Gravy Train

The latest St. Louisan to hop aboard the reality-TV juggernaut sees nothing but green

"They made it look so fucking crazy," Giuntoli says of the introductory episode. "Everything happened, but it's not like we were jean-fucking all the time. It's a fuckin' TV show. They have storywriters. They'll magnify something 300 percent."

The Real World's Kahn, who was pigeonholed by that show's cameras as a hedonistic fellatrix, remains irked by the producers' penchant for manipulation.

"I was edited into this horrible caricature of myself," says Kahn, who recently threw in the towel after seven months in LA and now works at a women's boutique in Ladue. "Television has gotten so exploitive and sexual. It's become more important to push the envelope. Often it's just dumb hot people."

Although sex and television is hardly a revelatory pairing, Giuntoli argues that it was The Real World Las Vegas that signaled an irreversible devolution toward libido-centric plot lines.

"I think Vegas put us in the toilet a little bit," Giuntoli says of the decadent desert-and-dice season that featured as much loin play as the prior eleven installments combined. "They're all good-looking. It's unfair to the general public. [The Real World] used to be, 'I'm a struggling artist; what do you think about euthanasia?' Now it's, like, 'How many girls can you get in a hot tub?'"

Alice Hall, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has studied reality television extensively, says the emphasis on aesthetics has spread genre-wide.

"In Survivor, with the first one, you didn't necessarily have people who were magazine cover models," Hall observes. "By the second season, the glamour quotient went up."

Although Hall has never found much honesty in the "reality" tag ascribed to MTV's twin hit shows, she has noticed a trend toward enhanced superficiality.

"Even with the original Real World and Road Rules, they were casting people who would look attractive," says Hall. "The camera affects how people behave. But it could be argued that when those initial shows came out, they may not have been aware of the culture power that the shows have proven to have -- or, to a certain extent, the level of publicity that these shows generate."

Of course, Giuntoli knows full well the magnitude of the power he now wields, and he's astonishingly upfront about his intentions to squeeze every last dollar out of his newfound celebrity -- a fact that Webster professor Silverblatt feels will have little or no impact on the public-in-waiting.

"That's always been something people have done," Silverblatt says of quasi-celebrity's ka-ching factor. "Now it's becoming more overt, and people don't seem to mind. In times past, fame was connected to achievement. Now fame is just a byproduct of being noticed by the media. You have people who have no achievement other than being on media. It makes no difference who they are or what they've done; it's just simply that they are on."

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