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Public Affairs

'Real World' star studies media for her master's

December 9, 2005

Photo of Irene McGeeGraduate student Irene McGee has described her experience as a cast member on MTV's "The Real World: Seattle" as "horrifying." Seven years after leaving the show during filming, she has confronted her reality television demons by focusing her studies on the ethics and societal impact of the media.

McGee, who studies in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) Department, said she decided to leave "The Real World: Seattle" because she was ethically opposed to how the show was produced. For example, she said producers would stock the refrigerator with certain foods and make sure the branded labels were facing the camera when she ate them. In addition, producers provoked arguments between cast members and took their "anger out of context."

While leaving "The Real World" house, McGee was the victim of an on-camera physical assault by one of her fellow cast members. No producers, crew members or cast members tried to prevent the assault, she said. Instead producers paged her 15 minutes later with a request to return her microphone.

The scene of the assault is replayed repeatedly on television to this day, and was ranked the ninth "greatest" reality television moment by VH1. McGee said she is still recognized by the public every day.

She is not completely certain of her future career, but is determined to use the media for the "greater good" of society -- something she believes does not happen enough. This semester she hosts "No One's Listening," a program that airs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays on SFSU's student radio station KSFS. Produced by BECA graduate student Chris Cornell, it focuses on media-literacy issues with a dose of humor, featuring regular commentary from guest experts including scholar Noam Chomsky, punk-rock legend Jello Biafra and former Counting Crows drummer Steve Bowman.

"No One's Listening" was featured recently as a "New and Notable" podcast on Apple iTunes and on BoingBoing, a widely read Web log.

Longtime rock 'n' roll journalist Ben Fong-Torres, an SFSU alum, wrote about his recent guest appearance on "No One's Listening" in the Dec. 4 installment of his San Francisco Chronicle column. "McGee's feet are wet enough, and her ideas -- and personality -- are fresh enough that she could be a fit for any number of talk stations," Fong-Torres wrote.

McGee hopes audiences can find analysis of media content as compelling as reality television. She wants media analysis to be cool and hip, similar to what Jon Stewart and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" have done for politics, she said.

"The communications field … is not just for geeks," McGee said. "Television is a powerful mechanism, and that power needs to be taken seriously."

McGee's MTV fame has enabled her to speak out at colleges nationwide about the corporate media structure in America and the "reality" behind reality television. She has discussed media manipulation, media ethics and reality television on VH1 and E! Entertainment Television. McGee also speaks to audiences about her battle with Lyme disease.

BECA Associate Professor Miriam Smith enjoys the unique insight and gregarious personality that McGee brings to class.

"She is very well-read, which shows a lot in her writing," Smith said. "She has a presence about her that immediately makes an impact. Plus, I think she likes to entertain people and make them laugh."

-- Matt Itelson
Photo: Danny Wong


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Last modified December 9, 2005 by University Communications