On an insightful episode, Malik meets his estranged relatives and Mike distances himself from his father's prejudices, says Josh Wolk
The Real World: Back to New York (Season 10)
Credit: Real World: MTV

Malik and Mike learn familial lessons

Could it be? A ”Real World” devoid of asinine housemate behavior? The Oct. 2 episode came darned close, with two stories about family that were alternately touching and sad.

First there was Malik’s introduction to his father’s family, whom he had never met (his father abandoned Malik’s mother when he was only six months old.) It’s rare in a ”Real World” for a housemate’s life story to actually flesh out who he or she is. Usually when someone describes his or her youth, it’s in a ”Hey, pity me!” hyperdramatic way, clearly meant more to attract the camera than to actually explain him- or herself. But the ever-mellow Malik’s story truly elucidated the essence of his character, his personality. The fact that he was isolated from many of his relatives while growing up made him the gregarious, easy-going guy that he is, just so he could attract and keep large groups of people around him and happy.

It was for this reason that Malik’s meeting his Grandma Ruby and aunt and uncle was all the more poignant. After watching so many reality series where emotions are theatrically amped up, I’m suspicious of ANY emotions on documentary television. I mean, this week on ”Love Cruise” a weepy Toni told someone he’d broken her heart after one night together. One night! I thought TV tears had officially lost all meaning, but my cynicism vanished after seeing Malik embrace his new family and so eagerly rush into their welcome.

This, of course, was balanced by Mike’s unsettling visit from his parents. First, his dad said he ”hoped to get lucky” with Mike’s mom that night. No kid needs to hear that from his father, and if he does, he deserves to get a ”one free decade of therapy” gift certificate along with it. And then there was Pops’ lecture on how he won’t hire black people because ”we can’t trust them, they’re going no place, there’s no room for advancement for ’em.” Sure, it’s easy to dismiss Mike’s father as an ignorant rube with his ”going no place” grammar, but watching Mike sadly realize that the man he thought knew everything was actually quite wrong about very important things was heartbreaking.

Mike is not the first ”Real World”er to enter the show a racist and leave enlightened: There was New Orleans’ Julie and Los Angeles’ Jon, to name two. Frankly, in the past it’s struck me as contrived: Can 20 years of closed-minded thinking really be wiped away after a few months living in a diverse household? But tonight’s episode made me realize that yes, it can. Mike hadn’t given any thought to his prejudices. He wasn’t ”American History X.” He was just a guy who, as one part of his general upbringing, heard people saying that black people weren’t as capable as white, and he accepted it, the same way that, say, someone could grow up thinking that Skippy peanut butter was better than Jif if that’s what his parents always brought home. All he needed was a peek into a more enlightened world to set him straight.

However, I must mention that this episode wasn’t completely devoid of idiocy. There was, after all, the subplot of Nicole still not speaking to Malik. Here she is explaining why she couldn’t go to Malik’s birthday outing with him and his friends: ”I don’t feel comfortable celebrating with people who love Malik, because I’m not one of those people.” She concluded by weeping that it was hard to feel good about herself when everyone was telling her that she was judgmental.

Finally, back to ”Real World” reality: that oft-used passive-aggressive tactic of acknowledging one’s own faults only in the context of other people being jerks for thinking that it is a fault. But let’s look toward Mike’s personal growth for hope: Maybe Nicole just grew up in a house where stubborn pains in the butt were viewed as superior to forgiving types. Maybe someone in the house could just explain to her that that’s not the way society should work. Wait, that could be a problem: She’s not speaking to the house’s only decent role model.

What did you think of ”Real World”’s family time?

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