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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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The Real World: The Lost Generation
A Critical Review

by Mary Chino-Cherry

"What happens when you combine two ex-military ambulance driver expat writers, one geek, three freaky chicks, a flat in Paris, and sixteen cases of Burgundy? It's a madcap non-stop laugh riot punctuated by bouts of severe depression, but wait 'til they hit the slopes in their outing to the Alps!

The cast of The Real World participants includes
Ernest - the mans' man
Gertrude - the ladies' man
Eliot - the nerd
Ezra - the rebel
Amy - the 'good' girl
Edna - the 'bad' girl"

Or so goes the promo-copy. This is The Real World: The Lost Generation, MTV's attempt to freshen up the Reality TV genre with a revamping of the show that got it all started. The participants this time have an anachronistic familiarity - indeed, they seem to be and act very much like people we've heard of before, perhaps in a literature class. This is no surprise: most of them are writers (or claim to be), adding a touch of highbrow to the otherwise lowbrow or nobrow antics of previous Real World iterations. This may be MTV's attempt to capture the Gilmore Girls audience, who seem to like the idea that they're in the presence of great minds, even if their idea of literary exploration is, well, watching the Gilmore Girls. It may also be MTV trying desperately to recapture some of that early '80s edginess by going all intellectual-elitist on us; after all, the MTV of 20 years ago, while dripping with irony (their first video was titled "Video Killed the Radio Star"), was also considered cutting edge - a new medium that was to revolutionize the way we thought about music.

So much for that. But there are some things of interest in TRWTLG, perhaps chief among them the extent to which Ernest drinks and his side trips to Spain for fishing and bullfighting. Of the writers here he seems to be the least writerly, keeping the show from becoming too tedious and bookish, as when the camera focuses on Eliot reading Plotinus in his room. None of the participants are able in this first episode to bring themselves to call him anything as familiar as "Thomas" as he requests, and he seems to have trouble relating to anyone, especially women.

Not so for Ezra, who seems to relate to everything. Sadly, no one relates to him, especially not Gertrude, whose ego and sense of self-importance is easily his match. In a brilliant scene toward the beginning of the first installment, Gertrude arranges for Ezra to sit in a rickety antique chair she has made pains to bring with her into the MTV flat. Knowing full well it won't sustain his weight, she becomes enraged when the chair crumbles and Ezra tumbles to the floor, blaming him for everything from destroying her property to bringing about the Death of Literature. This is truly bitchiness as a performance art, and if it can be sustained, bodes well for the entertainment value of the rest of the season.

Gertrude, however, is mainly fun in the first episode because of her friends and acquaintances, who drop in every fifteen minutes or so, breaking up the otherwise pedantic tone she takes with the rest of The Lost Generation crew (as Ernest would have it, in masterful understatement, Gertrude "instructs too much"). Gertrude's buddy Pablo, along with his pals Georges and Juan, come by at one point with a bottle of Pernod Fils, proceed to get Gertrude totally wasted, and convince her to buy a few of their weird paintings to put on her wall. With friends like that, who needs critics?

Then there's Gertrude's "companion," Alice, who essentially moves into the Real World flat in the first episode. This is a flagrant breach of Reality TV protocol, of course, since it adds a new element to the carefully considered mix of personalities. But as the episode progresses, Alice impresses everyone with her special batch of brownies and is instantly adopted as an honorary member of The Lost Generation crowd.

In a smart piece of cross-marketing (they're beginning to know their demographic), MTV has added a weblog to The Lost Generation experience. This works well since the Lost Generationers claim to be writers, but it also puts Rory's Book Club to shame by providing original work from the participants. The extent to which this actually allows you to get into their heads is limited by the tendency toward obscurity, however, as can be seen in the following excerpt from Ezra's blog (also a good indication of why no one seems to relate to him very well):

Ezra's Blog

And it goes on like that for quite some while. Ernest's blog is far more readable, though a bit spare, shown by this example of his first impressions of the Real World flat:

The room was cool and dark. A large picture stood in the corner. Gertrude had put it there. I put down my fishing rod and box of flies.
I went to the bar at the other end of the room and poured a glass of whiskey.
Gertrude had not yet come. None of the others had come. Brett had promised she would stop by, but had not yet come.
Gertrude would bring her eau-de-vie and her companion. To hell with all her instruction!
At least Ezra would be getting here soon. Maybe he'd bring his bassoon.

Amy (the "good" girl) is shipped in from the United States, but the producers of TRWTLG were, according to the press-release, lucky enough to have found all the other participants already in Paris. A peculiarity of Amy is her secret affection for Ezra, evinced in the first episode by the fact that she seems to hang on his every word, as if she were starting some new school based on his loudly pontificated literary theories. Partially in response to this, she takes to looking at things "very deeply" about halfway through the first episode, then proceeds to write terribly short little poems about what she saw. It makes for surprisingly captivating television for awhile, but then one finds oneself ready to watch Ernest get drunk and fish some more.

A bit of sexual tension (which Amy's tight little poems seem to bottle up) gets released by Edna (the "bad" girl), whose conservative form hides a libertine subject matter. She seems willing to sleep with everybody. It's not so much that she's slatternly; it's just in her nature: the Madonna outside allows the Whore to flourish. An example can be seen in this blog entry:

Amy is coming,
the joy of Ezra;
but he likes slumming,
and sleeps with Edna!

There's something oddly salacious about those perfectly coiffed rhymes that causes this author to speculate that she'll bed most of the men in the Real World flat by the season's end, despite Ernest's mysterious wound, and despite his pining for the equally mysterious "Brett," who fails to appear during the first episode at all. She may even nail Gertrude (though possibly too mannish for Edna), but Eliot seems too standoffish and uncomfortable even for Edna's well-honed wiles.

Happily for this reviewer's inner slut, though perhaps badly for the ratings, this group of Real World participants appears to lack much of any jealousy. Everyone is outwardly ok with the idea of everyone sleeping with everyone else. What will a season of The Real World be like without a good bitch fight? But given that this crew is prone to brooding and drinking and remarkable flights of ego, the love-triangle tension should be easily replaced with angst, fistfights and car accidents, with the occasional angry repartee over the nature of art.

All that promises great fun, but at the risk of alienating MTV's traditional audience. They seem to belive in it though: the bar bill on the first episode alone was larger than many entire seasons of Survivor, even after you factor-in the prize money.