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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

What Is Going on With MTV's The Real World??

By Elizabeth Lombino

May 11, 2011

What Is Going on With MTVs The Real World??

I know what you're thinking ... I'm too old to watch or care about MTV's The Real World. Yes, this is true. However, because I'm old enough to vividly remember the early days of The Real World, I feel the need to explore what I'm seeing with the latest cast members.

This season marks the 25th anniversary of the show. Since 1992, there have been 25 separate groups of young people living together and having their lives taped. The Real World was the very first ever reality show. The show has been ground breaking and progressive in its entertainment and in its social commentary.

Case in point: the introduction of Pedro Zamora during the 3rd season (1994) in San Francisco. He was the first openly HIV+ person showcased on any media platform. Not only was he open, he was outspoken and determined to share his story with the world. We watched his journey on the show, his reactions from his house mates, his engaging personality and the influence he had on everyone he came in contact with. It was a proud moment for him, for MTV, and for all of us watching.

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Fast forward 17 years and 22 seasons. The current cast is in Las Vegas (for the 2nd time) and they are embracing their youth and the hedonistic atmosphere. Nothing wrong with that. However, as they are having fun, some of the cast mates are making high-risk sexual decisions. In episode 9, we see cast members Naomi and Leroy, who have been in a sexual relationship together for much of the season, deal with some sexual health issues. We discover that they have been having unprotected sex with each other and with other partners as well. They discuss their fears and concerns, mainly around the threat of STDs and pregnancy. The threat of HIV or AIDS is never uttered.

Much has changed since the days of Pedro Zamora on The Real World.

To be clear, I'm not passing judgment on the sexual exploration of these young people. Watch the rest of the episode and you see other cast members exploring and expressing their sexuality. That's not the issue. For me, the issue is that 17 years after Pedro, young people are reverting back to high risk sexual behavior. There is a return of denial, especially when it comes to perceived HIV risk.

In fairness, The Real World does show us what is "real" and unfortunately there are countless young adults and teens practicing unsafe sex today. Just look at the prime scapegoat -- Bristol Palin. Something has got to give. When will young people take HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies and other STDs seriously?

It is sad to see the shift back to severe complacency and utter denial. Newsflash people: HIV does not discriminate. Anyone is at risk and many people have HIV and do not know it. Your partner may look healthy, yet that is not an indicator of anything. This is a sad statement and myth that is somehow making a comeback in our vernacular. There is no specific look that goes along with being HIV+. There is no look that indicates a person is living with AIDS. For our culture and our young people to somehow embrace this myth and use it in their thought patterns when engaging in sexual risk behaviors is incredibly scary. If these myths continue, we will continue to see a resurgence of the AIDS epidemic among our young people. The HIV infection rates are already high and climbing among this population as it is. To see it get any worse before it gets better is a horrific thought.

In a way it's probably a good thing MTV showcased this. It's real, after all. Our youth are clearly misinformed, undereducated and just plain in denial when it comes to HIV awareness. This could clearly be a result of Abstinence Only Education. In addition, MTV could have done a better job at providing resources for HIV testing to dispel the myths and raise awareness on the subject. Yet there was none of that.

Clearly we all have a ton of work to do. My hope is that HIV/AIDS awareness will return to the education of our young people. And that future seasons of The Real World will show young people being young and experimenting with their sexuality ... while taking precautions to protect themselves and their partners.

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See Also
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities
More About HIV on Television

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Cris (texas) Wed., May. 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm EDT
Mike just wants to have sex for the first time. He don't care who he hurts, it's so damn apparent. Why is he so focused on Dustin. He is Gay and can't get the thought out of his head that his peer who is straight did gay porn.
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Comment by: Richard (San Diego, CA) Fri., May. 13, 2011 at 8:15 am EDT
How is Bristol Palin the prime scapegoat? her parents believed in abstinence-only education and she got pregnant. We need a call to action. Some activism. People to write to MTV..."Hoping" things will change will get you nowhere. THis blog is part of the problem...just writing stuff on sites like these for no real reason. Devote yourself to activism to actually change stuff. Get people active to write letters. There is a lot to do. Work with an aids organization or start your own organization. Nothing will change unless you help it change.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Elizabeth Lombino Fri., Jun. 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm EDT
Thank you for your passionate words, Richard. You are absolutely right, just writing about the issues is not enough. Most of us here on TheBody are also very active in the HIV community. We write to reach a broader audience and inspire others to join our fight. There are many pieces to successful activism and thankfully TheBody is at the heart of the cause.


Comment by: Brooke Davidoff (Seattle, WA) Thu., May. 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm EDT
OMG I love Pedro. I was actually told about this episode I no longer watch The Real World but was asked by a friend if the woman should be tested. I guess it goes to show how trusting the youth is for the strangers we sleep with.

You never see HIV coming. People who have it DON'T look sick. And there are no prominent famous straight people who have it out there speaking about it. Until that day I don't see straight young people taking the threat seriously. I know I didn't.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Elizabeth Lombino Fri., Jun. 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm EDT
Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts, Brooke!


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Elizabeth Lombino

Elizabeth Lombino

As a Social Worker, I have been providing mental health treatment to HIV-positive adults for over 10 years. I received my master's in Social Work from Columbia University. Also, I write about HIV/AIDS advocacy and present at national conferences on the issues related to HIV/AIDS to professionals and students. Through writing and presenting, I can better advocate for the issues that I see with my clients every day. Living with HIV/AIDS can be a daily struggle with many unique challenges. My goal with this blog is to provide a sort of cyber therapy space for you to learn some skills and tools to better cope with these challenges. Hopefully you will gain confidence and look at life in new ways. Through humor, hope, sarcasm, education, and other therapeutic tools, let me help you live a happier life! So sit back, relax, and let's start relieving some stress!

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