*We’re in the second generation of reality television now, when all the people ready to star on these shows know exactly what to do. It’s now been almost three decades since The Real World premiered on MTV. The new crop of “reality” stars consists of an entire cadre of people who grew up immersed in programs that preach what that show created – “when people stop being polite…and start being real.”
If the people on that first few Real World seasons were influenced in their actions by the presence of the cameras in their house –and they undoubtedly were – at least they didn’t have any reality predecessors to mimic (unless you’d like to make a case for the An American Family family). Nowadays, the reality genre is so pervasive and widespread, the people on them seem like they’re even less real. Their actions just seem guided by the archetypes created by dozens of figures who came before them, whether it be the bitch or the sweet girl, the crazy one or the weepy one. The people on them are just actors without a script, subconsciously playing out the characters they’ve seen dozens of times over. You could swap out the cast Basketball Wives with a dozen other VH1 reality programs, and it wouldn’t seem fresh or interesting.
At its best, the genre of reality television shows you something you haven’t seen before. The first few seasons of The Real World can be looked at as an enlightening time capsule into the early-twenties years of Generation X, before the show devolved into a mishmash of booze and sex. Survivor had the tropical locations and a unique, vicious hook to its competition; The Amazing Race is a travelogue with a human element. They were shows that tried to do something new. Basketball Wives – and, sadly, a growing percentage of America’s programming – is just the same old stuff with different faces.