“When people stop being polite… and start getting real,” is the mixed-message voice-over that opened, and continues to open, MTV’s pioneering docudrama reality show, The Real World. As a viewer, this description functioned as a promise and an excuse. As though “politeness” was somehow a threat to reality.
With every passing season of the show, and with every new cast of characters, The Real World lived up to its disclaimer—well, part of it. The show’s producers ensured that each cast contained a few loose (lipped) cannons, ready to exemplify either ignorance or intolerance as soon as the cameras were rolling.
Enter: Lake Shore. Toronto’s hybrid answer to The Real World and Jersey Shore. The (just now) in-production reality show that we wrote about during their club district casting call.
Lake Shore‘s producer, Maryam Rahimi, told us she wanted to create something “unique,” something that captured “Canadian multiculturalism.” And so we did what any self-respecting publication would do: we went to the auditions, and we subsequently published a passive-aggressive, mildly patronizing tirade about the show and its wannabe reality stars. In sum, we were scared.
We thought there was a chance that Rahimi would give up. We thought, maybe, Rahimi’s mysterious financial backers would re-invest—or misplace—the money they had promised to pour into the show. But no, oh no. Rahimi and her reali-bots are back. And they’re exactly what they want us to think they are.
Each cast member (the full roster was announced Tuesday; their audition tapes are above) has been given a label—and, we suspect, an unwritten role to play. As BlogTO noted yesterday, these labels stem from “racial categories,” like “The Turk,” “The Jew,” and “The Pole.”
Prettay, prettay, prettay controversial, no? We’ll, it’s got all the blogs on the block yapping (yes, including ours). At bottom, Rahimi’s concept lacks subtlety, nuance. At core, it generates a reaction—and a resoundingly negative one at that.
And we’re not surprised.
Rahimi told us four months ago what she was looking for in the cast auditions: “We want to focus on very specific looks, very different backgrounds [and] different sexual orientations,” she said. “And what we’re gonna do is put all these kids from all different walks of life into the same house, and let them go at it. Destroy it. Rip it apart.”
Those are her words—which we recorded (and published) at the end of July.
By creating labels, these “The So-And-So” personas, Rahimi and her co-producers are at risk of influencing the show’s narrative even before the cameras have been turned on. By labeling cast member Anni Mei “The Vietnamese,” we already know that Mei will be charged with the unreasonable task of either reiterating or debunking cultural stereotypes in front of her fellow cast members (and, of course, in front of us—her unseen audience).
When the first docudramas debuted, (yes, sorry, we are referring to An American Family… again), critics and viewers wondered how reality-as-it-unfolds-before-the-camera differed from reality-as-such. The concern, of course, was that the process of mediation would somehow muddy what was “real,” and what was “true to life.”
Rahimi’s brainchild adds another dimension to these now decades-old concerns: how, we’re led to wonder, are we to interpret reality that has already been inscribed with certain meanings—a reality populated with “real people” who’ve been cast and labeled according to one-dimensional (and racially predicated) categories?