Now that the Real World: San Diego season is almost over, social scientists, self-loathing pundits and drunken barmaids are debating the cultural ramifications of the show's portrayal of San Diego.
This is no small matter, considering the show airs weekly on national cable TV, giving the li'l city by the sea the type of exposure that makes tourism officials wet their wrinkle-free Dockers. Using their hard-earned junior college degrees, the tourism toadies spend millions of dollars buying ads in magazines and coming up with catchy slogans like, "Come to San Diego!" And then MTV comes along and offers up a seemingly endless montage of idyllic sunsets and sailboats on San Diego Bay.
As the marketing geeks say, ya can't buy that type of publicity.
But Real World is more than a simple Chamber of Commerce-approved infomercial. It's "reality," and that's always a sticky issue for the leaders of the Des Moines of the West.
Real World is showing the world a side of San Diego the Rotary Club types generally don't like to acknowledge, except when they're chugging brewskis while playing Over the Line or making new friends at Cheetahs.
To act as tour guides for the mean streets of San Diego, the MTV producers couldn't have picked a better group of fun-loving kids. For one, they're almost all drunks, which means they fit right in. Uninterested in any subject or activity that doesn't involve tequila, oblivious to anything beyond the land of beer nuts-the one thing you'll never see on Real World is a cast member cuddled up in the bean bag reading a good book-they seamlessly blend into the local social structure of beach keggers.
From thick-necked Brad to massive-chested Coyote Ugly bartender Robin, they stumbled through the streets of San Diego, revealing much about the city's inner soul.
Thanks to the show, we now have a better understanding of the legal definition of "drunk and disorderly," and exactly what it takes to get tossed in jail here. The answer is, it turns out, not much, especially if you're sloppy drunk and pretty damn stupid.
Many social issues were examined in the show, including the prejudice against manic-depressive Midwestern girls with cystic fibrosis and phobias about big boats. Life is very hard for these people in San Diego, the show tells us, especially when they're liquored up or out sailing on the bay.
As regular viewers know, the girl in question, Frankie, also has a wee issue with self-mutilation, which is known in the reality-TV game as a "homerun."
Frankie and her well-pierced turmoil are in sharp contrast to Cameran, a Southern belle who apparently never watched much basic cable during her formative years. Sweet, innocent Cameran has been brought to tears many times by the harsh reality of San Diego, most noticeably when a cocaine-snorting rich kid invited her to a party at his house. Yes, she learned many things that night and reminded righteous viewers around the world that San Diego is a cesspool of vice and sleaze.
Thanks to Cameran, viewers also learned that many San Diego bouncers, when confronted by a cute blonde who looks 17 and is followed by a TV crew, occasionally ask for ID. This must have irritated the show's producers, who apparently had no problem with underage Cameran attempting to sneak into bars, which is generally viewed as "illegal."
After all, this is reality, where moral and legal issues fade into the background, especially if there is free beer in the vicinity. And it would be easy to dismiss the drunken cast as nothing more than a bad experiment in social engineering by the show's producers, except they are instantly recognizable as part of a whole generation of San Diego kids who classify shooting pool as intellectual stimulation.
Certainly no one who has walked around the Gaslamp on a Friday night was shocked at the images of a drunken Robin screaming at her roommates on the street outside a club or a lobotomized Brad challenging frat boys to a fight. This is the Real World and while it's still not clear how the show is going to handle the sexual assault that allegedly happened in the house, there's no doubt they have captured more than a glimpse of San Diego's reality.
Far more vague is what all this really says about San Diego, and whether it will encourage senior citizens in Utah to visit this summer or entice multinational conglomerates to move their headquarters here, as the Chamber-types hope. Even more daunting is any attempt to try to sift through the empty beer bottles and used condoms to figure out if there isn't a larger message about the city and the younger generation that will man the Taco Bell drive-up windows of our future.
This is a perplexing issue, and as the show winds up, it is sure to spark furious discourse around town. Righteous souls will denounce. Bloggers will blog. Classes will form at San Diego State.
Transportation-bond issues, corporate crime and beheadings in the Middle East will fade as San Diegans turn to the important issues raised by the show, specifically the divisive question of whether or not Cameran should have given Brad a hummer in the restaurant bathroom.
It's not exactly the stuff of Socrates, but it's hard to find many philosophy majors in Mission Beach on wet T-shirt night. ©aWrite to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.