May 15th, 2013 | by JAY HORTON Movies & Television | Posted In: The Real World: Portland

The Real World Portland, Ep. 7: Rashomon-gering

real world cast
We know, you don't even have a TV. But WW correspondent Jay Horton is enduring and recapping each installment to assess just how real—and how Portland-y—the housemates get.

A red traffic light hanging above an empty street opens the seventh episode, and, whether the image was intended to reference Twin Peaks or not (a bit showily clever for The Real World), let’s just embrace the first regional cultural reference cited since editors placed birds atop cast members’ naughty bits in that introductory special. We’ve been following the cast for almost two months now, and the closest we’ve come to any sort of storyline has been the emerging enigma of “Hurricane” Nia who last week escalated tensions with a stumblingly-drunk Jordan to the point of actual violence. To say that she instigated events somehow falls short—cats juggling broken mice are more than just instigators—and, exhibiting similar zeal spreading lies while amongst the roommates over what exactly happened, she seems a genuine menace: an anarchic presence intent on befouling the psychic landscape for her own ineffable whimsy.

She is Nia. Eager for fun. When she wears a smile…everybody run!

Alas, before we can tackle the pressing theme of demonic possession (which would neatly explain her haunted mien and insistence that some ghost is stealing her clothing), there was a rather earthier problem separating, if you will, Black Loft and White Loft. We neglected to mention the racial component of last week’s battle royale simply because, um, we didn’t quite notice. To be sure, Jordan was whooping in a manner frankly simian, but the man’s a primitive: rending of limbs and lapping of blood seemed on the table. Nor did we hear the exchange of a certain bleeped epithet that, unlike the all-too-real strangling attempts and murderous threats, sends the house into a tizzy of suppositions.

The element of mystery appears particularly silly for a reality program. Surely, at some point, the members could just check the tapes to verify Nia’s claims and end the she-said/he-barely-remembered histrionics? As happened, though, there was a witness to said events. Anastasia watched everything unfold and, with a sardonic patience and command of the language heretofore wholly absent, undertook an explanation (Nia had used the dreaded word, Jordan had merely tried to defend himself) to almost everyone’s satisfaction, just in time for the episode’s day trip to the Columbia Gorge. Though this suggested a neatly dramatic and rather picturesque end to the pair’s final problem—two sets of footprints leading down the path to the falls while none return—Nya would not accept Jordan’s apology, and, to their immense credit, the loftmates thought her refusal to join the trip nothing but poor sportsmanship.

While their problems are entirely of the roommates’ own making, the solutions are tackled in a manner straightforward and…mature would be the wrong word, perhaps. Still, it’s borderline impressive how easily they all accept the depths of past degradations. Upon awakening, they immediately set out to confront accusations and flesh out the barest bones of memories with all the grim determination of overmatched WW1 flight commanders studying the morning casualty reports, and, once the relevant information has been understood, they begin sketching plans for imminent sortie. For dawning self-pity subsumed within blinkered duty, a bleakly mirthless gallows humor, and pathological rejiggering of alliances, cast members could lead the Dawn Patrol, and they certainly drink that way.

Much as we miss the sparkling conversations and forward momentum generated by those halcyon casts of creative professionals peopling the Old (Real) World, up’n’comers of keening ambition do not as a rule drink. They certainly can’t spare the time to fight through hangovers with any regularity, and making the most of a Saturday night would be explained away as “suicidal” or “Irish” midst aggrieved murmurs by roomies high on their own self importance. However one might describe Portland’s batch of loftmates, they’re not excessively careerist. Perennially jobless feels correct, but the corporate visionaries behind Pizza Schmizza evidently refuse to let any of them go no matter what they do (or don’t).

If Pizza Schmizza did indeed pay for product placement, this might be the most expensive “Help Wanted” sign ever created, but they’ve surely enjoyed the steady string of shit-faced nymphos dropping off applications, opening up tabs and terrifying potential patrons without ever acknowledging their existence (Nia’s inimitable approach to customer service). Nia, actually, might have been fired had the manager ever attracted her glance or interrupted her cell conversation whilst trying to hurry along the second hour of her smoke break last week. Reading between the lines of the dearth of interstitial footage outside loft or bar, might we assume that ownership no longer requires the cast to actually work their shifts within the restaurant? It’s sort of a brilliant compromise to stave off the all-but-predestined kitchen fire…or so it seemed until one fatal flaw arrived along with payday.

