Doing a parody of MTV’s “The Real World” is a truly thankless task, since the program itself has long since degenerated into self-parody. However, New York-based filmmaker Jeremy Cohen scores a super bullseye with his winning short subject “The Real Third World,” which offers a uniquely funny send-up of that increasingly-annoying MTV fare that packs a brutally subversive moral.
Whereas “The Real World” gathers its plastic-pretty, demographically-balanced young cast in fun locations like New Orleans or Honolulu, “The Real Third World” strands its cast in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The film offers some hilarious-but-nasty jokes at the expense of the dreadfully poor people of Dhaka, including a montage of dismal street scenes accompanied by the cutesy-poo anthem “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from the show “Annie,” as well as a scene when one of cast members calls home and moans how the locals pray constantly and endlessly but never get delivered from their life in the mud.
The housemates of “The Real Third World,” not surprisingly, rarely venture beyond the residence they share; an exception comes in a grocery shopping excursion where a baby goat is brought home for dinner (it was the only thing left that could be purchased). The house, however, is reflective of the typical Dhaka abode: no TV selection, phones which rarely work, and water which sends everyone rushing for the toilet. The housemates themselves are a fairly dreadful connection: the girls are whiny princesses and the guys are either smirking jocks or freaks that go insane on-camera. Narcolepsy, religious revulsion, flagrant bouts of selfishness, happy drug usage and the overdone protesting by a muscular guy that he’s not gay add to the craziness, while two producers for the show pop in every now and then to offer unctuous commentary on the wonderful progress of their program.
Politically incorrect at every possible level, “The Real Third World” gleefully insults the popular acceptance of the MTV show and questions the insincerity in considering the fate of a have-not society as perceived by a have-too-much society. While “The Real Third World” is clearly digging up deep laughs with its wickedly skewered parody, ultimately the film reminds us that the joke is really on the TV-obsessed society which places far more interest in seven vapid people on a phony-baloney show than on millions who live amid starvation, disease and poverty. It is a harrowing joke, to be certain, and perhaps “The Real Third World” is actually a wake-up call for everyone to get their priorities in order. Jeremy Cohen is the rare filmmaker who makes his audience laugh and think at the same time, and his film is a truly successful satire.