One of the more striking things about the first season of The Real World is that Julie is clearly intended to be the show’s protagonist. In a way that no other Real World season has ever quite duplicated, Julie The Virgin From Alabama is very much the main character in New York, the wide-eyed innocent whom we follow on her various adventures in the big, scary city. There was the very bad, very staged date with a very tall man; the night spent on the streets with a homeless crack addict; and the tense visit from her Southern, conservative family. This week, we’ve got the most dramatic moment of the entire season: Julie’s epic fight with Kevin about race, violence and telephone etiquette.
That’s right: it’s the “click” heard ’round the world.
In case the show’s allegiance to Julie was ever unclear, “Julie Thinks Kevin Is Psycho!” begins with Julie’s pretty face, framed in a tight, teary, dramatic close-up. "Why is our beloved heroine so upset?" you can't help wondering. As Julie tells Heather and Eric, she just got into an explosive fight with Kevin, one that, according to her version of events, began with an interrupted phone call and ended with threats of violence and a lobbed candlestick. We’re thrown into the drama in medias res, and never actually see the fight in question, which means either the producers were being clever, or they weren’t rolling tape when the spat erupted.
I’m guessing that the latter scenario is probably what happened, but indulge me for a moment and let’s pretend this episode is actually a postmodern meditation on the elusive nature of truth—sort of a reality version of Rashomon. After Julie’s tearful account, we hear Kevin’s version of the incident and—guess what?—it’s pretty different from Julie’s. It’s only too bad Errol Morris didn’t direct this episode and set it to a Philip Glass score. Imagine the possibilities!
There’s a Clue-like vibe to the rest of the episode, as the various roommates try to piece together what exactly happened between Kevin and Julie using the various clues available to them. Was it Kevin in the kitchen with a candlestick? Or was it Julie in the living room with a telephone?
Norm seems genuinely undecided about what happened. Initially he sides with Julie
because he is racist because he doesn’t think Julie would make up a crazy story about Kevin coming after her with a candlestick. He confronts Kevin, who claims he only got mad because Julie interrupted a phone call with a potential employer, who then hung up on him. Kevin dramatically recreates the call (“Click. Do you understand what I’m saying? Click.”) and suddenly Norm is not so sure where the truth lies.
When Julie gets home later, Norm demands to know the truth. His performance is hilariously overwrought, like he's playing Atticus Finch in a dinner theater production. Clutching the offending candlestick as Kevin sits brooding with his feet up on the counter (bad form, Kev), Norm again asks Julie about what happened. “I really need to know exactly what happened… I just accused him of having you be challenged with this object and being spat at in the face,” he says, getting his mords all wixed up.
Julie tells the same story, which, as we all know from watching hours and hours of detective shows on TV, means she is telling the truth. Kevin simply laughs off her allegations, saying that Julie’s “buggin.’” Rashomon jokes aside, it is kind of interesting how totally different their stories are. Sure, maybe Julie was a little bitchy on the phone, but either Kevin did or didn’t tell Julie to suck his dick/he was going to break all her fucking fingers. How much could she be making up? And how much could Kevin have actually forgotten?
Unlike Norm, Eric is not at all confused. To the surprise of exactly no one, he is totally on Julie’s side. He even tries to cheer her up by playing some goofy songs on Andre’s guitar while wearing “zany” outfits like this one:
It’s an incredibly sweet gesture, but it’s also sort of cringe-y, because—let’s face it—Eric is not the funniest guy in town. Or in the loft. He is the male equivalent of one of those pretty girls who thinks she’s Lucille Ball because guys will laugh at her lame fart jokes. (I’m talking to you, Gretchen Rossi.) Julie politely chuckles, but you sort of get the sense that she wanted Eric to buzz off—that is until he busts out his chicken strut, which is actually damn good. Watch out, Mick Jagger.
