Things I Learned from MTV’s The Real World

25 Apr

I realize this post is a diversion from my usual, but something this weekend sparked my thinking on this subject.

I met a woman who told me that she plans on strictly limiting what her children watch. Now I realize it’s a parent’s job to protect their children, but let me tell you about the one show I was prohibited to watch but did anyway.

I spent most of my Wednesday evenings watching The Mickey Mouse Club and 90210, but when 10pm rolled around, I turned down the volume and changed the channel to MTV. I had to watch the cute boy on The Real World. His name was Aaron, and he was dreamy.


I was about 11 or 12, and I was not allowed to watch The Real World. My mom didn’t know until today that I watched it at such a young age.

When I was just 12 years old, I learned about AIDS and abortion from Tami in Season 2. She was an AIDS counselor and had an abortion somewhere near the end of the season. Watching this 22-year old woman go through this traumatizing event taught me a really strong lesson at such a young age. My parents wouldn’t have even known that would need to have this conversation with me. The debating between pro-life and pro-choice shaped my own views. Tami also woke every morning and did a Buddhist chant.


I bet if you watched the early years of The Real World, you’ll never forget new roommate Beth wearing this shirt….


I learned more about AIDS and homosexuality from Pedro on Season 3. At 13 years old, I really hadn’t been exposed to homosexuality. Learning about it from Pedro’s point of view and watching him get married to his partner were some of the most view-shaping moments of my young life. I don’t know how anyone could watch his battle with AIDS and hear of his death and have anti-gay views. He was a very sweet man who didn’t deserve persecution or death at the young age of 22.


Pedro Zamora died on November 11, 1994, the day after the final episode of The Real World: San Francisco aired. He had no medical insurance, so MTV started a trust to pay for his medical expenses.

It was also in the third season that I learned the differences between Republicans and Democrats as Rachel Campos, a conservative Republican member of the San Francisco cast, clashed with liberal roommates Mohammed Bilal and Judd Winick.

Being from a small town, I didn’t know for the longest time that racism even existed. The first season of the Real World gave me a big lesson!


While The Real World may have grown out of its golden years, this just goes to show that television will not hurt your child. If anything, it will teach them something. The lessons I learned from this show were lessons my parents didn’t even know they had to teach me. The things I learned would not have been taught to me in a book or sex ed class. I had to watch these people come face-to-face with STDs, racism, abortion, politics, and homosexuality to learn the consequences. I’m glad I watched even though my parents didn’t allow it. I’m not sure how my views would be different if they were taught to me any other way.

Even if I wanted to tell the woman I met over the weekend all of what I learned at a young age from television, she wasn’t the type to change her mind anyway.

Did you watch the early years of The Real World?


12 Responses to “Things I Learned from MTV’s The Real World”

  1. ahlterra April 25, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    I vividly remember Real World Season 3. I still get a bit emotional about Pedro. It might seem a bit silly, but that one season did more to affect my outlook on homosexuality and equality than just about anything else did. I have vague memories of a few of the other seasons, but Season 3 was the one that just did me in.

    Fun fact: Real World Alums now number a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin, and the WWE World Champion “The Miz”.

  2. simplyshaka April 25, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Ahhhh yes! I used to love Real World before it become “Real World: Let’s see how many obnoxious personalities we can cram in a swanky pad with a hot tub” I believe I watched it up to Boston or Seattle and then I was done with the show. There is nothing like the earlier seasons of LA, NYC, SF and Miami. Sigh.

  3. Sana April 25, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    So I was not raised w/o a tv and I started watching the real world after I was ten and I feel like I appreciate the way I was raised.

    I am accepting of the way people are from meeting them not from people on TV.

    • runeatdatesleep April 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

      Oh, I’m accepting of her, but I don’t think people realize what they do when they their children NOT to do something. It just makes it more appealing to do. My conversations with her over the weekend just made me realize what I did learn from television at a young age, and my views were mostly shaped from what I learned from TV. Like I learned about breast cancer from 90210.

