The true story of seven pantsless strangers...

For reasons I never quite understand, I always end up wanting to watch the first episode of any new season of The Real World, and this year was no exception (the Denver season debuted this past week). I never watch any of the rest of the season anymore, not if I can help it, anyway, but I'll usually sit down to watch that first one with Erin, even though for the last 5 or 6 years, it ends up making me kind of mad. I think that's because I remember how the show used to be. Or at the very least, I remember how the cast members used to be.

The show began when I was in high school (and wow, does that make me feel old), and when it began - probably for the first 5 or 6 years, in fact - I remember being sort of impressed by the people who were on it. The roommates in the earlier years all seemed to be striving to achieve some sort of goal in their lives. Well, most of them, anyway; you always have to let a few slackers and total nutjobs into the mix, as it makes for more compelling television, I guess, but more often than not, they were the exception, not the rule. These were people setting out to be writers, doctors, musicians artists, actors, executives, dancers, cops, and so on. And even those folks who didn't have a clear-cut career path in mind were still very much looking to figure out who they really were and wanted to find their place in the world. It's no wonder that the show became so popular so quickly. Even though this was a carefully constructed situation featuring 7 attractive 18 to 25-year-olds living rent- and practically consequence-free lives for a few months on MTV's dime in exchange for providing some strategically edited faux-drama, it was still very relatable to teenagers and twentysomethings. It actually felt sort of real.

Somewhere along the line, it all changed. Cast members chosen to be on The Real World stopped being people who wanted to be writers, doctors, musicians, etc., and started being people who just wanted to be on The Real World. People less interested in trying to prepare for real life than they were in using that rent- and practically consequence-free environment to drink or screw anything that hovered into their field of vision. People specifically out to pick fights with their roommates in an effort to maximize their camera time and get popular enough to get asked back for the Real World/Road Rules Challenge show so they can put off having to get an actual job for as long as possible. It's maddening, but even worse, it's disappointing.

Maybe it's always been this way, and now that I'm older - officially too old to be on the show by a good 5 years at least, I'm almost certain - I notice it more. Maybe I'm forgetting the fact that reality television panders to the lowest common denominator of the TV audience, and that producers are just playing to what's popular. Maybe I'm even expecting too much of the network that unleashed the likes of My Super Sweet Sixteen on to the world; MTV was never an especially intelligent network, but it was certainly smarter and more subversive than it is now. I don't really know. But I used to really like The Real World. It used to be about something. Now I just wish these whiny kids would keep their damn pants on and actually go get a job or something.

You know, maybe that's why I keep watching the first episode of this show: to keep me motivated to be a good parent. Because if you're the parent of anyone who's been on The Real World these past few years, guess what? You pretty much failed.

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