MTV’s The Real World will celebrate its milestone 30th season by subjecting its cast to even more emotional torture than is usually involved in appearing on The Real World. That’s because its new twist is about surprising the cast with their “shattered lives, broken relationships, estranged family members, and dark secrets,” all for entertainment that will be called, and this is the actual title, The Real World: Skeletons.
Considering that last season involved bringing most of the cast’s exes to live with them, one could argue that this cast should also expect something from their past. Also, I know this show is no longer made for me, since I’m 37 and basically a skeleton compared to MTV’s demographic of 12- to 24-year-olds. But just look at what will happen this season, and try to justify this ethically:
“A cyber bully is confronted by her enemies; brothers who haven’t spoken in three years are suddenly face to face; a roommate is visited by her boss from hell; a secret baby mama is revealed with the birth only weeks away; a player has three of his hookups suddenly living in the house at the same time; a son is surprised by the father he’s never met; a roommate must revisit with the people she’s hurt after years of a drug addiction.”
These things range from potentially innocuous things that sound like the producers were reaching (hookups, the boss) to possibly emotionally scarring and damaging (the son/father, secret pregnancy).
The worst part may be Jon Murray’s totally patronizing and condescending rationale, which is included in a press release: “No one wants their worst enemy or embarrassing past moving in with them, but by facing your past you actually grow, and that growth, however painful it may be, is what makes this season of The Real World so watchable.”
I have no doubt that he’s right–both about this being something “no one wants” and about the potential for growth. But as to the latter, I think that should be consensual and be guided by professionals, not just filmed by people making a TV show that was facing cancellation.
Reality TV producers are not therapists, and however cathartic the experience might end up being for some of them (if it went horribly wrong, we probably wouldn’t be reading an excited press release about it right now), it seems totally wrong to screw with someone’s life this way. The press release frames this as a surprise, not as a show that was cast with people saying, “I’d love to confront my worst enemy/past on national television,” but having people opt in to this kind of potentially scarring interaction is the only way I think this could be justifiable.
Also in the press release, MTV’s president, Susanne Daniels, said that “[f]inding new and fresh ways to keep shows exciting can be challenging. But Jon Murray and the producers for Real World have always risen to the challenge.”
Here’s a crazy thought/challenge, and I know it’ll never happen because it’s so crazy, but: What if you found seven strangers with actual lives and had them live together, filming the results to find out what happens when they stop being polite?
Never mind. Let’s just keep on this track of trying to create reality TV’s first on-screen murder, which would actually make the subtitle oddly appropriate.