Couldn’t someone have thought to simply mail the checks? Or, failing that, couldn’t the manager have simply lied following the awkward pause Johnny’s request was bound to inspire? Because, honestly, it may as well have been written on the Schmizza calendar that Averey would force Johnny to grab checks. If not quite career-oriented, Averey’s artisanal approach to the post-coital glow must be considered at the least high-craft; she was meant to take to her day bed and idly bitch about the vapors—and, with paychecks given just inches away from where booze would be poured, the only real question was how drunk Johnny would get before nightfall (very! Without Jordan to watch or Averey to bone, Johnny soon loses coherency altogether).

Here, though, the story takes an unexpected turn. Averey was hungry, positively starving, and, though she’d hardly elaborated upon the extent of her needs through distracted languor (talking as much to dog Daisy as Johnny midst initial order), she’d fairly or not depended upon the pizzas arriving tout suite and grew livid upon his return. ‘Twas a quietly simmering burn, worlds apart from the half-smiling contretemps doubtlessly arranged for the cameras two weeks ago, and, with manful gravity, Johnny declared himself ready to impose limits upon forthcoming bouts of abandon.

Now, whether or not this sort of treatment ever proves successful—for most folks, I’d imagine, instances of alcohol abuse decline sharply once they’re no longer filmed on the toilet or forced to interact at all times with the worst people on earth—the tactic’s most certainly never broached on television as anything but a means of denial. Somehow, despite two decades of steadfast cultural engineering specifically intended to cleanse entertainment-programming for the 18-34 demographic of any unpunished debauchery, the comparative teetotalers of yesteryear have been spiked but hard, and the resulting spectacle feels damnably refreshing. Yes, the preferred house tipple (complicated two-person-shooter contraption dispensing liqueurs of syrupy consistency and colors not found in nature) seems more befitting a sixth-grade graduation bash.

Yes, above the few dozen far-worthier mother-of-Pearl establishments housed within a mile of their loft, the roommates immediately and decisively designated Splash Bar (imagine attending a Spring Break beach party at a Nova Scotia airport disco) as signature locale. They’ve probably still never heard of craft beer or small-batch distilleries, and, when finally prodded to cross the river, they appeared irritated and confused that Rontoms hadn’t any outward signage.

Though we might not wish to share a bottle with them anytime soon, alcohol enthusiasts who so unabashedly enjoy the effects without worrying about taste reveal a thirst cultivated over time, and nobody’s quicker to forgive the sins of the moment. Make no mistake, the Real Worlders deserve more than their share of blame for these bravura feats of awfulness, but, fighting daily the old ennui, what have they to do but drink? To be fair, it’s actually sort of noble how matter-of-factly they all—save poor, possessed Nya—accept past errors and skip a few steps to try and make immediate amends or otherwise smooth over turbulence, and, here again, there’s a distinct shift away from the older traditions that weirdly dignifies our current retinue.

Nearly all of the cast members signing on for the initial NYC/LA/SF runs had just recently either earned a degree or left school to make their mark. Aside from warm memories of comfortable homes with supportive parents, they’d no prior knowledge of shared residences beyond dorm life, and, while gathering together post-grads encouraged various alums to act, um, collegial, liberal arts training shan’t always be so wholly relevant. As means of defraying incivility, for example, the emphasis on collective action to ameliorate individual sensitivity were agonizingly slow processes even when no offense was meant or, really, taken.

I cannot imagine how long the early incarnations of the program would’ve taken to workshop a groupthink resolution condemning racism, strangling, and the refined sugar/white flour of Jordan’s breakfast cereal. For all we’ve despaired about this current class of cast members ever appreciating the vibrant cultural diversity of our rarefied hipster fiefdom, the very same mutual-respected solipsism that rather defies conventional wisdom or social niceties does offer a sort of asshole’s guide to effortless living with strangers, and, though likely unwanted consequence of serious psychological disorder, they’ve demonstrated an ability for rigorous self-analysis that captivates.

The episode ended with a talk between Anastasia and Jordan, whose friends had come to join him for a few days and further detailed the Oklahoman’s horrific upbringing. He hates his father, hates himself just as fiercely, and, as became increasingly clear during off-handed mention of several flirts with suicides the past few years, he hasn’t much idea of how to make things better. As reality star turns go, this was magnetic, unforeseen, and so perfectly of the moment as to rather embarrass earlier critiques of narrative inanity. Jordan finally found his heart. Johnny found his courage. Miracle of miracles, Anastasia even found her brains. Took a while, but I do believe we at last understand the nature of their quests and the purpose our redesigned realm may serve. The Portland portrayed may remain resolutely black and white, but, this netherworld of frat bars and franchise eateries, this is no place like our home.

Next week: Nia, nose and chin ever sharpening as her skin acquires a mossy hue, declares vengeance upon all the cast and, she holds Daisy aloft midst manic cackle, “their little dog, too!”
 
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