Millions of reality show addicts around the nation are on the edges of their couches today waiting to learn the fate of Real World
castmate Andrew, who was pushed off what looked like a fifteen-foot high wall onto the pavement below by a drunken housemate, Ty, at the end of last week’s episode. Fortunately, we can assume from a few previews of the season, as well as the lack of media reports, that Andrew did not actually die as the result of this fall. But that outcome is due more to luck than any precautions taken by the show’s producers. In fact, their role in his injury could almost be characterized as contributory negligence.
Anyone who has watched the Real World
throughout its incredible 23-season run knows that alcohol is almost like the perennial eighth – or this year ninth – housemate. It is present in almost every episode. And if it were nominated for an Emmy it would be for a leading, not a supporting, role. This was not always the case, of course. In the earlier seasons, alcohol played a less significant role on the show. But as with alcohol itself, the use of alcohol by cast members has become an intoxicating and addictive ingredient for producers.
Why, as an advocate for marijuana policy reform, do I care about the drunken antics of reality show participants? I am glad you asked. The easiest way for me to explain is to share with you an excerpt from Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?
(Chelsea Green, 2009). As the title implies, the book examines the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol and questions why we, as a society, intentionally steer people toward the far more harmful substance. The excerpt below is from the beginning of Chapter 7, which is, appropriately enough, entitled, “The Real-World Ramifications of Our Pro-Alcohol Culture,” and it uses the Real World
to make a point about the real world.
One final point before I post the excerpt: If you agree that Real World
participants, and other reality show participants, like “Jersey Shore” cast members, should be able to make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol, you can sign a petition
put together by the organization SAFER and its executive director, Mason Tvert, a co-author (along with Paul Armentano of NORML and myself) of Marijuana is Safer
. As the petition says, it is time for MTV to stop driving cast members to drink and start getting real
Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?
Chapter 7: “The Real-World Ramifications of Our Pro-Alcohol Culture”
Given the widespread popularity of both marijuana and alcohol as social and recreational intoxicants, it’s hardly surprising to discover that the two substances are potential substitutes for one another. Yet, our society steers citizens who might otherwise enjoy relaxing with cannabis toward the use of alcohol instead. In other words, by artificially reducing the use of marijuana in this country, we are artificially increasing the level of alcohol use—and all of the problems that go along with that use.
So what are some of the real-world ramifications of this practice? To begin our assessment, it seems only appropriate that we look to MTV’s long-running reality show The Real World, which since 1992 has purported to demonstrate what happens when young Americans “stop being polite and start getting real.” Yet there is something decidedly unreal about the social lives of the show’s cast members. In more than twenty seasons, including more than 140 cast members representing the eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-old demographic, viewers have never once witnessed anyone chilling on the couch after taking a hit off a joint or a bong.
Instead, season after season, cast members—including the under-twenty-one housemates—drink to their hearts’ content. Viewers have seen drunken young women performing in public like strippers and they have witnessed inebriated male and female cast members engaging in random sexual hookups. Excessive drinking on the set has frequently led to heated arguments among castmates, fights, abusive language, and overly aggressive actions toward women. In some cases, these actions have even led to arrests. Hangovers and blackouts on The Real Worldare just a fact of life. Yet despite all of this alcohol-fueled debauchery, there is no indication that the show’s producers have ever considered taking steps to reduce cast members’ alcohol intake—even though two housemates ultimately entered rehab for alcoholism during the filming of the show. If anything, it seems as if the prevalence of alcohol-fueled episodes on the show have increased over time—as has the proliferation of alcohol-inducing play things like pool tables and hot tubs—to the point where one could only assume that producers are encouraging the use of booze. This was undoubtedly the case when they arranged for the suitemates in The Real World: Las Vegasto work for a nightclub and even serve cocktails.
Is the real world exactly like The Real World? Well, no. First of all, surveys indicate that residents of the real world often use marijuana and typically have ready access to it. In addition, most people have actual responsibilities that diminish their ability to get shit-faced six or seven nights a week. These two points aside, however, the comparison is spot-on.
We live in a society that has created something of an intoxication-related balloon effect. The balloon effect describes a situation where the proactive prohibition of one action produces a similar counter-action—like when you squeeze one end of a balloon, you simply shift air to the other end. This analogy is often applied to efforts to eradicate illegal drug crops in South America or Afghanistan. For instance, if authorities exert pressure to try to eliminate the cultivation of coca crops in Columbia, production will simply increase in Peru or some other nation. In the real world, like on The Real World, we exist within a society where pressure is being applied to the marijuana end of the balloon. As a result, air is shifted to the alcohol end, and its use has expanded. In the rest of this chapter, we will take a look at what this expansion has wrought…