‘The Real World: St. Thomas’ Recap (Episode 7): “No Shirt, Boat Shoes, No Sanity”
I was going to write something like “this week’s theme is The Dangers of Self-Absorption,” but then I remembered I’m writing about The Real World.
I’ve been watching The Real World since before I was old enough to internalize the reality genre’s implicit tenets. But I can’t remember a time when I haven’t at least understood that the roommates follow certain rules that are meant to prevent weirdness (and MTV’s legal liability), but which end up providing a kind of moral bedrock for the whole experience. One of those rules seems to be that they cannot ever acknowledge that they are on The Real World. Which is fine; I don’t think anybody (besides me) would be into a completely self-referential program about twenty-somethings just passing the time in a house with a less-than-normal number of doors. But it would seem that they sometimes get sucked into the narrowly defined meta-world of their show’s design, and forget that they were selected to be filmed nonstop for three straight months only because they are all complete narcissists.
So later in the show, when Trey’s casual chauvinism boils over into unchecked rage, and Marie’s drunken obnoxiousness clashes with Swift’s egotism, I don’t really know how I’m supposed to react. Can I let myself get invested in a conflict engineered in advance by producers and carried out by people too self-involved to comprehend the big picture? And wouldn’t it be more efficient to open each show in medias res, with all the roommates bickering about nothing, then not bother to backtrack to the beginning of the res and instead follow with long scenes of playing pool and drawing with crayons? It would save us the trouble of trying to pay attention to the drama and we could let the show just wash over us like so much island mist.
No such luck, here, though, as conflicts both new and foretold arise in a week driven by pure intoxicated id. Trey’s attempt to maintain his cool re: Laura’s independence has grown profoundly creepy. A voice-over interview lets us know that her going out without him “doesn’t bother [him] one bit,” as he weirdly questions her before she leaves and then follows her to the door with his eyes. When she comes home after a nice, sober time with LaToya and Swift, they immediately get into a fight and we begin to understand that Trey is very practiced at tightly gripping his integrity while letting his ego spiral out of control. He announces to the whole house: “Laura and I haven’t even slept in the same bed the last couple of nights… It’s really none of anybody’s business in the house but I’m sharing with you guys because it looks like it’s an issue right now.”
On another night, a larger contingency goes out dancing and Laura flirts with some ape with a chinstrap. She scores his number and, despite the ladies’ encouragement during the ride home, remains ambivalent, citing her intense feelings for Trey. Marie becomes annoyed when Swift—whom we’ve established has already irked her with his comically vain masculinity—encourages Laura’s loyalty, cheering her as the model of a rare “good girl.”
Back at the house, Laura and Swift chat for a while on the boat while a drunken, big-mouthed Marie reveals all to Trey, who takes it in with eerie serenity. Laura goes in and tries to talk to Trey, who slips instantly into out-for-blood mode: “How long do we want to play stupid for?” Ouch, bro. Meanwhile, out on the porch, the antipathy heats up as Marie shouts slurred jabs at Swift like “You’re corny” and “You’re so dumb.” Gravely put off by these incisive digs, Swift blows up in return.
The next morning, Marie leaves a note apologizing to Laura for being nosy: “I was highly intoxicated last night.” You sure were, buddy. After a nice day of doing nothing at Coral World, where Marie and Swift are both in the sea lion-tending group, they reconcile as well. Marie: “I know I’m obnoxious. I’m the first one to admit it. I have a Staten Island Attitude.” Here’s where I’m confused. If the roommates—and newer viewers will just have to trust me when I say this is far from the dumbest bunch this program’s ever seen—are able to maintain a semblance of self-awareness, why should is it a big deal when they elect to yell at each other over perceived slights? I’m all for a good dust-up, but when it doesn’t rest on any tangible premise other than that these people think they are supposed to be mean to each other once in a while, what is the actual narrative occurring on this professional television program?
At least the tension between Robb and Marie is built upon real human attraction and reluctance, as this week Robb continues his push-pull with Marie and the back-home-girl, who still plans to come visit despite the Red One’s dismay over her infidelity. After some hand wringing, Robb breaks it off completely with the tearful, unseen other chick, and Marie grills him on his true motive. After some fidgeting, he relents: “The only person I want is you. All right?”
Oh, how nice! And it is with great marvel at the spectrum of the human condition that I observe the house’s other couple operate far at the other end of the spectrum of romantic functionality. At the club, Laura re-meets her fellow from the other night and they proceed with that filthy hump dancing that I’ve been informed is prevalent among modern youths. Trey decides to show up, purely to enjoy an invigorating evening on the town, I’m sure. Laura cheerfully points out her other suitor, and Trey flies into a jealous, panicky frenzy, yelling that he is “ugly, bro.” As Laura says goodbye to Chinstrap Jones, Trey roughly pulls her away. Back at the house, he loses his shit at the prospect of her need to acknowledge another human being. “If all you want is me, why the fuck would you feel the need to say goodbye to somebody else?” That’s a thinker!
Instead of letting him sleep off his rage, Laura persists with the following and pet names. They take a walk, so that Laura can placate him by profusely apologizing for upsetting his delicate sensibilities. In a dual confessional, Trey relates: “We had a bad night. Laura was a bad girl. But I still like her.”
Laura: “A lot.”
Image courtesy mtv.com
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