Friday, May 30, 2008

The Reality of The Real World

Since its beginning in 1992, The Real World is one of the longest running reality television shows. Each season of the show involves an array of characters from different backgrounds- differing levels of education, varying ethnicities, and a variety of professions. As different as these people may be-physically and mentally-they are all similar in one way- they were cast together to fit into the “Real World formula”. Each cast mate plays a role that has been seen both through countless other seasons of the show, as well as in other reality shows. These roles have been “played” by many people, and these roles combine in a way that is volatile, dramatic, and entertaining. This way of casting works- it has been proven to produce the material for episodes that a great number of Americans will tune in to watch. These roles are dangerous though- giving an impression that there are only certain roles that one can conform to- after all, if it is the “real world”, then these should be real people, right?

The storylines in this episode (entitled I Need Lovin’) revolve around boy drama when it comes to the girls in the house, and tension/anger between the males of the house. The roles of the housemates and how they merge to create drama are very apparent in this episode, “There’s the Antagonizer, who declares she’s ‘not here to make friends’; the naïve Waif, who’s ‘searching for my Prince Charming’; the Slut who plots to ‘take our connection to the next level’ in the ‘fantasy suite’; and the wretched Weeper, who wonders when she’s dumped, ‘What’s so wrong with me that someone cannot love me?’”(Pozner, 98). In this particular episode, each of these roles is seen. The show uses these different characters, and their specific roles to create entertainment in a “real” way for their audience- “The conventions of these programs require individuals to work on themselves in the interest of the group- which can involve cooperating with others, becoming more tolerant, and adjusting behavior and expectations” (Ouellette &Hay, 8). When roles conflict and do not help the group- it creates entertainment, and reinforces ideas about interactions between different genders and races.

In the drama among the girls, Brianna, “the Slut”, who worked as a stripper in her hometown, brings home a man named JoJo (whom her two female roommates call “Hoho”) and has sex with him- while her roommates are still in the room. The other two girls with whom she shares the room with are very angry- especially Sarah, “the naïve Waif”, who is a young, educated, and religious Caucasian girl. Sarah is the girl with the “perfect” boyfriend waiting for her at home, the girl who follows all the house rules, doesn’t party too much, and attends church. She is appalled when her roommate has sex in front of her- and calls her parents in anger and disgust. While the third roommate (Kim) also feels disrespected- she does not react with the same intensity as Sarah. Sarah is shocked and appalled, but after thoroughly discussing the situation with her parents, and attending church, she and Brianna talk and are able to put it behind them.

This situation creates certain expectations about both Brianna and Sarah, based on their “roles” in the show, and how they should interact. Brianna is painted to be the slut, who does not care what others think of her, and Sarah is the naïve, and close minded character. When placed into a situation where the “slut” offends the “naïve one”, there are outcomes that are expected- angry yelling, fights, tears, disgust, and so on. Brianna’s role is created largely from her non-white ethnicity, and her previous career, which is very different from Sarah’s life, “One thing that makes these households provisional is their representation of gendered, class, racial, and geographic diversity –‘multiculturalism’”(Ouellette &Hay, 192). When this situation occurs, Sarah and Brianna react in the ways that show their different backgrounds- Sarah is in complete shock that Brianna would do such a thing.

The third girl in the house, Kim, plays the role of the “Weeper”, who gets herself involved with one of the male roommates- and finds she is developing more than casual feelings for him. Kim becomes extremely intoxicated in this episode and proceeds to become emotional and cry throughout the night when the male housemate she likes brings home another girl. This situation helps to feed ideas about emotionality in relation to femininity- it is the female who is emotional and attached, while the male is unconcerned- and pursuing other girls. Kim is shown crying to multiple people about Dave- while he is shown out with another girl, bringing her home with no regard to Kim’s devastation. The female is depicted as overly attached to a sexual partner- while the male is shown as desiring to have no rules to their relationship, as he wishes to be with more girls.

The “Anatagonizer” in this house would actually be a male, not a female in this case. Greg calls himself the “chosen one” and conflicts with the other male roommates in this episode when he fails to show up to work (again!) Greg says himself that he is in Hollywood to become a model- he is there to further his career, not to work a job that will not help him, nor to make friends. He conflicts with the housemates in other episodes- due to the fact that he puts himself above them. Like the situation that occurs with Kim- the conflict with the male housemates also perpetuates a normative about males. Males are shown to be more aggressive- a near fight occurs when Greg is “tapped in the face” by his housemate. While the female housemates get angry and confrontational- they are only shown screaming and yelling- it is only the males in the show that are shown (often) getting physically aggressive and confrontational.

Reality shows, like this one, can serve as a tool to form the audience’s perceptions about gender. After all, the people in reality television are supposed to “real”. When real people are shown in these roles, it helps to further perceptions about gender- what are the “right and wrong” ways for males and females to act, “these shows frame their narratives in ways that both reflect and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about women, men love, beauty, class and race” (Pozner, 97). In just one episode of this reality television show, it is clear to see that there are normative definitions of gender being shown- the aggressive males, catty females. As entertaining as this show is- these “real” people are cast to fill roles, and they help to develop ideas about the “normal” man, and so “normal” woman act.


Laurie, Ouellette, and Hay James. Better Living Through Reality TV. Malden: Blackwell, 2008.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Learning Gender: 96-100.