Sept. 11 forces the roomies to look outward. After a brief candlelight vigil, though, Josh Wolk laments their return to self-centeredness
The Real World
Credit: The Real World Chicago: MTV

Sept. 11 forces the roomies to look outward

Eight months after the fact, on May 7 ”The Real World” revisited Sept. 11, and I for one was all perversely atwitter at the prospect. For 11 seasons I’ve watched ”Real World” casts get worked up about ridiculous minutia and always thought, ”What would these nitwits do if they had to deal with real problems?” Well, I never expected nor wanted anything as extreme as Sept. 11 to happen, but as test cases go, it was a real doozy.

And it turned out, they dealt with it the way the rest of us did: with fear, confusion, and sadness. It was tough for me to accept that their reaction fell into the realm of normal human behavior. Reflexively, I initially sneered and thought they were being drama kings and queens like when, for example, Cara watched the horrible news on TV with the same wide-eyed, vaulted-eyebrow expression she appropriates for everything from Kyle saying he thinks Keri is a cutie pie to Aneesa yammering about her crazy girlfriends. But then I remembered my own reaction to Sept. 11, which involved a similar expression, with similar tears, and other variations on freaking out too numerous to mention.

The fact is, this was the very first time I’ve seen Real Worlders put things in perspective. (Not all of them, mind you, but more on that later.) Kyle remembered how important his girlfriend Nicole was, and the fear he felt from not hearing from her (she worked in New York City) was quite tangible, especially to someone like me who also had friends working in the Financial District that day. And the whole group clung to each other and prayed together, and, in a rare case of being aware of people outside of their own lives, invited neighbors to join them in a candlelight vigil. It had all the trappings of ”Real World” dramatics, yet on that day it was all very appropriate.

Of course, it would be unnerving if all traces of self-involvement vanished, and they surely didn’t. Remember how the battle cry after 9/11 was ”If we stop doing [insert activity here], then the terrorists win”? Well, apparently Aneesa and Tonya’s activity is chatting on the phone. Take that, Osama! Aneesa — whose birthday is Sept. 11 — decided that just because America was under attack was no reason to curb the great phone-privilege battle of 2001. Aneesa wouldn’t let Tonya on the phone, because the previous night she had told one of Aneesa’s friends to call back because she was waiting for her boyfriend Justin to call. The more they argued, the more increasingly stubborn both became. Perhaps the producers presented this as a fine microcosm to illustrate the intractability of today’s world enemies, be it America and the Taliban, or Israel and the Palestinians. Yes, this would work fine…were it not just TWO IDIOTS BICKERING ABOUT THE FRIGGING PHONE ON SEPT. 11.

If you brought a Middle Eastern fundamentalist over to the U.S.A. and asked them, ”Why do you hate us so much?” They would probably say, ”Well, turn on the TV.” And after a little channel-surfing, they might encounter Aneesa and Tonya superficially bickering about who gets to use the telephone with the same ferocity that hungry people in their own countries fight for food, and they would say, ”There you have it, American pig!”

When all is said and done, perhaps what was really bothering Aneesa was that this was all happening on her birthday. I would think that for Aneesa, the greatest gift she could get would be an excuse to claim that a national tragedy affected her worse than anybody else. ”Oh, you think Sept. 11 was bad for you? Well it was my birthday!” she could cry, and then Cara would scrunch up her eyebrows and say, ”Oh, baby!” Why, it’s better than a cake! However, as much as I accuse Aneesa of making everything about herself, I could understand her worry that for the rest of her life, she’ll be celebrating her birthday on the anniversary of a terrible, terrible day. Sure, I have little pity for her now, but I have to assume (because it’s too depressing to assume otherwise) that in some future decade, she will have matured. And then it will be sad to have to deal with this.

Other than that egregious blow-up, however, I have to compliment the Real Worlders for having a very human reaction to that horrible event. If only it lasted beyond the day of mourning. The coming attractions for next week showed a return to Kyle and Keri’s flirt-athon…your regularly scheduled broadcast, if you will. Well, you know what they say: If Real Worlders stop being utterly self-involved, then the terrorists will have won.

Did MTV do a good job of portraying Sept. 11?

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