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Actors living in white mansions make it difficult to identify 'Real World'

On the eve of the election (or, rather, on the first eve of the election), it was refreshing to know that Mr. Jefferson's dream of democracy is alive and well at the University. The first-year residents of Page and Emmet houses were invited downstairs to the Graduate Advisor's suite to actively engage in the democratic process. No, we're not talking about last-minute ballot stuffing. The GA was referring to the other type of vote: whether to watch the networks' coverage of the race, or Comedy Central's.

The ease of gaining information from television gives rise to a new generation of political followers. The coverage on the networks simulates the atmosphere of a sporting event, even drawing in those viewers who can't match a vice presidential candidate with his running mate, or who think Roe v. Wade are simply two ways to get across a river. After all, we are a generation who takes the Saturday Night Live debate spoofs more seriously than the actual debates. Who wants to watch a bunch of eye-rolling and fuzzy-math squabbling anyway? According to your last calc test, your math is fuzzy enough.

This recent breed of the marathon election night facilitates not only a play-by-play style of coverage, but also the party atmosphere. Now, some may argue that the University has a party atmosphere all 364 other days of the year too, but Tuesday night's get-togethers outlasted many a party on Rugby Road. By a show of hands in my Mass Media class Wednesday morning (well, a show of hands from the few who actually made it out of bed), most students claimed to see the clock read 4 a.m. that morning. By this time, the office of the President of the United States changed more than it will throughout the rest of our lifetime. Some students laid their heads down Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning so utterly confused about the outcome that they expected to wake up to a surprise victory by Nader. The interior design majors dreamt of green as the new look for the Lincoln Bedroom.

As engaging as the frantic media coverage was, no amount of animation could successfully steal the attention of the entire student body. While half the TV sets were tuned to ABC's "It's Bush ... no, wait, it's Gore ... we mean Bush" coverage, the other half were faithfully tuned to the finale of MTV's cult favorite: "The Real World." Inevitably, this led American Studies Prof. John Sullivan to ask, "Which is the real world?" And, furthermore, which real world is coming to an end?

Just when you think it's the demise of Democratic rule, the Sunshine State keeps you guessing. Welcome to Real World Washington, D.C.: where the object is once again filling a house with "real people" who seem more like actors so we can scrutinize their everyday trials and tribulations through our television set. No wonder author and television critic David Marc argues that the line between reality and TV is blurring.

Even the Simpsons are in on the act of popularizing political coverage. In the opening credits of Sunday night's program, Bart writes on the chalkboard that he will not send subliminal messages. Within the white letters, the name "AL GORE" glows in green. Incidentally, green is the color most plaguing Gore in pre-election coverage, with critic after critic bemoaning the "Nader factor." In the end, it did not seem to be a factor at all, as the "experts" were wrong again.

There is some hope to be found in the fact that those who were most absorbed in Tuesday night's action had not even bothered to vote. Maybe they will remember how much "fun" election night was and will send in their ballot once the next election rolls around in November 2004. Of course, there's always the possibility they will still be catching up on their sleep after pulling that Election 2000 all-nighter. Or the Real World re-runs might cause sufficient distraction.

However, many are predicting online voting for future elections. This would mean that students would simply have to switch over from their Instant Message window to the voting Web site, and cast their vote while still watching the Real World and listening to Napster. We are, after all, a University of multi-talented students, able to extend our efforts to several tasks at once.

The real fun begins now, though, as newspapers grapple to find the right headline. In the next few days, we should see everything from "Bush Wins" to "Gore Wins" to "Florida Continues to Battle it Out Over Ballot-Boxes." An honest newspaper, if one such exists, may simply ask, "Who knows?"

Not me, I was watching "The Real World.


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