right thing by getting him help and allowing him to return to the show. Honestly, does the network have a choice? The producers were completely aware of Joey's addiction when they cast him. His problem was so severe the roommates held an intervention during the fourth episode. Can this viewer simultaneously praise and chastise MTV? Absolutely. MTV and Joey exploited one another. The network gets drama and ratings, and Joey gets the help he needs and likely otherwise would not have received.
I'm still tuning in to see each new episode. There is something more honest at work this season; There are some genuinely interesting and seemingly good people in the cast. I would hang out with many members of this cast. I hope the cast continues to deal with issues of realness; it's been enjoyable thus far. Yes, there's still ignorance, but as we've learned during this presidential campaign, ignorance is still a reality for far too many people in this country. I learned my own ignorance once already, courtesy of Sarah, who majored in women's studies. I imagine we were relatively like-minded. When she uttered the phrase, "I've studied women like Brianna in school", I winced. It seems an interdisciplinary cultural education in gender, racial and economic identity is not the litmus test I naively imagined it to be.
The Real World is certainly not the catalyst for change it was in the first few seasons, but I believe it's the closest to true it's been for years.