Exploiting The "Real World"

After a holiday lull, in which the Cable Channel Formerly Known as Music Television actually spent some down-time hours playing music videos, MTV is back to thrill your children with another year of profitable porn masked as "reality" programming.

While "The Osbournes" continues to capture the lion's share of attention by coasting on Ozzy's talent for fitting a curse word into every sentence, the real news on the MTV front comes from "The Real World: Las Vegas." It has managed to stay under the radar of public scrutiny, and that's unfortunate. Parents would be shocked to learn what their children are watching.

"The Real World" is so chock-full of sexual situations, pixilated nudity, and alcohol abuse that MTV has expanded beyond the usual number of episodes to get it all on the air. For twelve seasons people have been looking into the camera and expressing silly things designed for teeny boppers. When they complain how they're being insulted behind their backs, they are complaining to the very producers who encourage this in the first place. That's how inane the show really is. It should come as no surprise, then, that the formula needs a little more shock value to keep the franchise going.

At MTV.com, a female cast member bizarrely named Irulan sums the whole series up this way: "This is the true story of seven dirty-ass birds picked to lush it up in a casino, completely lose their work ethics, have their most embarrassing moments taped, and find out what happens when cirrhosis of the liver sets in...and [people] continue to drink."

Devotees of "The Real World" know the drill. Seven young people are put together in a fancy location - in this case a Vegas hotel - and are monitored electronically at all times of the day in the hopes of capturing a very formulaic "reality"- fighting, gossiping, crying, drinking, dancing, and what the network calls "sexploration." Fans can cruise the MTV Web site and keep up on the canoodlings in a weekly "Hookup Report," complete with a "Hookup Photo Flip-Book."

The hookup "highlight" of this series came in Episode 3, during which two girls and a guy shared indiscriminate fondling in a hot tub. Should this spectacle seem a little irresponsible, not to worry. MTV's hookup reporter demands that careless sex be accompanied by a condom: "No glove, no love - live it!" Condom promoters like the Kaiser Family Foundation will still be aghast, as two of the hot tubbers, cast members Steven and Trishelle, regularly play around without "protection."

This season this show is aggressively expanding the boundaries of its camera work. A few years ago in Miami, a shower with male and female roommates was presented from outside the shower. Now we're inside with the camera regularly focusing on cast members in multiple settings of pixilated nudity. The dialog also has been ratcheted up. The cast's black male, Alton, recently was all the talk of the program over the impressive size of his private parts. Even Entertainment Weekly, in its weekly roundup of commentary on the show, found it "shocking to hear such frank conversation about a reality star's package."

That's not to say that "Real World" honchos Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray aren't on the march with their usual doses of political correctness. Alton is designated as this season's poor schmuck desperately in need of a treatment for his "homophobia." The cast does include its usual (at least by comparison) straight arrow. This time out, it's Frank, who wants to meet a nice girl and settle down. That means viewers don't see a whole lot of Frank. Interestingly enough, with all the boozy hot tubbing you almost forget that this season doesn't feature an openly gay cast member to campaign against religious phobias, although other seasons have overcompensated with two.

The show also features that which makes it the easiest to satirize - its overdramatic fights over next to nothing. In one recent episode, former hot tub partners Brynn and Steven nearly came to blows after she threw a fork at him, after which Steven wanted Brynn thrown off the show, since violence is against the rules. What commenced was nearly a half-hour of boo-hooing, for there's no greater terror to these self-absorbed camera-kissers than the prospect of being knocked off television.

The franchise is in no danger of dissolving. In fact, it's headed to the movie theatre next summer with "The Real Spring Break." At what point does this deliberate attempt to line corporate pockets by corrupting impressionable young ones constitute child abuse?