Normally, the phrase “MTV reality show” gives me a mental image that could be likened to the vile screeching of a thousand nails on a thousand chalkboards. If you were looking for three words to sum up the most vapid, irritating, cancerous qualities of popular culture, those would probably be the ones. If you’re looking for two, try The Hills (not to be confused with The Hill, which until recently was the only reality show I’ve ever actually enjoyed) and if you’re looking for four, try My Super Sweet Sixteen.
With such a pedigree, things weren’t looking good for this new show on MTV, The Paper. But the premise – a bunch of smart teenagers try to put together a school newspaper they genuinely care about – is definitely a step above the normal reality show approach of, “let’s all get together to worship the material wealth of a bunch of soulless, preening narcissists.” And as someone who was editor-in-chief of my high school paper senior year, I wanted to see how they depicted it.
Turns out the show is actually pretty good. Not really good, but certainly better than its demented cousins. A lot of moments of the show definitely seem pretty stilted and phony, and the show’s habit of obliterating subtext by stating aloud the obvious at least four or five times per episode (“I’m Amanda’s friend, but I’m resentful of her because she’s my boss.” Yeah, no shit.) can get pretty grating. But at least the stars are committed to something other than advancing their own personal status. And even though a lot of the scenes feel like dramatic reenactments, the goings-on of the paper ring true.
What’s up with the paper being a class in the school, though? In my day – which I’m pretty was actually the exact same day as the people on the show – the paper was kept a firmly extra-curricular activity to maintain its independence from the school administration and make sure that the people who wrote for it were willing to commit for reasons other than just grades. And if anyone in the administration even sneezed and it sounded vaguely like, “Maybe we should make the school paper into a class,” you were supposed to raise hell.
I have to admit, that, and the fact that the paper specifically and the school in general were clearly really well-funded, left me feeling a little bit smug. Oh hey, you guys got class time to work on the paper in a nice, air-conditioned room with new Apple computers and fancy software. Isn’t that nice. Us, we worked in a poorly ventilated graphic design room with computers that were out of date back when Alan Turing was still alive until all hours of the night. And weekends, too. Maybe if that was the way the paper in The Paper was run, the editors wouldn’t have all that free time to run around bitching about how they wanted the editor-in-chief position like, soooooooooo bad, and they could totally be doing a better job.
And Jesus Christ, do they ever bitch. I’m going to be more charitable than Jess and assume part of that is a byproduct of creative editing on MTV’s part. Of course, some of it is also part of being a teenager and classic high school dickishness. But when the camera isn’t eagerly lapping up every detail of this or that hissy fit, it really does seem like a group of smart, engaged, passionate kids. Particularly Amanda Lorbert and Alex Angert.
You know what I want more of in future episodes, though? More Cassie Laham! She seems to be the only one who’s managed totally divorce herself from adolescent bullshit, making her wise beyond her years. Hell, check out what she has to say in an Observer article about the show.
“I love Seymour Hersh: That’s who I would love to be. If I could be anybody, I’d be Seymour Hersh. A serious investigative reporter who knows where to dig and how to uncover these startling truths.”
An 18 year-old journalism nerd who wants to be Seymour Hersh?! Be still, my heart.
As for you, Amanda: Maureen Dowd? Seriously?! Come on, you can do better than that.