Heteronormativity Real World

I just watched Season 32, Episode 1 of the Real World. I was particularly struck by the emphasis on certain heteronormative traditions.

In one scene, the characters (contestants?) play a game of truth or dare, and one of the males has to bite the lip of the person across from him — it just so happens to be a man. In the ensuing scenes, the men of the house collectively freak out. It is only after the next woman in the circle goes, and she, by chance (not), is tasked to streak throughout the house naked. A deal is struck: she will only do this if the man bites the other man’s lip. The men continue to freak out — eventually, he does it. Afterwords, other men on the show say they would’ve never done what he did. And he, the man himself, says that it was “against his traditions.”

I am thinking about this sequence and the episode at large in tandem with Nash’s “Re-thinking Intersectionality,” in which Nash advocates that intersectionality “abandon its commitment to sameness” (12), i.e. adopt a more a more nuanced methodology which does not use the black female body as the locus for all oppression based solely on her gender and race, but instead considers other identities (class, sexuality, nationality, etc.) in mapping out the level of oppression experienced.

And if we adopt, here, Nash’s more developed and inclusive notion of intersectionality, we can understand the potentially deleterious consequences of this episode of television on its audiences. This scene plays out between two ostentatiously straight white men who come from socioeconomically privileged backgrounds — a series of identities which Crenshaw does not necessarily include within her theory of intersectionality. But if a privileged, queer white man were watching this episode of TV which reinforces certain awful heteronormative ideals, he would feel attacked and belittled for his experience. The show’s premise, which, it could be argued, is to present certain aspects of “the real world,” shows its audience that to experiment at all with one’s heterosexuality (in this case to bite another man’s lip), is only permissible if there is a trade-off, if a woman will subsequently expose her naked body to everybody.

The one character on the show who demonstrates any pushback against this game — a black woman, no less — is ostracized and mocked by the rest of the show’s participants. She becomes a divisive character who starts fights in an otherwise “peaceful” home. I point out the character’s gender and race to posit that The Real World, here, is also enforcing another stereotype, that of the angry black woman who cannot live with what she has, who must make everything bad by yelling about it and refusing to just partake. On many levels, then, transcending across many identities, this show commits many acts of violence against its potential audience.

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