The Real World was a television experiment that began on MTV, the former Music Televison, and has been playing more or less regularly on screens for the past twenty-three years. Another way to look at it would be this: If one of those original New York cast had conceived a child, that child would now be about the right age to show up as a new cast member on yet another season of the reality show. Reality and TV. Back in 1973 when PBS aired "The American Family," those words didn't get tossed together with such facility. Even though the Vietnam war was winding down on their Motorola, and the situation comedy MASH was just starting its eleven year run, oulasting the war it was recounting by eight years. Really.
Now that we live in the twenty-first century and everyone is on video all the time, and we have access to the footage on our phones that we now carry in our pockets, reality TV is everywhere all the time. Television news isn't brought to you by camera crews and reporters. It comes to you via closed circuit cameras and GoPros and iPhones. Alert viewers aren't just phoning tips, they're providing content. Dan Rather is now busy interviewing Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.
That's what I was thinking about after catching the last half hour of The Truman Show. What seemed a remarkable conceit back in 1998 now seems pretty tame. There are plenty of kids being born and raised under the unblinking eye of social media. You want the Real World? How about feeding the dog? Taking out the trash? Reality TV. Kardashians? Really?
Then I remembered that other movie about TV from 1998: Pleasantville. Remember before Tobey Maguire was Spider Man, and he wanted to go live inside his favorite TV program? Who wouldn't want to live in that simpler time, whether it was Pleasantville, Mayfield, or any of a number of different Springfields? Even in the 1950's, those places never really existed. They were sanctuaries, neighborhoods, black and white enclaves that were more white than black, but it didn't matter. What mattered was that it was a simpler time in a simpler place. Police violence? Only half of the constabulary of Mayberry carried a gun, and he only had one bullet. All the kids were above average, and even the most difficult disagreement could be settled in twenty-two minutes, once you took time out for the commercials.
Who needs the Real World?