Tragedy, Like, Totally Strikes The Real World
By Ian Simmons

Two weeks ago, I sat watching MTV’s The Real World, wondering when the much-anticipated September 11th Episode would air. I’d promised myself that, after having watched that show, never again would I tune in to the misadventures of "seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real." An avid viewer of the soap-umentary for more than a decade, I’d finally reached the point where the whining, posturing, interchangeable characters at last seemed too much to take. I don’t tolerate these kinds of vacuous mouth-breathers in real life, so why should I let them take over my television? But I was prepared to give the models—sorry, "average people"—one last chance. Surely a tragedy such as the one that struck America eight months ago would bring out the best in the cast; perhaps someone might for once display an honest emotion or two. On Tuesday night, I suffered through thirty minutes of the worst kind of pandering, patriotic drivel, a testament to the egocentric fat greed that led to the terrorist attacks in the first place.

The episode was disjointed even by Real World standards. Though it opened with a foreboding Jerry Bruckheimer-style montage of the Sears Tower and Lake Michigan and the words "September 10, 2001" at the top of the screen, the first five minutes of the show were devoted to a squabble over phone privileges between Tonya and Anyssa. Tonya’s boyfriend, Justin, had called all the way from a tanning booth in Walla Walla, Washington, to speak to her—for the third time that day—and how dare Anyssa interrupt their special moment for such trivialities as wanting to call home so that her mother could wish her a happy birthday? The argument was resolved by cutting to Kyle’s dilemma, also involving the telephone. Over a game of pool, he told Chris of his desire to talk to Nicole, the ex-girlfriend with whom he hadn’t spoken in a month because he’d developed a "thing" for roommate Kari (not to be confused with Kara, the other blonde Real World-er besides Tonya). A black-and-white flashback recalled the conversation for whatever brain-dead viewers might not have been able to predict that the following day’s events would surely result in Kyle’s calling his old flame ("So, what happens when I have some super, like, horrible experience and I’m really emotional and I, like, need to reach out to you"?).

Now, anyone who’s ever watched a suspense flick, or even a movie-of-the-week, knows how important pacing is to differentiating heart-moving disaster from predictable schlock. Even before the episode began, I’d constructed a vision of the morning of 9-11, as edited by The Real World. It involved eerily calm images of the sun coming up over the city, commuters just coming out onto the streets of Chicago, and an unsuspecting cast of housemates, who receive a frantic knock on their art nouveau elevator door from the show’s producer. Kyle, Theo, Kara/Kari and the rest would listen in stunned horror as Mary Ellis-Bunim places a small television on their designer coffee table, allowing them a day of watching the news, so that they may better understand how the world they sometimes live in has changed. Over all of this, some U2 pop anthem would tug violently at the audience’s heartstrings.

Instead, we are treated to a "sometime later" scene of the gang watching television as CBS replays footage of the attacks. It looked more like the roommates had showered, eaten breakfast, and put on makeup before sliding back into their "morning lazies" and cozying up on the couch. I’ve never seen anyone look that good first thing in the morning. Of course there are tears and much cupping of hands to mouths; Kara actually gets up and leaves the room to cry in the john. The rest of the episode involves the mournful seven trying to "cope" with the tragedy in the only way they know how: by spending money.

Yes, it seems that the world is an evil, terrible place where bad, foreign men plot day and night against the privileged, Anglican youth of the Tommy nation; but that’s okay as long as one spends money on flags, buttons, candles, tee-shirts, DVD copies of pro-nationalism telethons, and anything else that happens to feature the colors red, white and blue (but only in that order). The mood of everyone on the show lightened significantly once Kari and Anyssa showed up at the house bearing gifts. Kari said, excitedly, "We can get eight flags and a pin for ten bucks" after having forked over some money to a broken-English-speaking street vendor. Anyssa then proclaimed, while clutching the eight craft-store-variety trinkets, "Thank you, Lord! I am so happy!" Who knew that a nation’s grief could be overcome by bargain hunting?

By episode’s end, we’ve seen the housemates recite the Serenity Prayer (which had all the impact of a Christmas-and-Easter Catholic espousing the word of God while affixing an NRA bumper sticker to their Beemer), attend the National Day of Remembrance ceremony at Daley Plaza dressed in a look that can only be described as "casual prep," and sing the national anthem at a candlelight vigil. As Old Glory waived on the screen before fading to black, I wondered if I shouldn’t tune in next week to see how these deeply affected, patriotic Americans’ lives had changed.

Not surprisingly, tonight's episode sees Kyle and Kari arguing over their relationship and whether or not he’s just using her body or if there are real feelings there. There’s no mention of New York, the Pentagon, relief efforts or the government’s progress in hunting down terrorists worldwide. I saw no one rejecting consumerism, joining the Peace Corps or in any way attempting to make a difference in the world. In short, it looked like every other show on television today. God Ble$$ America.