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Kids Today: College Life

Greetings friends! I come here often with tales of "reality" television, but it seems as if MTV's newest reality show, College Life, is actually giving us a glimpse of what non-scripted television once was. Remember the early seasons of The Real World? It's kinda like that. Only even grittier, because the subjects are filming themselves (and then of course leaving what they've shot in the hands of skilled editors and producers). At least, the footage seems somewhat edited and produced (though not in the way that The City does...this is still pretty raw). However, MTV claims that this series is not manipulated by directors or producers. It's hard to tell how true that is, but the network is definitely trying to draw a distinction between this and their other "reality" shows. And so far it does feel almost like watching some home movies--if your home movies consisted of you getting drunk at a party and then slur-crying to your friend about boys.

MTV equipped four college freshman with hand held cameras and asked them to shoot their college experiences. There's no crew, and though it's certainly edited, it's much less heavily prompted (if prompted at all) by MTV producers. You can definitely tell the difference between this series and, say, the Hills or The City. For one thing, it's much more dialog driven, and there are fewer stunning shots of glamorous streets and beautiful people. There isn't a constant stream of music overpowering the dialog, either. One might ask: without the music, how do I know what I should be feeling?It was tricky at first, but I soon got the hang of it. And, luckily, there were frequent cuts to a black screen with giant white words letting me know what's going on in a given scene, such as: THE PARTY IS OVER FOR ALEX (when one character, Alex, has a drunk fight with her boyfriend).
The first words to appear on a black screen, before any of the action began, was "this program is not endorsed by the University of Wisconsin, Madison." You know what that means, viewers! It means we're gonna get to see some PAR-TAYSSS! For the first time in MTV's history, they are really showing some blatant underage drinking (unlike the implied underage drinking that so often takes place on the Real World and The Hills). In this series the binge drinking doesn't seem to lead to sexy nights in the jaccuzzi with model-like men and women. The drinking leads to sloppy crying and puking in a community bathroom. Not that MTV seems to be making a bold statement against binge drinking...the're just showing it like it is!

While I admire (yes, I'm using that word to describe my feelings about an MTV program aimed at 17 year old audiences) what College Life is attempting with its return to reality's roots, I'm still going to enjoy watching (and reading about) Whitney Port more than I'll come to care about some average looking college student whose social life consists of beer pong in his dorm room. I guess it all comes down to what you want from your "reality" TV, and I tend to crave a glittery escape into the untouchable world of fashion. However, the first episode did make me a little bit nostaligic for my carefree college years...and glad that no one caught it on tape. I'm thinking that while this will be a good late-night I've only got a half hour before I should be in bed but I need to destress from my day viewing choice, I'll still turn to my old favorites and really relish those shows much more. Sort of like how at the end of a long day you can appreciate some boxed wine, and you smile about all the memories that come with it, but now that you're a grown up, you'd prefer something out of a glass bottle.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 9:47 AM |  

    You know what I call reality's roots? DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING! And this show is probably the closest thing MTV has now to making real documentaries, aside from "True Life" which is still, I admit, more documentary-like than anything else they have.

    So far I really like the idea of this show, but I still feel like MTV's annoying, super-over-explanation-style editing (like, do I really need to know via giant white words that the dude who hangs out with that pretty Christian girl all the time who also is her ex is actually still in love with her? Um, it's like, duh, pretty obvious, MTV, let the viewer figure it out) brings it down a few notches. That and the uncomfortable feeling that I had freshman year of college that I wasn't loud enough to feel comfortable at drinking parties where all the girls went and would rather sit at home and quietly watch "Say Anything..." with my dude friends coming back makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

    Still, for MTV, I'd give it a solid A-.

  2. Blogger chris | 12:47 PM |  

    I totally wanna watch this. If only just the first ep. Isn't it weird that when it comes to fictional drama, we want it to be really realistic, but when it comes to reality show drama, we want it as fake as possible?

  3. Blogger Brigitte | 12:49 PM |  

    I wouldn't say that I always want my fictional drama to be realistic (LOST!!!)

  4. Blogger qualler | 12:52 PM |  

    Um, are you telling me that

    **SPOILER ALERT!!!!**
    an electromagnetic hatch that went kwazee because the numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42 were not entered in time that caused a plane crash on an island is not realistic?!?!?
    **END SPOILER ALERT**

  5. Blogger chris | 12:53 PM |  

    Ha I was actually just thinking about that as I pressed publish. But one of the unique things that separates Lost from other supernatural/scifi shows is that it starts out with a really realistic premise - an airplane crashes on an island and the passengers await rescue. Because we start there, it's easier (and scarier, etc.) to accept and believe all the nonsense that comes afterward.

