- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
Washington is a city of oxymorons. It is a city of garden variety morons, as well. On the oxymoron side we have old favorites like “military intelligence,” “compassionate conservative,” and “government organization.” On the moron side…well, in U.S. politics we have morons on both sides.
Now we have something new however, as in Washington the oxymorons and the morons are coming together in the form of America’s latest reality television extravaganza (we really needed another): “Real World Washington.” This is a unique double oxymoron in that it calls itself real but, like most reality TV, it is not…and because it is suggesting, fancifully, that there is somehow a connection between Washington and the real world. As for the morons, well you need only visit the bars around the DuPont Circle neighborhood location of the Real World set and you can view for yourself the cast in all their beer-soaked glory.
At first I wondered to myself how it was that a show like “The Real World” could have become MTV’s longest-running hit, now in its 17th year. After all, it’s pretty formulaic. Semi-attractive young adults including at least one or two with deep psychological problems are put together in a house in which they: drink, puke, appear to grope one another in grainy night-vision camera shots, and then fight about who groped whom.
Of course, thinking of it that way, I naturally started to wonder why it took so long for the show to come to the home of American politics which have been featuring all these activities for years. (For those of you who are more insensitive than I, insert Teddy Kennedy joke here. And for those of you who don’t have the stomach for such humor but still want a laugh at the expense of all that Kennedy family groping, see this link about a new book on America’s zany royal family.)
Once I started thinking about politicians and groping and the real world, however, my thoughts immediately drifted eastward, out over the Atlantic, and in the direction of the world’s most famous aging libido, that of the host of this week’s G8 Meeting, Silvio Berlusconi. This in turn led to a thunderbolt of inspiration akin to that which struck another famous Italian in the Berlusconi mold, Michael Corleone, when he first saw the ill-fated Apollonia Vitelli. What about the Real World Berlusconi-style? What about Real World L’Aquila? Once we get the G8 leaders to Italy, why don’t we lock them in a room until they actually produce something productive? And let’s put it all on video! Big Brother for Big Brother!
And to keep it interesting we can add elements of other reality shows. For example, how about a taste of Real Housewives Berlusconi-style, while we’re at it. Just locking Silvio and his really (justifiably) angry, estranged wife Veronica Lario in a house for the enjoyment of tv audiences everywhere would be irresistible.But throw her in with a bunch of other world leaders? See what happens when Silvio shoots an ill-considered glance in the direction of Michelle Obama? Who’s wailing on him first? Veronica, Barack or Michelle? (My money is on Michelle.) Sadly, of course, Veronica is passing on the G8 Summit, forcing the Italians to turn the wife of their president to be the hostess for the affair.
We still have plenty of fun cast to choose from, however, given that the meetings in Italy will actually be attended by more than 25 countries, including all the G20. Just think of the potential gang we could feature in the house that meet the Real World formula for diversity and mayhem.
- Of course, we start with the hard-partying Berlusconi. He may be 72 but he has the judgment and appetites of a 19-year-old frat boy and is certain to end up in the money shots that MTV needs. For example, see the recently released photos of him enjoying two women locked in a girl-on-girl kiss in front of him at a party at his estate in Sardinia.
- Barack and Michelle Obama add the diversity element. In fact, this week they will actually break the color line at the G8 Summit, making it the first to actually feature a person of color sitting in one of the principal’s seats. But they are also fun-loving, party people. Barack danced on the Ellen show and in Dreams from My Father he admitted to the kind of recreational drug use that one has to believe is an off-camera Real World specialty. Michelle would, of course, be the serious one in the house, the good girl who MTV clings to as a sign of the redeeming social content of the series.
- Carla Bruni knows how to party like a rock star from having partied with so many rock stars and because she is so telegenic she will be allowed to bring along her little guy, who will undoubtedly end up being the “Spencer” (to mix reality TV metaphors) of the show, mouthing off to everyone and likely getting into a fight with some of the bigger, more athletic members of Real World L’Aquila.
- One of the more dangerous of “jock” contingent will be former member of the Japanese Olympic team, Taro Aso, who competed in the shooting competition. Perfect for TV, Aso is even more dangerous when shooting off his mouth than when using a weapon. For instance, there was the time that he said sketched out his vision for a better Japan, suggesting that he wanted to help make it a country in which “rich Jews” would like to live.
- Another of the “jocks” with a professed love of weightlifting early in his life is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. More appealing however to producers at MTV will be his tastes in music which include Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. So, two birds with one stone…he’s the muscle (he still swims a mile twice a day) and the requisite head-banger of the crowd. (Perhaps this will create fireworks others in the group who were firebrands in their youth, like former secretary for Agitprop of her chapter of the Free German Youth socialist youth group, Angela Merkel. Maybe after a few beers with vodka chasers they might break out in a Karaoke performance of “99 Luftballons” or, from the Deep Purple songbook, “Smoke on the Water.”)
- Sadly, this being television, some thought may have to be given to kicking Canada and Great Britain out of the G8 due to the fact that Stephen Harper and Gordon Brown are so boring. At least, there is nothing in their youths that suggests they would ever indulge in the kind of hijinks that make for good reality television. Harper and Canada even managed to take the drama out of the global financial meltdown by actually properly managing their financial systems (something that can’t be said for Brown who manages to achieve a paradoxical blend of boring and yet somehow terrifying at the same time.)
Given the fact that Berlusconi will be joined in Italy by members of the G20, the cast can be expanded to included a diverse enough group of lively characters to make this one version of Real World actually look a lot more like the real world than its many predecessors. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma is, for example, a party all by himself with four wives, three other fiancés, perhaps as many as 18 children, and a list of run-ins with the law that would allow him to play the bad boy role. China’s Hu Jintao was reportedly fond of singing and dancing in his teen years and therefore might add a little lift to those party nights out. And although Brazil’s President Lula and Zuma may only have achieved the fourth and fifth grade in school, respectively, this actually makes them educationally over-qualified by Real World standards.
Sadly for the Real World premise…and for the real world…not many of the visiting leaders are women so we will have to rely on host Berlusconi to add a few of his close personal friends to add a little sexual tension to the show. But what with party credentials of the crowd gathering in L’Aquila and the help of Il Cavaliere it’s clear this could make for fine viewing. If we wanted to make it something more than that…and something more than the bland communiqué machine G8 meetings typically are…we could add a different reality show twist, à la say “Big Brother” or “Survivor,” in which participants are voted out after each week. Except in this instance, what we could do is rely on the general odiousness of hanging out with pols around the clock to motivate the cast to want to leave the house, but then not let them out unless they actually get something done in their negotiations. Think how that system would change the nature of summits. Although my fear is that rather than producing more productive meetings of government leaders, the requirement that they get something done would actually lead to the end of summits altogether.
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