This is the story of one man, a black man, and the prison that society helped build for his mind, the prison that he voluntarily entered and remains inside for over 20 years. This is the story of David Edwards from Paramount+’s Homecoming in the Real World.
This is not a very good story.
Especially since this show was a welcome chance at redemption, or at least I hoped so, since most of these ordinary people who became reality TV stars were before America even knew what reality TV stars were. Once upon a time there were just children. In 1993, they were 20-year-olds who were chosen to live in a house and find out what happens when people stop being polite and start acting real. It was the second season of MTV’s “The Real World” to be moved from New York and moved to Los Angeles.
To say that the sophomore season failed and burned out and then failed again is an understatement. The roommate mashup couldn’t have been more frantic, and the ensuing controversy was to be expected. Tami was an AIDS prevention consultant and was mildly homophobic. John, a country bumpkin, loved his little Jesus and country music. In the series, they lived with the always complaining and always in the spotlight Beth. Add to that Irene, Deputy Sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and you can imagine the chaos that followed.
That’s what MTV wanted. In the first New York season, nothing rose above a loud scream, which, by New York standards, is ordinary conversation. For the most part, the New York roommates were friends, and aside from a few spats over race, there wasn’t really any drama that became the lifeblood of reality TV.
But the Los Angeles train quickly derailed. David, an overly sensitive, sharp-tongued, short-tempered man disguised as a comedian trying to break into Hollywood, did little to hide his disdain for his roommates. He argued with the reality show’s original Karen, Beth (claiming that she deserved the pimples on her face because of her attitude). He tried to fight almost all of his male co-workers and, as we later found out, he lied about John asking if he could hang a Confederate flag in his room. The whole season was a powder keg and it exploded after a night of playful banter and pranks between girls and boys when David went too far.
In what can only be described as “the blanket incident heard around the world”, David pulled the blanket off Tami, who was wearing only a bra and panties. Irene and Beth compared David’s actions to those of a rapist. David said it was all a joke. Eventually, David became the first person to be kicked off a reality show. This moment wasn’t just the first for a reality show; this was the beginning of David’s slow spiral into a real leak.
So why didn’t MTV want to get the group back together some 28 years later to capture the real story of seven elderly people returning to the same house for a week, to tape their lives to find out what happens when no one goes to therapy?
My father used to call it “preparing pickles”. In fact, he kept asking me how my pickles were progressing. For my dad, when you were an adult, not dealing with real life issues like trauma, emotional stress, and trouble raising kids was like making pickles. During my “I was trying to smoke it out” phase, my father told me that I would take a cucumber (my problem) and put it in a jar of vinegar (weed) in the hope that it would dissolve. “And all you do is cook pickles,” he laughed.
The problem never goes away on its own. It just turns into something similar to what it was before. But it’s still there.
This was what I thought of as soon as David entered the house and was caught pouring pure liquor into a water bottle. The crewmates are concerned about David’s drinking.
David is not. It quickly becomes clear that the “blanket incident” has froze David emotionally. He went from overly sensitive to bitter and very much sensitive, even more volatile combination. Because it’s not enough to just bring these people back to the house, MTV gives them video messages to spark conversation. Of course, they go back to tugging blankets, and everything goes as expected.
“As for me, when I watch this, I still get angry,” says Tami. “Because if I say that I have no clothes on, then no one should have tried to pull off the blanket. People don’t understand that laughter is an attempt to hide discomfort and awkwardness. And they don’t know what to do. And that’s what happened to me at the moment when you guys didn’t know who I was, what I was dealing with, even when we were filming this show.”
Tami continues: “You didn’t see me take the laxative, you didn’t hear me vomit. You all didn’t know that I was battling body dysmorphia. No one understood why I was gagged, because when I look at myself, it seems to me that I weigh 300 pounds. She referring to the procedure she had during the 1993 show where she had a wire put over her mouth to prevent her from eating.
David doesn’t hear Tami in her moment of vulnerability. He asks to play the awkward clip again to show on the screen and laugh.
Tami again tries to share her story so that David can better understand why this moment remains a trigger for her. She tells him that it took her “a long time to recover from her goddamn bulimia”.
David exclaims that he wouldn’t want to be on the show if he knew she had all these problems.
“Now I’m being accused of mental problems that I didn’t even know you had,” he says.
If this was the only incident that happened to David, there would be no need to remember his time in the house, but David continues to hate everyone but himself. Or maybe he hates himself and in turn hates everyone else. Who knows. In any case, he argues with Beth, and we all foresaw this. He tells Irene “Fuck you” for saying in 1993 that she would call the police and cry about being raped. He throws an orange at Glenn, whom he often refers to as his replacement, as the former punk singer did replace him for the 1993 season. If in 1993 David was a firecracker, then in 2022 David was a dynamite.
But things get even worse when the cast tries to discuss the importance of Black Lives Matter (at the initiative of the show’s producers, of course). Glenn uses the N-word. Tami, who turns out to be a lonely black person trying to educate her clueless roommates despite David sitting there, tests him. Irene also uses the N-word, and Tami tests it too.
David intervenes only to talk about the role of corporations in pitting people against each other. It’s a lackluster attempt to join the conversation only to say nothing, a fact that Tami tries to talk to David about the next morning. This does not work. Tami explains that she expected more from David, given that the Black Lives Matter movement directly affects black men. David says he lives his life trying to avoid the severity of these conversations. Tami tells him it’s a slave mentality. David says he thinks it’s rich considering it comes from a black woman in a wig. Ouch. David makes another joke about her wig, and Tami remarks that the joke didn’t go well, like his entire career. Oh again.
Some more bickering ensues and Tami seems to let him die. And that’s when David walks behind Tami, talking loudly on the phone, claiming he’s going to start stealing wigs. Tami feels threatened and calls her husband, who steps up to confront David. David finds out about this and leaves the show.
And that sums up David’s failed attempt to remake his abruptly ended 1993 season. Nothing has changed for David. It actually got worse. It seems that for years he held a grudge against his co-stars for the way his life turned out after the show. He notes that everything was bad, including a nasty bicycle incident that left him with a scar on his head. David is so stuck in his story that he could have left the house in 1993 and then turned around and returned to the house in 2021. He lacks the empathy and compassion that usually comes with age and getting the job done. He still blames everyone for the way his life turned out. He is completely incapable of taking criticism or processing anything.
But to fully understand David in reality TV storytelling, you need to understand the role of black men before him, that is, to understand Kevin Powell. Kevin was a mild-mannered, well-read public figure who worked tirelessly to erase the negative stereotype of black men during his time on the first season of The Real World. He looked like an extra from Spike Lee’s casting. After the show, Kevin dealt with his anger and violence towards both men and women. He spoke openly about his past and what he did to get better, and yes, that included (but was not limited to) therapy.
For David, The Real World is not a TV show where he lives with strangers; this is the one where the violence lives inside it. This is the world he created and cannot handle when someone demands the best of him.
David shouldn’t have done the show in 1993, and he shouldn’t have done the show now because the wounds of his past haven’t healed yet. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Everyone else is a problem, and for David there is no problem if he keeps running away from it. He has not yet realized that he brings the problem with him wherever he goes.
I don’t know if David has a future as a comedian. I do not see it. You cannot be carefree and cheerful when there is so much resentment in your heart. But if he continues like this, I’m sure he’ll make a great pickle.