When a television show’s pillars are drunken yell fighting and sloppy inebriated make outs, there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical when it strives for reality-based gravitas, regardless of what authenticity its title might suggest. After dabbling with depression awareness and completely blowing past an issue of family mistrust brought on by a rape, Real World Seattle: Bad Blood decided to finally fully dive into an exploration of deep societal issues when last week’s episode focused on racism.
The seeds of the episode’s discord are sowed when the cast takes an overnight trip to the coast town of Ocean Shores. (I still don’t think they’ve ventured outside Capitol Hill, Belltown, and one afternoon in Greenwood yet, but sure… nothing screams real Seattle experience like going to Ocean Shores.) During a confessional “game,” the roommates share some of their more hidden troubles, and Mike makes a few big confessions. He opens up about getting messed up the the world of hard drugs earlier in life. One of his friends ended up overdosing on heroin, and he had to spend time in jail because of a drug bust. During his stint behind bars, he says that he was forced to either join the Aryan Brotherhood or get raped. He choose the former. He follows this up by tearfully emphasizing that it was a matter of self-preservation and he doesn’t believe in the values of the gang, which seems like a fairly genuine moment. Mike may be an instigator and very dumb, but he’s not going around telling his diverse roommates that he was Aryan Brotherhood in order to invoke a reaction dumb. At the time, it really seemed like a camaraderie-building confession. At the time.
But as the episode progresses, one of Mike’s routine transgressions gets emphasized—his casual use of the n-word as slang. Outside of Orlana, the rest of the black housemates give Mike a pass on his use of the word because they view him as an ignorant dummy and not an actual racist. However, things take a turn when Mike and Jordan have a heated conversation on their way to a club. Mike begins nagging Jordan’s hairstyle, and she responds that black guys love it. Mike follows up that comment by saying, “You guys can rub coconut oil on you ashy-ass skin together.” For those keeping score at home: wow that’s r-a-c-i-s-t.
Because of her biracial background, the comment justifiably upsets Jordan and she ditches Mike to talk about it with the other black cast members. It only takes moments for Mike to realize what he’s done, which leads to a spiral of guilt and denial. He knows he royally screwed up, but also doesn’t want to admit what he did was wrong, playing the “How can you blame me if I don’t know any better?” card. You can almost see the rusty gears slowly turning in his head as he connects the dots between confessing his brief membership with the Aryan Brotherhood and his awful racist attempt at a joke that made his paramour deeply uncomfortable. He can see the editing magic of the MTV producers flash before his eyes: he’s going to be portrayed as the show’s racist. And he panics. He leaves the club, goes back to the house, and begins packing up his belongings. He won’t engage with Jordan, Theo, or any of the other black roommates that attempt to start calm, civil conversation about the incident, which only further escalates things. He claims he has to move out of the house… and he actually goes through with it. Mike is gone. He doesn’t seem to care how bad it looks to flee the scene without trying to work things out with the rest of the cast. In his mind, he stepped past the point of no return and couldn’t look back. In the end, the instigator instigated himself.
In the most tepid defense of Mike, he’s an idiot bro not an
alt-right Neo-Nazi monster. If he was a deeply racist person, he wouldn’t have tried to shack up with Jordan or tearfully admit to being forced into joining the Aryan Brotherhood (actual ones are proud of their membership). He’s just the type of awful white moron that thinks he can say the n-word because he listens to hip-hop or can make objectionable racist jokes because he watched Chappelle’s Show. People like Mike aren’t at the core of our country’s racial problems, but their mildly willful ignorance isn’t helping.
Mike’s departure sets Kassius’s mind racing. He feels like he gave Mike a racist pass with his use of the n-word, and continues to rant about it while the rest of the cast tries to sleep. Eventually, this leads to another confrontation between Kassius and Theo (take a shot if you’re playing the Real World drinking game). Theo takes the controversial shut up and go to bed stance. Kassius sees this as Theo dismissing Mike’s racist words, so he proceeds to tell his cousin, “You’re a disgrace to your race!” Oooof. Where are the words of post-brawl Ron Burgandy when you need them? Needless to say, that claim sets off Theo, and the pair needs to separated by security (drink again). While his intentions might be in the right place on this issue, Kassius just seems to indiscriminately discharge his rage, sometimes directing it at those who might be his ally if he had a modicum of composure.
Following the familial dust up, it’s revealed that the cast plans to go to a Black Lives Matter protest march. Immediately, it’s hard to ignore the mental sirens blaring, “THIS SEEMS LIKE A BAD IDEA.” With the season lacking any track record of nuance or even a connection to the world outside of the house, the warning signs don’t point toward MTV handling such an hot-button topic with any sort of delicate care. And yet… they kind of pull it off.
The show portrays a warm (if somewhat cursory) interest in the movement that somehow doesn’t feel overtly exploitative. Theo marvels that in the turnout from Seattle’s predominately white and Asian community for an event where the issue doesn’t focus on their own well being. Robbie discusses going to support the cause because it’s something his roommates feel passionately about. Kassius takes the mic at one point to share his feelings about valuing his own skin. Even the often-cold Katrina express how her “heart hurt” hearing some of the BLM speakers' stories. It actually feels—dare I say—real when the cast sticks with the march well after its become dark and left the heart of downtown.
Would it have been nice if the whole Black Lives Matter march wasn’t shoehorned into the show’s final segment? Sure. Do they take a deep look at any of the goals Black Lives Matter strives to achieve? Of course not. But the little Real World Seattle did show of BLM actually looks great compared to a majority of the media’s coverage of the movement. For once, it felt good not to finish watching an episode of this series and not feel like complete human garbage.
Episode Space Needle Count: 8
Running Space Needle Count: 86
The Real World Seattle: Bad Blood airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on MTV.