Some Literature for the Illiterate: The MTV Generation Hits the Books

THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL: 1972-1981 LATE NIGHT'S ORIGINAL ROCK & ROLL SHOW By B.R. Hunter Simon & Schuster 159 pp., $18

You're having a drink in an out-of-the-way bar during spring break in Miami Beach. After your waitress takes your order, your friends begin whispering and pointing.

"Who is that?" you ask.

"She's Flora, from The Real World!" They tell you, giving you a questioning look.

"Uh, I knew that," you mumble.

"Yeah, right. What cast was she on?"

"Uh, um, Philadelphia?" you guess, and immediately regret it as you are drowned in the scornful laughter of your friends.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster, ignorance of MTV trivia never again has to be a road block on the highway of coolness. Finally, the appearance of being the kind of slacker who watches six hours of MTV a day, as well as an expertise on campy 70s music can be had for under $60. A set of new books in the spirit of music television delve into three crucial series, which capture the essence of MTV cool.

First step: The Real World: The Ultimate Insider's Guide. As if the TV show didn't afford enough pictures of these lovable teens and twentysomethings in various states of undress, James P. Solomon '87 and Alan Carter offer a book which compiles every conceivable piece of information on the 42 young people who sold their souls--or more precisely, six months of their lives--to MTV. From complete personal profiles to in-depth analyses of seminal Real World events (i.e., the firing of Montana from the After-School Program in the Boston season), Solomon and Carter dive headlong into the magic of the TV show that exists both as half-soap opera and half-documentary. Also included are fact sheets about the locales, a minute-by-minute account of a typical Real World day, snippets from the cast member's personal journals and a dictionary of Real World terms so that enthusiastic fans can even talk like their MTV heroes. Replete with candid photos, semi-coherent quotes and lush, neon-colored design, The Ultimate Insider's Guide reads like a cross between a fanzine and this month's issue of Seventeen. The end of each section even includes a quiz so that you can test your knowledge. And had you read the "Last Word" section, you would have known that Flora is tending bar and working in commercials and living in Miami Beach.

Once one has memorized all the information on the Boston, Miami, London, San Fransisco, Los Angeles and New York casts, it's time to learn a little about Road Rules, the popular Real World spin-off. In Road Rules: Passport Abroad, authors Alison Pollet and Leif Ueland have collected behind-the-scenes gossip and personal information that America has been salivating for ever since it first glimpsed five beautiful young men and women traveling cross-country in their very own Winnebago. Focusing on seasons three and four, Pollet and Ueland summarize the series of missions that the cast members had to complete in order to earn their final rewards. Interspersed between the interviews are random Road Rules related sidebars including "How to Get Chris' New Do" and "Fulvia's Recipe for Risi E Bisi". The style of the book, which contains over 150 full-color pages, is oddly familiar to that of The Ultimate Insider's Guide.

For the true MTV disciple, the most exciting sections of both The Ultimate Insider's Guide and Passport Abroad are the final pages, in which the reader is offered a chance to apply to the shows. Though 12,234 people applied for the seven spots in the Real World Boston cast, The Ultimate Insider's Guide seems to think you have a pretty good shot. "Just be yourself," the producers advise, and present a seven-page application with such intellectually stimulating questions as "What do you think about people who do drugs?" and "How important is sex to you?" The questionnaire is meant only to be supplementary, though, to the 10-minute video that each applicant has to submit, for which the producers recommend, "Don't overthink it."

To truly be a respected member of Generation-X, and have a shot at stardom on MTV, one must also show a healthy love for 70s nostalgia. Thus, the MTV empire, via VHI, brings us The Midnight Special: 1972-1981 Late Nights's Original Rock & Roll Show. For the uninitiated, "The Midnight Special" was aired late every Friday night on NBC through the seventies, and presented an eclectic mix of popular musicians performing their most famous hits, as well as a few TV personalities and stand-up comedians. B.R. Hunter chronicles 54 of the best episodes and includes several special tribute pages.

More traditionally encyclopedic than The Ultimate Insider's Guide or Passport Abroad, The Midnight Special contains short summaries of each discussed episode, a few photographs and a selected quote or two from the featured performers. The presentation of the information is clear and coherent. Though it is almost completely bogged down in reliving the 70s, most of the discussed artists are interesting by virtue of either being genuine stars or genuine slock. Basically anyone remotely noteworthy in pop music in the 70s appeared on "The Midnight Special" at some point: from Sly and the Family Stone to Earth, Wind and Fire; from Tom Jones to Alice Cooper. And since The Midnight Special includes a table of contents and song index, it is possible to quickly locate information on a particular artist or song or performer.

The drawback, of course, is that The Midnight Special requires some degree of literacy, as opposed to the tributes to the other two series.

For $18, the books are at least well-printed, in full, glossy color. The Midnight Special is respectable as a well put together repository of nostalgia, but Real World: The Ultimate Insider's Guide and Road Rules: Passport Abroad are useful only for the MTV fan wanna-bes who desperately need to be as cool as their friends. With the help of these new books, you too can eloquently quote from The Real World with witticisms like this from Eric of the New York cast: "You gotta do what you gotta do, y'know?"