i Need Media
The Real World at my doorstep
By Matthew Singer 04/04/2013
Last week, civilization as we know it ended. It did in Portland, Ore., at least.
Full disclosure: Five years ago, I moved from my hometown of Oxnard to the City of Roses. I’ve never mentioned that fact in this column, mostly because I prefer to write about the universal experience of media consumption. Even if it’s written from my personal point of view, the reader should be able to relate to this column in some form, regardless of where he or she happens to reside. But I tell you now where I live, in order to convey just how rattled this town is by being featured on the current season of The Real World.
As you may have heard — or, most likely, read in some New York Times trend piece — Portland is the new American epicenter of hipster hippiedom. You also may have learned this from watching Portlandia, which offers a narrow but not altogether inaccurate portrayal of the place I now call home. Portland does, indeed, take itself a bit too seriously at times. So, naturally, when we all found out last year that our free-range, small-batch, artisanal city would serve as the backdrop for a show as artificial and intellectually unhealthy as The Real World, residents were aghast. Response to the news on blogs and the local Twittersphere suggested the invasion of MTV and it’s new cast of well-scrubbed twentysomethings would cause the metropolis lovingly nicknamed Stumptown — because our tallest buildings are mere stumps, you see — to crumble into the Willamette River.
Perhaps expectedly for someone who grew up an hour north of Los Angeles, I had no problem with this. I was an avid watcher of The Real World in its early days—back when it was a legitimately intriguing social experiment—and even after it devolved into little more than a season-long drunken orgy starring Abercrombie models, I’ll still turn it on when in need of some junk. To have the show filming in a location I’m familiar with was actually sort of exciting.
To everybody else, though, this was nothing short of a disaster — something the state government should’ve stepped in to stop from happening. There are localized reasons for this — the phrase “douchification” gets tossed around a lot in regards to certain parts of town — but the broader explanation has to do with the notion that trashy reality TV in general is causing America to rot from the inside.
Hey, America, lighten up! I’ve written this before, but the shallow end of the pop-culture pool only takes on significance when we ascribe significance to it. It’s meant to be absorbed and discarded. That’s why it’s so often compared to junk food: It fulfills an immediate need, so you can move on to better, more important things. Complaining about the existence of a stupid television show invests it with more weight than it deserves. The Real World can’t destroy a city, much less the fabric of the country, any more than gay marriage or legalized marijuana.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.