Reality TV Comes to Santa Barbara

“This is the true story of seven strangers who agree to live
together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when
people stop being polite and start getting real.”

And so, with that clever little tag phrase that hasn’t changed
in 17 seasons, reality TV began, way back in 1992, tapping into the
voyeuristic tendencies of the populace at large via the
exhibitionist tendencies of a chosen few — and launching a new
genre of television and several “careers” with it. The granddaddy
of reality television, MTV’s The Real World, came to town last
Saturday to cast for next season, and the peeps lined up, waiting
for hours in the chilly rain, hoping to stake a claim on their 15
minutes. Would one of these hopefuls become season 18’s
Country-Bumpkin-Turned-Sexual-Adventuress, or
(So I’ve seen the show once or twice. What can I say? I like to
watch.) Only time will tell.

I arrived at Java Jones, where the auditions were being held,
and made my way upstairs, where MTV’s two casting directors, Megan
Sleeper and Evan Majors, sat, waiting to be wowed by … what,
exactly? “We look for people who aren’t afraid to speak their
mind,” said Majors, “who are willing to defend their point of view,
even if everyone else disagrees with them.” Makes sense: The Real
World’s casting directors are tasked with populating a reliably
explosive powder keg, and if it takes the likes of the foul and
foul-mouthed Puck to do it, so much the better. You have a problem
with me sticking my finger up my nose and then into your jar of
peanut butter? Well, screw you! Now, that’s quality

I watched as the 18- to 24-year-old Real World would-bes were
summoned in groups of 10 to the casting couch, and asked to say
their name, age, hometown, and “one misconception people have about
you.” Answers like “people think I’m stuck-up,” “innocent,” or “a
bitch” were a-dime-a-dozen; while doozies like “people think I’m a
guy,” or “people think just because I’m gay I want to go shopping
with women,” caught the directors’ attention. During one round,
when asked, “What’s the biggest issue facing your generation?” a
girl who reported that she’s often misperceived as “dumb” said she
thinks there’s a lot of bad stuff going on, but nobody cares enough
to do anything about it. “So, you think your generation is
apathetic?” asked Majors. The question was met with giggles and
blank stares; I watched in a combination of disbelief, amusement,
and horror as the girl seated closest to me mouthed to the girl
next to her, “what’s apathetic?”

After that, I wandered outside. The rain had stopped, and I had
to know, why would anyone choose to go on this show, to willingly
surrender every possible shred of privacy? (I snagged a blank
application form, and, after reading the two pages of legal
boilerplate, I can assure you that participants do indeed surrender
every shred.) I’m a writer and sometimes-photographer, an observer
both by temperament and by trade, so I was dying to understand what
motivates these young things who would be observed. In addition to
the peanut-butter-caliber debacles, viewers have watched Real
Worlders break down emotionally, experiment sexually, and blow
chunks blind-drunkenly. What could possibly justify signing on for
this level of cable-broadcast humiliation? “I’m graduating soon and
don’t know what to do,” said some, or, “I can’t pay the rent.” But
most common was “I want to live in a phat [that’s P-H-phat] house
with hot roommates!” How could I argue with logic like that? More
power to them. As for me, I’ll just be watching.

As ever, look for more Peeps at Got cool news,
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