The Power of One: Pedro Zamora and the Real World and Me
When I was a teen, nothing was bigger than MTV. It was the end-all, be-all of television. It was THE cultural touchstone for Gen-X’ers and some early Millenials. And if you grew up in Nowhere, Kansas (where the tumbleweeds roamed free and the nearest city with a decent mall was 3 hours away), MTV was the gateway to the rest of the world. I watched world premier music videos from Madonna and Michael Jackson. I got to see spring break be wild before I even knew what wild could be. Kurt Loader told us when Kurt Kobain died. Yo! MTV Raps, Headbangers Ball, and 120 Minutes showed me that there was music beyond country and easy listening.
And there was The Real World – the progenitor of modern day reality tv shows. The very first season aired in 1992 and I was OBSESSED. I had a workout tape hosted by Eric Nies from when he did a later stint on The Grind. The first season taught me about “the angry black man” stereotype and that not everyone with a beeper was a drug dealer (beepers were a primitive form of communication used before cell phones were popular, kids). Season 2 showed me that women who had abortions weren’t “loose” or “amoral;” they were women who had to make a difficult decision based on where they were in their lives. Season 3 taught me about AIDS. I’d heard about if before then but at that point in Kansas circa 1994 it wasn’t something anyone really knew or talked about really. It was on the news and it happened to other people. Until Pedro Zamora came into my living room and then it wasn’t other people. It was Pedro. And as silly as it sounds, it made it real.
If you’re too young to remember, Pedro Zamora was a phenomenon unlike anyone that had been broadcast on television before. He was 22 years old, a cute Cuban immigrant. He was smart and empathetic and he worked tirelessly to help educate young people about safe sex and the reality of AIDS and HIV. I still remember crying as I watched Kurt Loader announce his death not long after the season finale aired. I loved him.
A 90’s docu-series that I’d seen reminded me of how much I loved Pedro – and Judd, Pam, Cory (and I hated – HATED – Puck). And an internet search brought me to this lovely, Eisner Award nominated graphic novel. It’s an extremely personal story from the author, Judd Winnick, about his time before, during, and after the show. It allows the reader to see his origins and early misconceptions, but it also give a glimpse at Pedro’s childhood. The panels of him running through the voluminous skirts of ladies that surrounded him was so beautiful. He was so beautiful. As the story goes on, it becomes a touching look at a friendship and the impact one young man made on so many people.
If you enjoy graphic novels that are a little more up close and personal where you might laugh, cry, and gain a new perspective on someone’s life (like Night Fisher by R Kikuo Johnson) or were someone who watched the season and loved the people (or even liked them kind of) I would recommend this book.
Thank you, Pedro.