Let’s begin this week by discussing the elephant in the room: the ridiculous titles of these vintage Real World episodes, which sound like the notes a giggly 13-year-old might secretly write in the middle of algebra class (e.g. "Julie and Eric... Could It Be Love?") As my esteemed colleague Todd VanDerWerff has already pointed out, this week’s episode may have the silliest title to date, “Heather Wants to Grab His Booty!” which is both extremely absurd and also a somewhat imprecise summary of the episode in question.
On the DVD I own (yes, own) the episodes have different, much more functional titles. This one is simply called “A Search for Kevin,” which is also a little deceptive. After all, no one actually bothers to look for Kevin. If you recall, last week’s episode ended with Kevin, spooked by the sudden transformation of his roommates, storming out of the loft. As the action resumes this week, he's still M.I.A. (I like to think he was out wandering the streets of Chinatown, his collar turned up against the cold). The pranksters instantly feel remorseful, but there’s not much they can do but wait for Kevin’s return; this is, after all, before cell phones. “I’ve done some mean things, but this is mean,” says Eric, in between bites of ice cream. (For some reason, I just love that he’s eating ice cream while wearing his sexy “gay” vest.)
Eventually, Kevin returns to the apartment, and Becky, Norm and Julie immediately offer their apologies. “I’m not really a whore,” Julie says. Kevin tells Julie he was “really pissed off at” her for getting all slutty, and I suppose I could find his attitude towards her rather patronizing, but I don’t. I think it’s actually very sweet how protective he is of Julie. Kevin watches the home video the other roommates made in his absence, and he seems a little miffed, though not exactly mad. It was “a bad joke,” he claims, while Julie suspects that Kevin’s feeling left out. “I think it just really hurt him to see us there bonding.”
Meanwhile, Eric still isn't quite prepared to ditch the vest:
Nearly as soon as the Kevin prank is resolved, a mysterious envelope addressed to Becky, Heather and Julie arrives at the loft. In a remarkable coincidence, Becky, Heather and Julie just so happen to be lying around together on the couch at this exact moment. They're discussing Heather’s crush on basketball player Larry Johnson. She’s going to see him play with the Charlotte Hornets at the Meadowlands, and her singular goal is to squeeze his butt—security be damned. “I just plan on getting arrested that day,” she declares matter-of-factly. There’s a coziness to the scene that I find endearing: Becky, in her Davey Crockett jacket, looks exhausted; Heather’s hair is wrapped up in a towel, and they’re all draped on the couch. It’s a nice little moment of unscripted girlie bonding.
The girls open the mystery envelope, and learn that they’re going to be taking a trip to Jamaica; delighted, high-pitched squealing ensues. Just over halfway through the first season of The Real World, we’ve got what may be the first explicit act of intervention by the show’s producers. It’s clear the folks at Bunim-Murray wanted the girls to get a little action, and were willing to dole out some extra cash to make that happen. I suppose I could be offended by this heavy-handed meddling, but personally, I just like how obvious it is that the roommates have an acute case of late-winter cabin fever. As a New Yorker, I can relate to the feeling of hopelessness that sets in sometime around the second week of February.
The news of their impending trip to Jamaica puts Julie and Heather in a giddy mood. Heather starts impulsively dialing up her friends on the phone, and Julie asks if she’s calling just to rub it in their faces. “Yeah, basically,” says Heather, totally deadpan. Once Heather runs out of friends to call, she and Julie decide to start calling strangers at random from the phone book. Heather cracks up in the middle of her call, but Julie’s got a better poker face. Calling herself “Louise”—because she hates the name “Thelma” —Julie dials up a stranger named Gregory. “Greg, oh my Gosh, this is Louise, can you believe it? I won a trip to Jamaica. I leave the 27th!” she squeals. If there’s one analog experience I wish my as-yet-unborn children would be able to experience, it’s the sheer thrill of a prank phone call. Alas, I.P. Freely's reign of terror may be over forever.
The girls are so committed to their prank calls that when Kevin asks if they want to play pool, Heather’s response is a curt “Nah, we calling people’s houses.” They are an adorable duo. Despite the trip to Jamaica, what Heather’s really excited about is Larry Johnson. “If she got to do one thing, that’s what it would be grab his tush. I hope she gets to because maybe then she’ll shut up,” says Julie in a talking-head interview conducted in what appears to be middle-school shop classroom.
