a Throwback Thursday post
I don’t think there’s anyone completely happy with the way the world is today. Fighting, corruption, ignorance, and so on. Most people are desperate to go back to “how it used to be.” The problem is, there has always been problems in the past. And today’s problems started somewhere as well. I’ve been doing the research and trying to figure out where this all began. When did we as a society change paths? Embracing looks over substance. Relishing in sound bites. Raising people on a pedestal because they look good on TV. This process has taken awhile, but I have come to a shocking conclusion. I can trace the entire downfall of society over the last 20 years back to one man.
And that one man is…
… star of the first season of MTV’s The Real World, Eric Nies.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. How could one man on a reality show affect world events? It isn’t just his appearance on a reality show but the ripples out.
The Real World was the first modern day reality show. Loosely based on the PBS special An American Family, MTV put seven strangers into a loft in NYC. To find out what happens when people stop being polite and start being real.
The show changed over the years but the tricks and lessons for good television all started here. Get a diverse cast – black, white, man, woman, gay, city mouse, country mouse, all of it. Throw them together and see if they get along or fight. In the first season, some of the cast still lived in their New York apartments. They all had their own lives and friends. There was cross over but they weren’t forced to be with each other as later seasons.
Real daily life is boring. Add in people talking on the phone, watching TV, or just going about normal daily chores, and it’s not the most compelling TV. So situations need to be set up a little bit. A getaway, a trip, a thing that the channel pays for in order to get their return in valuable footage. The event may have been manufactured, but the reaction is real. But, there will never be a disclaimer on screen admitting this. Instead, starting with MTV and continuing through most/all reality shows – a false reality is created. It doesn’t matter if this is what actually happened in chronological order with zero outside influence or interference. What matters is that the viewer believes it to be real and wants to know what happens next.
They learned there are two sure fire ratings grabbers. Love and hate. Sex or fighting. Season one of The Real World didn’t have a lot of fighting but it did have an epic tease for a new relationship. Eric was an attractive model in the city. Julie was the cute but naive 19 year old from Alabama. The viewer sees the City for all that it is brand new through her eyes. Then those eyes drift to Eric: a little older, muscular, sweet with a little bit of danger. How could she not fall for him? While this never grew into a long term relationship between Julie and Eric it did create a relationship between Eric and the viewers of MTV.
When the season ended Eric Nies was hired by MTV to host The Grind. The Grind featured various people dancing to hit videos and Eric was the host. MTV wardrobe insisted his upper body was always shown and through an array of tops no one would wear in regular life he showed off his abs and pecs while introducing the next song. The show was such a hit it produced numerous workout videos and other merchandise. Is he a certified personal trainer? A classically trained dancer? A DJ? A club music expert? Nope, but he’s got a six pack! Lesson is, it doesn’t matter who you are, your level of education or experience, if you’re attractive people will pay to watch you.
So MTV makes note of this for later seasons of The Real World. Every viewer is sure to have an attractive favorite. Other cast members may not be your type but none of them are below or average. Maybe these attractive types will find connections. Opposites attract. While Eric and Julie never got together, another couple could bloom on later seasons and cause huge ratings as the love story grows.
Instead though, love did not bloom (or when it did, nearly as much) as another emotion caused by people of differing backgrounds forced to live together. The fights started and got more intense. Disagreements became screaming became throwing things. And the ratings jumped. No where was this more evident than in the third season when punk bike messenger Puck was dirty, disgusting, disrespectful, and the break out star of the series.
The villain element of reality TV was found. In order to love some people on the show, you need to hate someone. A lot of this is classic wrestling and comic book writing, brought into documentary TV for the first time. The problem was reality TV never reigned in the villains. They never got their comeuppance. The worst they were, the more they were celebrated. The villains became the stars of the shows. The more heinous – the more success. Where would American Idol be without Simon as the asshole?
Twenty years of this and society glorifies and copies what they’ve been shown to be successful. Trolling, swearing, attacking, disrespecting. All blasted across social media millions of times every day. Have the best one liner, say the worst thing, get noticed and maybe you’ll be a star too. Record a fight and your video goes viral. Record your intimate moments with another person and suddenly the whole world is Keeping Up with you. Spew hate every day and get rewarded with a fan base.
Maybe it’s our fault for encouraging all of this. C-SPAN’s weekend Book TV shows don’t get near the ratings of Real Housewives of (insert city here). I absolutely think if everyone read one chapter of a book for every half hour of reality TV they watched the world would be a better place. Even taking a half hour to dance with my shirt off instead of watching most of these shows would be more productive.