I was exactly a year old when MTV launched. A channel that was dedicated to playing music video for 24 hours a day. I have always had a strange love/hate relationship with MTV. Besides being a lover of music and sharing the same birthday, I grew up watching MTV and like many young people since its inception was influenced by some of it’s content.
I was four when I saw “Thriller” for the first time. I was glued for all 13 minutes watching in horror as my favorite artist turned into a werewolf. Needless to say, there were a lot of sleepless nights worrying that the poster hanging on my wall would also transform.
As I grew older, MTV exposed me to different kinds of music with shows like Yo! MTV Raps and Headbanger’s Ball. A lot of the music featured wouldn’t get airtime on radio stations in Iowa. The first two CD’s I purchased were Hootie and the Blowfish and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Weird, I know.
Once a year, my adolescent mornings were spent swimming in a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, eyes glued to MTV Spring Break watching artists perform live and college students dancing and partying in their swimwear.
In 1993, I found myself intrigued by “the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house.” It was the second season, The Real World: Los Angeles. I remember one of the male cast members was asked to leave the house after pulling the blankets off of a female roommate while they were horsing around. She didn’t feel safe if the cast member continued to stay in the house.
I had no idea what the world was about, but at the age of 13, I would have jumped at the chance to live in a mansion, in a great American city, meet a group of new people, and be on TV. Furthermore, I would be lying if I said it never crossed my mind to send in an audition video in my early 20’s.
The second year I watched, the cast of The Real World: San Francisco was elevated by the turmoil between the nose-picking bike messenger, Puck, and the rest of the house. It was also the season that detailed the story of Pedro Zamora’s battle with AIDS, something that I was completely unfamiliar with.
This show and others like it have found the fomula for success: Mix complex personalities of people from different races, creeds, cultures, lifestyles, and add a dash of romance, a pinch of disdain, and the drama multiplies exponentially.
The Real World will air it’s 30th season this year and has spawned shows like Road Rules, The Challenge, and Jersey Shore. Some cast members have even gained a certain level of celebrity.
I no longer watch the series but the show seems to be less about navigating relationships, bridging differences, learning from others and more about partying and over-the-top drama between roomates. Although, it’s fair to say the show never was all that real but even today it seem much more sensationalized.
But what is real, is the impact that this show and other reality TV shows have had on young people over the years. My hunch is, reality TV gave social media the selfie and the idea that people need and want to see what “I am” doing, or people are fascinated by what I am doing and I need to share it with them.
Maybe it’s the yearning for celebrity that drives people to be so forethcoming on social media? YouTube hosts videos of millions of talented people. Are they trying to share that talent with the world or are they hoping to be discovered and build their nation of Beliebers?
Social media and reality TV are a staple of media consumption in our society. We can’t change that. But, we have to do our best to understand our audiences, what they are interacting with, what interests them, what drives them, and how. No easy task. Complex actually. Like seven strangers…picked to live in a house.
I miss the old days of Music Television showing only music videos. But if I ever want to watch a music video, I am sure I can find it on YouTube.