Monday, May 18, 2009

Capturing College Life

If I had a dime for everyone I’ve met in college who’s told me that they thought their dorm would make a decent reality television show, I’d have – well, about a dollar twenty, but that’s considerable given the fact that I most of my conversations are not, surprisingly enough, about reality television. And I’d have to agree with this statement – I live with some amazing, odd and interesting people and, knowing them the way I do from living with them, I would probably watch their antics on TV.

Then I saw the premier of MTV’s new show College Life.

I was about ten minutes into the show when the realization struck me -- I was wasting my life watching it.

These people are nothing like the people I live with. From the second the camera starts rolling they are flat and easy to define – we have the drunk jock who can’t focus on academics, we have a mixed race boy who seems to define himself entirely in terms of ethnicity, we have a girl who still hangs out with a possessive ex regularly, and another who has – well guy drama of some sort or other. They’re all decently attractive, of course, and know how to whine with the best of them. Ultimately, they made me a bit ashamed that this was the impression viewers would get of college life. Where was the depth? Where was the passion (for things besides beer and sex, at least)? Where were the friendships or the odd antics or the random conversations about which breakfast food you would most like to wear, if you had to wear one? (The answer, by the way, is sliced bread).

Of course, I’m sure (read: I hope) that, in person, these people have more going for them. Being on reality television, however, seems to flattens them. Compare this with another show – or rather, a web feature, called Dorm Life, a "mockumentary" following one floor of a dorm at an undisclosed college (watch it at In other words Dorm Life is College Life... except scripted and considerably better. Where College Life boasts, “This isn’t ‘reality.’ This is real”, Dorm Life runs with the tagline “This isn’t real life. This is dorm life.”

The funny thing is, Dorm Life seems infinitely more compelling and real than College Life. Dorm Life provides some truly ridiculous characters as well but, as satire, is able to tap into something much more relatable through this comedy. College Life cannot say the same. It seems odd that something scripted can seem more “real” than something that claims to be real, yet the nature of reality televisions seems to be necessarily removing and redefining its participants. Fiction, however, just tries to be good – the rest falls into place.

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