Maybe it all started with Candid Camera. It was innocent enough, real people caught in real life dealing with real practical jokes. It was, well... Real entertainment. Then MTV took the notion of real TV to another level with, ironically enough, the Real World. Instead of practical jokes taking center stage, Generation Xers lamented their tragic fates while living together in beachside mansions.
Now enter DudeDorm.com., the Internet's latest invention in real entertainment. It's an unadulterated look at the lives of six college-age men.
Mike*, a junior at the University of South Florida, has been living at the "dorm" for the past three months. "The main attraction is that there are six college guys of all types, from all different kinds of backgrounds, different cultures and sexual orientations all living together," he explains. "Kind of like the Real World on the Net, except it's 24 hours a day."
The big difference between DudeDorm.com, Real World and Candid Camera is that the latter two enjoyed the luxury of being a taped broadcast. Video could be edited. Embarrassing moments could be conveniently blotted or blurred, or deleted altogether.
But there is no editing, blurring or anything else at DudeDorm.com. Mike says, "It is a voyeur site and is 18 or over for the simple fact that we are living our life any way any college person would live life. You're going to see nudity. ...We do a lot of naked things. We did naked twister once; cleaned the house naked once."
The Web essentially shatters many of the conventional entertainment boundaries, taking a "real world" concept to new levels of shall we say... Candidness. Mike is an admitted exhibitionist but even he says there are a few things he would like to keep private.
The creator and owner of DudeDorm.com, Bruce Hamill, is also the creator of another popular Web site that is set in the college housing genre -- VoyeurDorm.com, which preceded DudeDorm.com but employs the same basic concepts.
"Six girls live in a house with 55 cameras inside. You get to look at everything they do, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, dating boys, dating girls, taking a bath, everything a real girl does. The camera's never off," says Hamill.
If people want to see what's going on inside either "dorm" they'll have to become a member of either site. A month's worth of DudeDorm.com is $24.95. To take a peek at the girls is a little more expensive, a one-month membership at VoyeurDorm.com goes for $34.
And lots of people are signing up and taking a peek. Hamill estimates that VoyeurDorm.com has about 61,000 members and DudeDorm.com, about 9,000.
One might be wondering why any college student would want to be the one being watched online. Surrendering every shred of privacy by posting one's life on the Net is no small consideration -- but there is compensation.
"Dorm" residents don't pay rent or any related house bills, which means free room and board. They also get their tuition paid as well, and a monthly stipend. Mike is the house manager at DudeDorm.com and has some additional responsibilities compared to other residents, but says he gets about $2,000 a month.
Living in the house does bring with it some responsibilities for all house members. Residents are required to participate in online chats with members a few times a week. Chats may involve anything from friendly chatter and dorm gossip to requests for them to "get naked" (which they don't have to do).
Despite the complete loss of privacy and certainty that thousands will glimpse one's naked body, Hamill doesn't have any problems finding willing tenants to live at either "dorm." He says, "I probably get 100 to 125 girls and guys a week wanting to take part in the project." Hamill tells his applicants they can "make money, have fun and be famous."
The dorm cam phenomenon has not been met without controversy and criticism. Each dorm is a normal residence in a normal residential neighborhood. The otherwise standard house is simply outfitted with Web cams.
When neighbors living near DudeDorm.com found out what was going on inside the house, they weren't happy. Mike says, "When we first moved in a neighbor invited me in for a drink and told me what day garbage day was and it was nice. ...When it came out on the news where we were, what we were doing and what neighborhood we were in, that same neighbor started picketing."
Other neighbors picketed as well saying what was going on in the house was corrupting the neighborhood and their children.
The girls of VoyeurDorm.com are fighting a neighborhood battle of their own. Local politicians have also joined in, saying they want VoyeurDorm.com kicked to the curb. They claim the house is a business and therefore violates certain zoning ordinances. VoyeurDorm.com says the house is a regular residence like any other and that any business that takes place regarding VoyeurDorm.com is done in its office building in downtown Tampa.
Though many people in the neighborhood are upset about DudeDorm, Mike says most people at his school think what he's doing is just fine. He says many students even admire him and his roommates. "We get recognized all the time. We're like local celebrities." Mike also says that most professors he's come into contact with on campus support the idea of what he's doing.
There is also an anti-DudeDorm.com sentiment on the campus of USF as well. "There's plenty of conservative young people that are very against it. They feel I'm degrading myself; exploiting my body for money," says Mike.
Ashley Williams is a sophomore at Boston College, she couldn't imagine having her life broadcast across the Web. She says, "I would never want to do that. It's not exactly a moral, good thing to be doing." Although Ashley feels strongly about the subject, she doesn't want to get involved in policing other's choices. "I would never tell other people that they couldn't do it," she says.
Carrie Robertson, a senior at Iowa State University, takes a similar stance, "I suppose if people want to watch and do that, then it's up to the viewer and up to the one being viewed."
"Real" entertainment is the idea behind both "dorms." And while that scenario may seem exhilarating to some it doesn't really sound very riveting to Robertson. She says, "I personally wouldn't want to even watch. I mean everyday stuff is no big deal, I do everyday stuff myself -- it's not that exciting."
*Name withheld to provide anonymity.