The adorableness continues when Heather and Julie—Jeather? Hulie?—head out to the Meadowlands to see Larry Johnson and the Nets play. Julie’s wearing a fantastically dorky ensemble of white jeans and an American flag bomber jacket, while Heather opts for a more sophisticated all-black look. (Small quibble: I wish we’d gotten to see Heather picking out her outfit.) Like the supportive bestie she is, Julie’s almost more excited than Heather, who is basically unflappable. “I hear you wanted to meet me,” she coolly tells Larry when she finally gets to meet him. After the game, Heather slips him her digits and, again, it’s Julie who’s freaking out. Here we’ve got what looks like another instance of producer meddling—I mean, how does Larry even know who Heather B. is, unless he’s just really, really into Boogie Down Productions? But honestly, it doesn’t matter. The girlish camaraderie between Heather and Julie makes for great TV.
Back at the apartment, it’s the night before the girls are due to depart for Jamaica. Julie’s ironing, Heather’s laying out her clothes, and Becky’s just finished her last night at “Tattoo,” the midtown nightclub where she was waiting tables, but she doesn’t have a bathing suit to wear. She and Norm are curled up on the couch, chatting lazily about their day. He casually mentions something about Jerry Brown—California’s current governor who, in early 1992, was running in the Democratic presidential primary. With the kneejerk flippancy of someone in her early 20s who has yet to live through the George W. Bush administration, Becky says, “My feeling is it doesn’t matter who we vote for.” (Ha!)
Kevin, who is for once at the loft, challenges Becky on her apathy. “I just think it’s important that we keep our eyes open. I think everybody does their own thing, that’s the legacy of the ‘80s,” he says. Becky hastens to clarify her position. “This is a great country. I think this is a great country.”
Then all hell breaks loose.
What began as an idle conversation about politics quickly escalates into an out-and-out race war (more or less). The editing in this scene is more than a little slippery, and it’s hard to completely follow the trajectory of Kevin and Becky’s argument, but it goes a little something like this: Kevin insists that America is not a great country, Becky qualifies her statement and throws out a few clichés about melting pots, Kevin brings up the Indians, Becky insists that America is still the land of opportunity, Kevin calls her a racist for not understanding his point of view and makes spurious claims about the effects of the Civil Rights movement.
Becky’s point of view is at once idealistic and jaded. She’s skeptical of politicians, yet believes that positive change is possible: “You and me and Heather and Norm and people like us can fucking get together and make it better.” She’s not willing to admit that she understands Kevin’s experiences as a black man—routinely getting stopped by the police or being passed over for jobs—and doesn’t think that makes her a bigot. Kevin thinks it does. “Race plus power equals racism!” he yells. (Math is not Kevin's strong suit.) Becky brushes off his allegations of racism.“So then don’t hang out with me,” she says.
There’s no doubt Becky comes out on top in this argument, which ends with this subtle kiss-off from Kevin: “Your mother’s full of shit, you stupid bitch." Classy! But there’s also no doubt the conversation was heavily edited so that Kevin and Becky both play their respective parts—Angry Young Black Man and Flaky Liberal Chick—to perfection. I’m not suggesting MTV had something sinister in mind, but there is something inherently manipulative about editing and I shudder to think how I might have appeared in a similar argument from, oh, say 2004.
- Becky is the decisive victor in this week’s best-dressed contest. I mean, just look at this ensemble. Perfect for a heated late-night conversation about race relations, don’t you think?
- Heather’s “Jesus Was An African” t-shirt also deserves a special mention.
- What’s with the pastel calculator Becky’s fiddling with on the couch?
- Again, the timeline here is a little confusing. Andre took part in the original prank, but he’s not there for Kevin’s freak-out. He returns home, wearing his super-cool giant blazer, and the other roommates, still in their disguises, fill him in. So how long has Julie been sitting there in her whore outfit? I guess we’ll never know.
- In a talking-head interview filmed from a ridiculously high angle, Andre expresses his disgust with Kevin. “The thing is he actually bought that I was joining a bluegrass band. It says he knows absolutely nothing about me. Absolutely nothing,” he says, presumably offended that a rocker like him would ever go acoustic. Fast-forward 19 years and—guess what?—Andre is in a bluegrass band called River Rouge. So maybe Kevin really was on to something after all? You can see one of their videos here.
- A few weeks back, a reader brought my attention to this blog post, written by Heather B., in which she claims that a Seinfeld writer wanted to make a sitcom starring Heather and Julie. I would have watched it in a heartbeat.
- "What's a Meadowland?" Oh, Julie.