Once upon a time there was no World Wide Web. There was an Internet, but it was a tiny web; among its users the incredibly smart, the incredibly geeky, and the incredibly rich. Like most new technologies, early accessibility always for the smart (who invent it), the geeky (who can build it) and the rich (who needn't be smart nor creative, just wealthy enough to purchase the tools to convince people they are both. See for example: Family, Kardashian). So when young Natty was around age 14, the Internet was something spoken of but not yet seen in my household. Since I did not have the Interwebs, I did not have the pleasure of knowing much beyond the media of my time. And since I lived in the Bible Belt, my exposure to some aspects of the world were a bit lacking. For example? The first time I saw two men kiss was on MTV.
Even though we joke about MTV not showing music videos, the channel has been slowly weeding out the music for the past 20 years, and large chunks of time in the '90s were devoted to marathons of every season of The Real World.
The Real World is the original reality show; MTV could not afford to hire actors but wanted a soap opera. So they filmed a soap opera-ish show with camera-willing volunteers. The volunteers are called cast members, and use their real names. It's now a formulaic relic of reality television: seven strangers live together and are filmed. That's the hook. No surviving islands or eating bugs or being from Jersey Shore. Just the hi-jinks of seven people wanting to be on television.
For some, myself included, those early seasons were my first look into the strange world of twenty-something-hood. Reality TV provided one of my first encounters with beautiful men kissing on The Real World: Miami. It dispelled some myths I had of what gay men could look like (Village People clones) and caused a bit of perplexing thought as to what body part went where in the love making. (I had long since pieced together the hows of heterosexual intercourse, thanks to a copy of The Joy of Sex studied at a friend's sleepover and 6th grade gossip.) Both of these things were beneficial: I had not yet shaken my Bible Belt upbringing in regard to homosexuality, and following the storyline of a beautiful gay man, cast member Dan, dating in Miami during marathon MTV viewings added to the start of that shaking.
|Dan looks a bit bored with all this. (Dan from RW: Miami, official MTV.com photo.)|
Fast forward some 15 odd years later, and we have The Real World: Las Vegas. While inexplicably pretending RW: Las Vegas didn't already happen back in 2002, the new RW kids stay at posh Hard Rock hotel and dine at such elegant establishments as the Pink Taco.
|Keeping it real.|
On this season, there's the usual mix: token black guy, blond bubbly girl, libertarian white guy, sporty jock, etc. No token gay guy or gal this time around, but hey, it's Season 25. I'm sure they'll fit it next time.
Or it could be that MTV planned ahead when casting the sporty jock, Dustin.
|Big Brother is literally watching.|
Despite the acceptance female sexual fluidity on reality television (it's a standard rule: Straight Girls Kissing Is Hot and required at the minimum of one kiss per season; for network shows, preferably around sweeps week, and always under the direct gaze of male cast members), male sexual fluidity is still on black and white ground. A male on reality TV must be either gay or straight, right from episode one. Only absolutes, lest the cardinal reality sin of Not Being Real is committed. Dustin, bless his six-pack abs, was doomed from the start.
Dustin revealed to his fellow cast mates on last week's (April 27th) episode that he had engaged in sex work. More specifically, he lived in a house, with strangers his age, and had their lives taped while engaging in sex acts. Which sounds just like The Real World, no? So what's the problem?
Dustin worked in an all-male house. And having failed to state right from the start that he was bisexual or bi-curious, or simply open-minded enough to be gay-for-pay, his fellow RW castmates promptly began judging him.
Further muddling up matters is the fact that Dustin spent a few moments in a prior episode proclaiming that sex was only for reproduction. A case of the boy dost protest too much? Or is his own homophobia so ingrained that he can think of no other way to express himself?
The RW castmates all have a sit-down for Dustin to share his story. (I have not been able to find a clip online to post here that will work worldwide, sadly, but if you Google Real World: Las Vegas "Dustin Shows His Hands, Heather Folds" you may find the episode.) The sex positive show that I watched as a youngster has delved into a homophobic nightmare, all under the guise of "not being real." The castmates immediately assume Dustin was forced into sex work, too stupid to know what he was doing was wrong and are disgusted at his behaviour. The bubbly blond he was dating even asked if she needed to be tested. Not because he had sex prior to a relationship with her, but because he had sex with gay men.
If Dustin was coerced into sex work, I do hope that this exposure will allow him to take legal action and find the resolution and peace he needs to heal. If he is simply bisexual or pansexual, I hope that he does not further retreat into homophobic rhetoric just to conform to his castmates expectations of him.
Dustin, and MTV, have the opportunity to teach an entire generation of kids that bisexuality and sexual fluidity is not something just for the girls. They also have the opportunity to discuss the abuse and dehumanization that sex workers face in every aspect of society. It is seriously doubtful that they are going to take these opportunities though, since education doesn't make for ratings.
Previews for tonight's episode show the bubbly blond girl getting "revenge" on Dustin for "lying" to her about sleeping with men ... by making-out with another female cast mate.
Because remember kids: Girls kissing is hot, and boys kissing is gross!
Way to go, Real World!