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Flipped Off

"Real people. Real issues." Real World?

MTV's latest adventure in reality programming has nothing to do with its most successful experiment in nonscripted television. Flipped, its new half-hour series, marks another of the network's awkward attempts at broadcasting social conscience.

The premise is simple: Take a pair of incredibly clueless and ignorantly opinionated teens, run them through a series of eye-opening life experiences and document their evolution from desensitized social grunts to enlightened adolescents, all within 24 hours.

MTV's ambitious PC crusade seems noble on the surface, but the underlying ethic reeks like the "final thoughts" at the close of The Jerry Springer Show. Viewers hoping for an exploitive dose of manipulated reality will not be disappointed.

In a recent episode, "Amber"--a 17-year-old blonde bombshell with a penchant for Prada and more Clinique than common sense--gets in touch with her distaste for obesity and low-end wears. In the beginning, her potent quotables are scathing: "I don't wanna hang out with someone that shops at, like, Kmart," and, "Well, we talk to, like, fat people."

Amber's "assignment" is to don a fat suit and conduct a series of mock fashion interviews. Her mentor, a naturally robust production assistant, guides her through the perils of condescension, sneers and "second-class citizenship." Amber doesn't last long. After a sales employee at a trendy clothing boutique suggests she restrict herself to the accessories department, our peroxide heroine crumbles, tears streaking down her latex-coated mug.

Near the end of the episode, Amber's final gig is conducting an interview at a fashion shoot, where she's able to dress as herself again. But when born-again Barbie arrives, she learns her subject is none other than the frumpy production assistant, a real-life plus-size model. After teary disclosure and emotional denouement, Amber's epiphany is apparent: "It's unreal how much I've learned in, like, one day."

Amber's story, like most of the other vignettes on Flipped, rings with all the sincerity of a Tampax commercial or a rerun of Highway to Heaven. And MTV's purpose, "flipping" its subjects' perspectives, strikes dissonance with its other high-brow offerings, such as the incalculably inane Undressed. Ultimately, this gimmicky production is unbelievable and uninspired, succeeding only in its bold betrayal of the ever-sinking depths of human behavior. Perhaps it's not so unlike The Real World after all.

--By Tim Perzyk

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