  4. Pam April 26, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    You’d rather your kids learn about such pivotal issues as abortion, homosexuality, and racism from television than by having an open and honest relationship with them, which results in being able to talk about these things? Sorry, not me!

    • runeatdatesleep April 26, 2011 at 8:28 am #

      I didn’t say I wouldn’t have an open relationship with my kids. My relationship with my kids will include letting them watch television. If they learn about something on the TV that they want to discuss with me, then that’s great. I’ll sit down with them and talk about abortion, AIDS, politics, and sexuality until the cows come home, but I don’t think it would have the same affect as watching someone on TV go through it. My parents, my brother, and I used to spend hours every night discussing some of these topics, but I don’t think they would have thought to talk about abortions and AIDS with me.

  5. Hollie @ Lolzthatswim(andRun) April 26, 2011 at 7:08 am #

    I do agree. I liked the real world before it became so ridiculous and full of disgusting people.

  6. Jenn April 26, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    I totally agree with you. My parents did let me watch the Real World but who knows if they would have if they knew all of the topics they talked about. My parents were open and I’m sure would have discussed the issues with me but, like you said, they probably didn’t see a need to. Back then AIDS was still taboo and in their eyes, only gay men got it. I vividly remember crying during some of the Pedro episodes. I learned a lot from the RW too before it turned into a drunken, chaotic, idiotic frat house.

  7. proudpatriot07 April 26, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    I miss the old Real World, where the people were actually… real, and seemed like normal people. Now it’s all about how much they can party and get drunk :(. I think the last season I actually watched was back in the late 1990s or 2000.

  8. Fruit Fly April 26, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    I love this post … ’cause I totally loved the Real World! I say loveD because it has changed so much. I felt like at the start it was more real. They had to fend for themselves with regard to money. They weren’t all forced to have a job together, and they weren’t just getting drunk and naked with each other every week. It was as real as reality TV can get. I never missed an episode and when they released that book I rushed out and bought it that very day. Pedro was just awesome. I was so disgusted when, in high school, our health teacher printed an article about him and we all discussed it. I was happy to discuss him because I think that he was a good role model for people – to see that you can “live with AIDS” and not just be dying from it. What disgusted me was that in my class I had to sit by bigoted guys that laughed and thought he deserved to die. I’ve always been very open minded and a major gay rights supporter, so I loved that the Real World had really likable, intelligent, educated gay people for every one to see.

    What the heck ever happened to that show? I still watch when it is on and I am flipping channels, but it lost that spark that it had for the first few seasons.

  9. runeatreality April 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    i dabbled in season 3 but have religiously watched every episode of the real world since season 4 in london. my parents didn’t worry about me watching it because back then it wasn’t scandalous. they didn’t try to shield me from things like homosexuality, either.

    now it is a bit out of control but i do love the challenge. i see the real world as just a breeding ground for new competitors. and if i haven’t seen the real world seasons, how will i know about all the competitors on the challenge?

  10. Alison April 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    “It wasnt. not. funny!!”

    A bit of the lighter side of Tami….

    I was a Real World lover from Season 1. It really is such a great barometer for how youth culture (and MTV) have changed over the past 20 years. Remember how scandalous it was when Eric and Julie HELD HANDS!! And then had a tiny kiss??

    I am an in the same boat, the Real World really opened my eyes to a much bigger world than I was exposed to in my small town. TV wasn’t my only education, but there are some conversations that are a little hard to have with your parents. And sometimes it felt easier to relate to people who were my peers (or almost my peers). Great lessons about consequences, too. When someone got fired (Montana) or kicked off the show (Irene, plus many others), it was a big deal. And early on, all of the cast members had ambitions, they were interesting and driven.

    But I can’t even watch the current seasons…I can’t relate at all, and it scares me more than a little that these fools are role models for a younger generation.

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