The new season of the Real World premiered last night (Brooklyn we go hard), giving us our first look at the castmates and the house and, of course, Katelynn, the first transgender Real World roommate. On the one hand, the first episode seemed to suggest that the producers had finally taken a rest from the body-shots-fueled fuck buddy casting of the past 10 years. It was the first time in recent memory that the first five minutes of a new Real World season didn’t involve any low-self-esteem girls dancing on a bar, or any dudes talking about how excited they are to fuck everything for sport. For the most part the cast seems surprisingly naive, enthusiastic, curious, and, well, physically unattractive. I’m not saying it’s an ugly cast, but if the past few years have been overwhelmingly Abercrombie and Fitch, this season seems more Filene’s Basement. That’s a good thing btw.
So, there’s Ryan, the secret Iraq War vet who is so tightly wound that it seems very likely that he’ll kill everyone in the house before season’s end; Devyn, the bossy (in the Kelis definition of the word) black girl; Baya, who after an hour I still don’t know anything about; JD, the strong and quiet and also gay type; Sarah, the heavily tattooed “alternative” girl who first things first says that people always describe her as the “weird” and “crazy” girl, which means she’s actually boring and pedestrian; Chet, who wears homemade purple clothes in every single shot and is so clearly in a foggy nightmare over his own sexuality that it’s almost painful to watch; Scott, the bodybuilder who has worked in a gym since he was 14, and who comes from New Hampshire, which it turns out is a state that allows people to work in a gym when they’re 14 (learn something new every day); and finally Katelynn, who I don’t know if you know this, but she is a TRANSGENDER.
Let’s do this!:
Did you do the math? There are eight strangers this season instead of the traditional seven. Everyone remarks upon this. People call home to tell loved ones about it. And it is true that for a show that’s been on the air longer than LeStat has been feasting on life force, it is odd. Actually, it’s more than odd. It’s offensive. Because, sure, every season is a new location and a new house and a new group and a new obligatory extra-curricular assignment, but nothing ever really changes. So the only thing that’s different this season is the addition of a transgendered cast-member (in case you didn’t hear about this, Katelynn, one of the new housemates, is transgendered. I know!). I’m not making that judgment call on my own, either, by the way. I don’t really think that having a transgender housemate somehow changes the rules of the game. But MTV has been riding this detail really hard as some kind of groundbreaking moment in television, and if I’m supposed to accept that as true, which I’ve been in a generous mood this week so OK, then that suggests that the introduction of an eighth cast-member has something to do with Katelynn. Like, we need a whole new slot for this special kind of creature. Maybe I’m wrong. No explanation was given this week for the eighth slot, so maybe when they learn what their “job” is going to be this season it will turn out to be something that everyone can plainly see requires eight people to accomplish.
I seriously doubt it.
So most of the first episode is given over to Katelynn. Fair enough. She keeps the strict definition of her biology to herself until the end of the episode when JD takes her out to dinner and gently opens the path for her to come out to him in the taxi. But even though he’s still the only one who “officially” knows, everyone has pretty much figured it out by the end. What’s interesting is the vehemence with which people want to argue that she is just a tom-boyish girl and not a post-op transgender, which gives you a sense of how loaded this issue still is for a lot of them because there’s an underlying opinion that suspecting someone of being transgender is worse than just thinking someone looks like a dude. It’s just a mess. Ryan at one point refers to Katelynn as “it” and has to be politely reprimanded by JD, which is about as bad as it gets, although that’s still really bad if you think about it, and the fact that it somehow doesn’t seem that bad, since it’s not, like, a straight up physical hate crime, which obviously seems possible, points to how far everyone (everyone like America everyone, not everyone Real World everyone) still has to go to getting out of everyone’s business.
Speaking of messes, Ryan. He’s a veteran of the Iraq war, but keeps that a secret from his house mates, which seems like the reddest of flags. He suggests that he doesn’t want to tell them yet because he doesn’t want them to think he’s some aggro military dude, which kind of makes sense, but then also really doesn’t make sense. If you’re not an aggro military dude, that will be made really clear by your non-aggro behavior and your lack of aggro military dude characteristics. Somehow it just seems like an alcoholic who doesn’t drink around people he’s just met because he doesn’t want them to think he’s an alcoholic. (He also might be an alcoholic). Because when he does finally talk to his roommates about his experiences, it gets really creepy. Like this:
And also this:
I’m not weirded out by his having shot his gun at human beings. He was in the army, that is what you do when you are in the army. But I am weirded out by what clearly seems to be PTSD. His quiet dismissiveness combined with that weird conversation about the photo that implies some kind of dissociative personality crisis is very troubling. Because I’m a doctor and know what’s what. I’m just saying that I really hope Ryan’s housemates don’t draw first blood or things are going to get very United States of Tara meets Falling Down.
Then there’s Chet, who as previously mentioned makes his own purple clothes, asks the body-builder to show him his abs, and claims to have no gay-dar whatsoever. Whoops, that sentence is full of so many typos! Let me fix it. Then there’s Chet, who is gay the end.
For the record: metrosexuality is not a real thing duh and the only person who would ever earnestly use it to try and clarify any confusion over his sexual orientation is himself wildly confused about his sexual orientation.
As far as New York is concerned, it’s the same as any Real World season, which is to say, how on Earth does this even remotely correlate to any kind of Brooklyn experience when you’re living on a soundstage at the edge of Red Hook with its own Crunch gym in the basement and a decorating style that might be described as “Chuck-E-Cheese Meets Strip Club”? But actually, the house isn’t even the part the most unrealistic thing about this “authentic New York” experience. The most unrealistic thing is this stickball game:
Next week: Katelynn is a transgender still some more.