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MTV's "Real World" is a Morally Irresponsible World

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

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"MTV, like every other television station, has demographics it hopes to target" report the producers of the MTV hit series "The Real World." "Our key market is 12-29 with the majority of those viewers being between the ages of 16 and 24. We hope to reflect those views when we cast things."

Reflect those views? If "Real World" reflects real life, then their viewers have sexual intercourse whenever the urge strikes them with whoever is available. They think that using a condom is the only moral imperative relating to sex.

"Real World" chronicles the life of a handful of twenty-somethings who live in the same house for six months or so -- kind of like the "Osbournes" but the characters aren't related. The actors are chosen for their personality and looks with the requisite gay or lesbian -- and now apparently bisexual -- character included.

This isn't necessarily a problem when these situations are dealt with honestly. Pedro, a character in the third season filmed in San Francisco a few years back, reported he had AIDS while the program was in production and died shortly after the series ended. His crisis was responsibly and sympathetically portrayed.

But times change and so has the program. There is so much bumping and grinding that the program could be rated as soft-core porn. The promotion for a recent episode has a male in a hot tub watching two of the female characters sexually arouse themselves. What's in store next week?

There is something tragic about these people. They are bright, healthy, and attractive. They have opportunities that most people in the world only hope for. Yet they have no moral center, no self-reflection about love, intimacy and sex. It never occurs to them that men and women were not meant to copulate like animals.

"Real World" is a morally vacuous world but MTV's irresponsibility comes as no surprise. They have been selling the message that sex has no consequences to teens for years. There are no pregnancies, no sexually transmitted diseases, no exhausted emotions in the sexually charged MTV world.

The real world is far different. Over three million teens will be infected with an STD this year alone. Some of them will never be able to bear children because of it. Add to the mix the explosive growth of teenage pregnancy and single parent families, abortion and other measures ostensibly offered as solutions to the problems caused by promiscuity, and it's clear that the teen world is far from safe.

In an era of justified outrage at the moral irresponsibility of companies like Enron, why the silence about the moral irresponsibility of companies like MTV? Children depend on adults. Right and wrong are taught, not divined out of thin air. Yet MTV marshals millions of dollars and untold hours of creative manpower to mask the consequences of the promiscuous sexuality that they market.

MTV's message adds to the moral confusion that many teens already experience. Clear thinking adults know that the message is a lie. They also know the constant bombardment of this message influences teens and they fight an uphill battle when these gatekeepers of teen culture hide the truth. Who really cares for the kids here?

Apologists for MTV argue that the programming stresses "safe sex" by urging that the teens use condoms whenever they have sex. It's not enough. Sexually active teens are notoriously unreliable about using condoms consistently. No amount of celebrity preaching or slick public service spots will change this. Second, condoms provide a false security. It leads to more sexual activity and therefore increased risk of harm.

Moral libertines don't like moral critiques. It makes them uncomfortable. They argue that moral critiques are a thin veil that hides censorship. In fact, moral critiques often function as moral appeals. Are there any parents at MTV or their sponsors, in management, on the boards and in committees, who believe that their responsibility extends beyond the bottom line? Do the adults at MTV understand that selling sex makes them culpable for the harm that results?

Copyright © 2002 Johannes L. Jacobse. Fr. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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