Of all the autobiographical acts that Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson describe in their book Reading Autobiography, the four autobiographical I’s- the narrating, the narrated, the ideological, and the historical- seem to be the most important; after all, what is more important to autobiography than the I? The four I’s also manage to embody many of the autobiographical subjects that Smith and Watson outline earlier in the book. The narrating I utilizes memory to interpret and describe the narrated I, who in many ways is the embodiment of memory. But the narrated I also exemplifies subjects like experience and agency as they move through the memory of the narrating I. With the ideological I, we can see identity emerge as the subject negotiates the cultural and social forces that play on their lives. And finally, the historical I is subject to the space in which they dwell.
But these I’s often bleed into each other. The narrating and narrated I often subject to the ideological I. And just as space often defines the historical I, so does it effect the narrated and narrating I, and space is just as likely to produce ideological I’s as is identity.
So I thought it would be interesting, and at the very least a bit entertaining, to give all four I’s their own agency- to separate them and watch them interact.
And what format is better for the mixing of the four I’s than The Real World; the original reality TV show. The entertainment of The Real World–the drama, the conflict, the friendships–all comes from the interaction between the different subjects autobiographical I’s. In fact, the general structure of The Real World itself can act as an allegory for the autobiographical I’s
The confessional is the narrating space, the place to reflect and commentate. And the placement of the confessional clips on the show is often directly opposed to the commentated-upon event–the narrated. And look at the intro, it stresses the ‘differences’ between the roommates–their race, their sexuality, their cultural narratives. What are these but ideological I’s? The historical I is even more obvious–it is the show itself, the film as a record of the subjects.
And on another level, The Real World seems to represent the other facets of autobiography. Authenticity and agency are subject to the producers; space and emplotment subject to the particular city; relationally is pushed to the extreme as the various roommates are forced together. And do the editors not represent the constructedness of the self?
Now, before I explain how this film relates to my own autobiography, I will present my 20 % project- Real World Autobiography.
Let me explain…it’s weird, wacky, maybe even alarming. It is desperately comical and desperate for acceptance. There is a complete shunning of the sophisticated, the somber, or–as Baldwin would put it–the “earnest”.
But that is me. This film is my autobiography in the same way that Bechdel believes her father’s self to be artifice. I am a construct of farce.
If there can ever be such a thing, it is the essence of this movie that represents me as person. I take almost nothing seriously, I am almost constantly smiling or making light of something that is very dark. This is a fault, this is why I could never be a poet–and a fiction writer is still a stretch for someone so fatuous.
So I guess, in the end, I ask you to look upon this movie not as some piece of worthless comedy, a shallow exercise in frivolity- but take it as something a bit more complex, a classic molding of comedy and tragedy, where the tragedy is more desperate than meets the eye.
Or just laugh at the pink robe. (See what I mean).