Multiracialism on The Real World and the Reconfiguration of Politics in MTV’s Brand During the 2000s

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2011-11-25 18:30Z by Steven

Multiracialism on The Real World and the Reconfiguration of Politics in MTV’s Brand During the 2000s

Popular Communication
Volume 8, Issue 2, 2010
pages 132-146
DOI: 10.1080/15405701003676105

Jon Kraszewski, Assistant Professor of Communication
Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersery

The Real World’s focus on multiracial identity is part of the MTV’s efforts to rebrand itself as being more tolerant of all political opinions in the 2000s. Post-2000 seasons of The Real World contain two different portraits of multiracialism that appeal to viewers across the political spectrum. The liberalism in these seasons comes from multiracialism functioning as a liberal utopia free of racism, one where fluidity, not hostility, defines race relations. At the same time, these seasons appeal to conservative sensibilities by making multiracial cast members models of neoliberal self-management that conservatives recently have used to justify dismantling the welfare state and civil rights initiatives. While neither the liberal nor the conservative portraits of multiracialism on post-2000 seasons of The Real World appear to be overtly racist, I unearth subtext where The Real World articulates multiracialism to white supremacy and anti-blackness.

The Real World is one of the longest running series in American television history. Premiering in 1992. the series has already completed 22 seasons, and MTV recently contracted for four more. Scholars have interrogated the racial politics of the series, but they have equated race with either blackness, specifically the series’ stereotypical portraits of black masculinity, or tensions between urban blacks and rural whites (Bell-Jordan, 2008; Kraszewski, 2009; Orbe, 1998; Park, 2008). This focus has excluded scholarly engagement with other racial identities on the series. This essay unsettles the scholarly equation of race with blackness in The Real World by exploring the politics of multiracialism on the series in the 2000s. A list of multiracial characters on recent seasons includes Aneesa from The Real World, Chicago; Irulon and Arissa from The Real World, Las Vegas; Adam from The Real World, Paris, and Brianna from The Real World, Hollywood. These cast members has one parent who is black and one who is white. The erasure of these characters from discussions about race relates to a larger omission of mixed-race people from media studies scholarship. In Mixed Race Hollywood, Beltrán and Fojas (2008) write that despite “the veritable explosion of multiracial imagery in Hollywood film and media culture today, there has been little published scholarship to dale on the history or current representation of mixed-race individuals, romances, families, or stars on screen” (p. 2).

Analyzing a long-running series such as The Real World presents methodological and historical problems: a channel undergoes branding changes over the course of 18 years, which…

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