  6. Blogger qualler | 1:25 PM |  

    I dunno, Chris, I think the premise of every Stephen King novel ever is that it starts out with a really realistic premise and then goes nutzoid, so I don't think Lost is particularly groundbreaking in that arena. And I personally would rather my reality be real, unlike Brig-dawg here who would rather watch Whitney Port eye-roll her way through a well-lit conversation with a bearded Aussie musician (cuz, those people exist?) even if it means watching people puke on handheld camera.

  7. Blogger Brigitte | 2:41 PM |  

    I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with both Chris and Mark. I don't think that we are working with the same definition of "realistic." Because something contains a single action that COULD happen, that makes it realistic? How realistic is a plane crash on a seemingly deserted island with so many uninjured survivors? It could happen, but...it's unlikely. So how can we define realism? I suppose I wanted to make a contrast between realism and escapism. I prefer my fiction to be escapist (for the most part...the Wire is one exception that comes to mind). I think that reality television does not really have direct roots in documentary, because documentary begins with a director, a writer, and usually has something specific that must be revealed to the audience--something that the audience does not experience every day. I always think of the first Real World as the beginning of this new kind of "reality" television, which supposedly did not start with a director, a writer, a producer, etc., but rather was set up to be more of a social experiment. In a documentary we know that we are BEING SHOWN something, whereas in reality television, we are voyeurs, watching something that we feel we shouldn't really be privy to...it seems like College Life is getting back to that idea.

  8. Blogger Brigitte | 2:41 PM |  

    WHY DOES IT SAY THAT THERE IS ONLY ONE COMMENT?!?! AHHH!

  9. Blogger qualler | 2:48 PM |  

    A social experiment you say? Hmmm...that sounds a lot like what was allegedly happening in the first hatch in Season Two of Lost.....Are you actually part of The Dharma Initiative?!?

    I think what Chris meant (and what I meant, too) is that in general, a plane crash with survivors is, in relative terms, a reasonably possible situation*, if not exactly probable.

    (*)I'm totally using CPA exam-style contingent liability terms there -- basically "reasonably possible" = something between "remote" and "probable" in terms of things happening. Nevermind.I can accept a show like Lost initially as a "whoa, that's one crazy situation" type thing and buy into it and then get more blown away by the "otherworldly" things that happen as it goes on because I've already bought into. It's the classic device that Stephen King has used in horror novels since Carrie (girl getting picked on at school, whoa I relate! Wait she has telekenisis?) to 'Salem's Lot (author moves back to hometown, yeah I know what it's like! Wait, vampire sacrifices?) Same thing, albeit on a slightly different scale, with Lost (oh man, a plane crashed, that sucks! Wait, why is Jack seeing his dead father?)

    Wait, wasn't this post about MTV?

  10. Blogger Brigitte | 2:50 PM |  

    i want to go back to chris's original comment: for most dramas, yes, i think we do want them to be very realistic. i actually think that desire gave birth to reality television in the first place. i've never been a huge fan of realism myself--and as a culture, certain shows have made it despite a lack of gritty realism (like Lost). isn't this why we want everything in high definition? in some ways the new breed of reality shows might be a reaction to a "reality" overload, and now people are turning to The Hills and other melodramas as a sort of realism backlash. I for one, am all for that backlash.

  11. Blogger qualler | 2:51 PM |  

    Getting back to College Life...I actually think it would be more like we were voyeurs if MTV didn't keep horning in making sure we, the audience, knew that there is actually a storyline going with the show, and we're not just peepin' toms. If only they'd trust their audience just a little more...

    Oh wait, they sell advertising to pimple cream companies. I don't think I'm actually the demographic anymore...

  12. Blogger chris | 3:11 PM |  

    Haha this hasn't happened in a while here on The Blogulator. I'm glad we found something to talk about.

    1) I didn't mean to imply Lost was revolutionary for the way it unraveled its story, but it certainly is in the context of fantasy/scifi/generally ridiculous TV shows. Usually they're pretty straightforward, i.e. she's a vampire slayer, deal with it.

    2) Maybe realistic isn't the word. Maybe "identifiable" is better. I totally agree about the voyeur factor. We wish we could escape TO identify with reality TV stars because we're made to believe it's real (real names, places, relationships - supposedly), so that's enough to get us in the door. But with fiction, I already know it's fake, so I need the plausibility or identification factor quite high to fall into it (whether it's gritty like The Wire or glossy like Lost doesn't matter in my opinion). Ultimately though, I don't watch reality TV, because it never gets interesting enough. I'd rather have like what Qualler suggests, a pre-packaged view on something, i.e. a documentary. I can only watch aimless bickering and puking for so long before I want a smoke monster, a cowboy drug dealer, or a crazy man who loves grizzly bears to amp up my interest.

  13. Blogger Sean | 3:49 PM |  

    is this show available online for free?

  14. Blogger Brigitte | 4:20 PM |  

    yes--you can watch episodes on MTV.com

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