Andre is mostly absent from this episode, but he too weighs in on The Affair of The Candlestick. After a visit to his old Jersey City neighborhood, Kevin returns to the loft to find Andre lurking in the foyer (Was he waiting there all day for Kevin to get back? If so: ew, creepy). Kevin’s left a note up on the bulletin board. It is a touch hyperbolic:
“When did they stop counting black folks as 3/5 of a human being? (Dred Scott lives!)” –KePo1*
Andre suggests that Kevin is taking out his anger on the wrong people, man. “Who here is racist?” he asks. Kevin laughs sarcastically, but Andre presses him on the issue. “What does racism mean to you?” he asks. “Who here is trying to control you?” Andre in some ways is the most stereotypically slacker-y of all the NYC loftmates, but he’s also a pretty smart guy, and he was wise to push Kevin on the racism allegations without getting overly defensive. He and Kevin actually seem to have an interesting conversation, though unfortunately it’s been edited to almost nothing. In short, Kevin believes that when a black person is assertive, he or she is automatically seen as threatening; this is what happened with Julie, or so he claims, and the fact that the roommates instantly sided with Julie illustrates their bias. Of course, he’s also missing the crucial fact that the other roommates are close friends with Julie, and not Kevin, and that Julie’s fiercest ally is Heather B.—the only other black person in the loft.
The drama reaches its memorable climax with a curbside showdown between Kevin and Julie. The details of this scene—the graffiti, the scaffolding, Julie’s fleece, all the finger-pointing and close-talking—have been burned in my brain for about two decades now, but re-watching it, I’m only more impressed by Julie’s tenacity. When I was 12 or 13, I didn’t quite appreciate the boldness of a 19-year-old girl willing to stand up to a 26-year-old guy, but now I do. In my notes for this episode, I wrote, “JULIE IS TOUGH.” And she is.
The conversation begins on a remotely civil note, but quickly ignites the second that Julie accuses Kevin of threatening her. She wishes he would get off the “black-white thing” and says racism is everywhere only because of “people like you, Kevin” (which, admittedly, was pretty harsh). Kevin calls her “19-year-old white girl from Alabama who just doesn’t understand” and claims that black people can’t be racist. He then abruptly suggests they go back inside, to which Julie replies, “Why, I thought we were fine out here?” Zing! The strange thing about their fight is that it concludes so abruptly, or at least it appears to: All of a sudden, Kevin and Julie are inside, shaking hands and cracking jokes about the whole thing. Say what? Here’s a moment where the MTV rapid-fire editing is problematic.
The episode concludes with a conspicuously tacked-on incident involving Heather B., some paper cups, and a woman dressed up for a Lady Miss Kier lookalike competition. With only a few days left at the loft, the roomies are throwing a blowout bash to celebrate Kevin and Eric’s birthdays. It looks like good, clean(ish) fun until the cops suddenly roll up. Wannabe-LMK has called the cops, alleging that Heather B. assaulted her. “I asked her for a paper cup and she grabbed my LEATHER coat and said, ‘That’s $3,’” she explains, which sounds to me like a pretty weak case.
To be fair, Heather B. also seems a bit overly territorial about her paper cups. “Why did you try to take a cup? All you had to do was ask for one. Period,” she screams to Julie. Maybe she tried to take a cup because she was at a party and wanted a drink? Just a thought. Whatever: This is Heather’s pad and normal rules don’t apply. As Kevin, who is not always wrong, puts it, “The woman was rude to her and Heather let her know you don’t act rude towards Heather B.”
Tune in next week, when we find out what happens when people stop being polite and start being rude towards Heather B. Leave your LEATHER jackets at home, kids!
*I am assuming this is Kevin’s clever signature.
- The best-dressed award this week was a tough call. With perennial frontrunner Becky nowhere to be found, the field was wide open. The paper-cup-grabber deserves some recognition, and Kevin’s girlfriend’s modern afrocentric look is kind of awesomely ’90s, too, but I am going to go with Julie for her colorful “going-out” top:
- Like Kevin, Norm seems to be a close-talker. I love the scene where he confronts Kevin about the fight with Julie. He’s all fired up and his face is right in Kevin’s, but you can see him softening his stance almost right away. Being right up in someone’s face when you’re mad at them is one thing, but when you’re like “Oh, gee, maybe you have a point,” the proximity suddenly becomes a whole lot more awkward.
- During his race summit with Andre, Kevin sits at the desk, which is basically a time capsule: there’s a Ren & Stimpy poster behind it, and a gigantic typewriter sitting right on top.
- This is maybe the first episode where we see one of the roommates push away the cameras—in this case, it’s Julie. “If you don’t get that camera off me I’m gonna die,” she says, after a tearful call home.
- Can we talk a little bit about Kevin’s poetry? I am hardly the person to judge, since the very idea of spoken word gives me hives, but it’s a little teen angst-y, isn’t it? (e.g. “NEA = Nazism Entering America.”)