Walking into MTV’s ‘World of Jenks’: Familiar Pathways, New Direction

How often has it been said that you never know a person until you have walked a mile in his/her shoes?  Too often?  Not often enough?  Award-winning filmmaker Andrew Jenks walks that proverbial mile every week in the new MTV documentary series, World of Jenks (Mondays 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific).  His subject’s life become his life as he seeks to discover what it’s like to be, for example, a rapper and a homeless person.

Filmmaker Andrew Jenks of MTV's "World of Jenks" (photo: MTV)

In the premiere episode,”Heaven and Hell”, Jenks shadows an up-and-coming next big thing in rap, Maino. (No, I haven’t heard of him before either). Unfortunately, the episode feels like in the words of Yogi Berra, “Deja vu all over again”: Guileless suburban white boy tries to relate to, understand and in part, live, the gangster (or rather gangsta) rapper lifestyle.  Sadly, Maino is more than happy to promote the stereotypes. Maino’s interests seem to be limited to women, partying, and uttering nonsense such as this: “Do you think you can handle black women?” or  “I want to wake up almost dead. That’s how we party”.  He’s even created his own initiation ritual: First Night Gangsterism. It goes something like this: You meet a girl for the first time. Take her back to her home or hotel and “give her the penetration of life”. Really, Maino? Come on. Oh, dear Maino has also completed the requisite stint in prison  — 10 years.

When Andrew confronts Maino about his hard partying and that he might be setting the wrong example for his young fans which include children at his young son’s school, Manio, violently lunges towards Andrew as if to attack him for such a “disrespectful” remark. Burly members of his entourage have to hold him back. *sigh*

Eventually, Andrew does get to know the rapper better after traveling with him to his home in New Jersey.  By this time, you could stick a fork in me cause I’m done with this nonsense.  I’ve watched enough Behind the Music to know that rap ain’t all about fast cars and even faster women. The hard partying lifestyle is also accompanied by hard time in the studio and in business meetings. It involves writing and perfecting rhymes and putting on performances of a lifetime. This may be a look at the life of a rapper but it is clearly not an accurate reflection of “the game” itself.

Andrew Jenks of MTV's 'World of Jenks' (photo: MTV)

Just when I was about to give up on the series, feeling it’s not worth my time and having started to compare it to the funny, insightful and always heartfelt MTV series, The Buried Life, where a group of friends travel across the country to complete items on their bucket list as they help others’ intimate desires/dreams come true, I watched episode 2 about a homeless young woman living in on the streets of San Francisco. Danielle, 23, has been “houseless” as she’d rather call it, since the tender age of 13.  She doesn’t want to be homeless. It’s her desire to obtain her social security card from her mother which would enable her to get a job and a place to stay.

Jenks travels with Danielle to her “home” in Portland, OR to get the coveted card. We meet her very dysfunctional family. Jenks’ pointed questions and their responses give real insight into why Danielle is “houseless”.

After viewing this episode, I realized there will be hits and misses but the proper intent is there. Jenks is genuinely interested in his subjects and has a desire to shed light on dimly lit places. I will watch.

Forgive me for this trite phrase, but I’m glad that I didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

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