All of Provo was aflutter this week as MTV rolled into town to see if it could find someone shallow and stupid enough to be on its “Real World” program. (My guess: Yes. Yes it could.)
You remember MTV. It’s the once-relevant basic cable channel that formerly was the Voice of America’s Youth, but which is now the Voice of America’s 14-Year-Old Girls, for whom Backstreet Boys videos are played constantly during the one hour a day that the channel actually plays videos.
Older people like me can remember when MTV played videos all the time. Indeed, MTV stands for “Music Television,” a title which is now accurate only in the sense that 55 minutes of every MTV hour are filled with commercials, and many of those commercials have music in them.
The rest of the time, MTV is playing shows like “The Real World,” named after the one thing it least resembles, similar to calling New Jersey “The Garden State.” The premise of the show is so simple, even an MTV executive who grew up watching MTV managed to think of it: You take seven good-looking young people whom you have reason to suspect will not like each other — it helps if they’re all arrogant, self-centered slackers who don’t like ANYONE — make them live in a house together for 20 weeks, then put cameras all over the place to film the ensuing carnage. Woo-hoo! Now THAT’S television! (Not music television, but television, anyway.)
The show has been through several different casts now, each living in a different city, but it’s always the same. They’ll have an out-spoken minority, a flaming homosexual, a guy who apparently does not own a shirt, and a woman who will sleep with anyone, up to and including the cameramen.
So why was MTV looking for cast members in the heartland of Mormonism? One of two reasons:
1) They wanted an upright, conservative, soft-spoken church-going person to act in stark contrast to the braying jackasses who will comprise the rest of the cast; or,
2) They wanted someone who is Mormon in name only and who can provide the church with a nice national embarrassment (as if Donny and Marie’s talk show isn’t enough).
The auditions were held Wednesday at The Wrapsody. (Note to MTV: You’d have had better luck at Denny’s, especially after 1 a.m.) I considered auditioning, just for the fun of it, but when I saw how long the line was, I changed my mind. (Many of my important life decisions have been based on how long a line was.) Besides, I don’t need to be on “The Real World” to know how it is to live with people I don’t like. I was a missionary. I know what it’s like to have roommates I can’t stand, and who can’t stand me, and who come after me with a baseball bat just because I defaced one of the magazine cut-out swimsuit models that was hanging on their door, and who get so mad at me over something else they punch a telephone pole and break their hand, and then start cussing me out in the middle of the street in Pottstown, Penn., and all the neighborhood kids are out there watching to see why the two Mormon missionaries are fighting, only it’s not much of a fight, because there are no blows being exchanged, and one of them is just cowering in fear, and the other one has swollen knuckles the size of a canned ham.
(I apologize for the length of that last sentence. Frankly, I didn’t catch much of it, either.)
Anyway, I don’t know if anyone from here will make MTV’s final cut and actually get to be on the show. If a local boy does get chosen, I’m sure we’ll all have the good sense to watch the show faithfully each week, and to make sure his bishop watches, too. You know, to prevent the whole embarrassment thing.
This column is an example of what it's like to be a real columnist, and not the kind I'd always been to this point.
See, real columnists often have to address current events. And since most newspapers come out daily, the real columnists have to address those current events relatively soon after they happen, and not a week or two later.
I'd always written my columns a couple weeks in advance, generally speaking, thus giving me plenty of time to hone them and fine-tune them and do whatever I could to increase the funny level. And in fact, I had another column all set to run this particular week -- a really funny one, about dating -- when I found out about the MTV auditions.
The youth of Provo were simply abuzz with excitement, except for the youth who felt the whole thing was stupid. In any case, people were talking about it. So I felt compelled to scrap what I had planned (it turned up the next week) and write about this instead, thus giving myself approximately 24 hours to write the column, instead of the leisurely 10 or 12 days I usually had. I think it turned out fairly well, all things considered.
The two incidents described in that really long sentence are true, though the baseball bat guy was not the same person as the punch-the-telephone-pole guy (although they were very similar). And the baseball bat guy was a roommate, not a mission companion. I would have explained all that in the column, but as you can see, that sentence was pretty long already.
Also, it's obvious and not very funny NOW to point out that MTV never plays videos anymore, but in 1999, it was very astute, the very picture of biting satire. Trust me.