Authors on Art: I Heart Reality TV

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The final scene of MTV's The Hills allowed viewers to see the Hollywood artifice that pervades reality television but is rarely shown onscreen.

Today BURNAWAY welcomes Kate Durbin for this month’s Authors on Art, a series of creative responses by poets, novelists, and experimental writers curated by Blake Butler.

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“[I]t is going to be a very interesting day indeed when … EVERYONE has a TV show …!”
— webcam celebrity Ana Voog, as quoted in Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched by Mark Andrejevic

“At one point or another I kind of feel like everyone has, like, kind of hated each other.”
— Lauren Conrad, MTV’s The Hills

Reality TV: the most disgraced, disgraceful art medium in the world.
Reality TV: heralded by no one, watched by everyone. This makes it a total shame. Uh, I mean sham.
Reality TV: takes as its subject “real life,” then subjects real life to BLATANT manipulation.
Reality TV: simultaneously makes of and reveals life as construction. This is offensive to those who view themselves as elite victims at the blind hands of a private fate.
Reality TV: a brave new world where there are no victims, only co-conspirators. Where everyone is witness, and destiny is public, participatory, sympathetic, savage.
Reality TV: WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT.

The F Word at Hunter Museum

Reality TV: gleefully reveals the man behind the curtain. He is wearing a flatscreen for a face.
Reality TV: in the center of that face are all our faces. Also, Snooki’s.
Reality TV: reveals what has always been true of our actors on every screen. From the first filmstrip of a man and his horse galloping in flickering black and white, to Marilyn Monroe’s subway grate dress flip, to paparazzi shots of Princess Di’s car crash, to Lindsay Lohan’s “F-U”-painted fingernails in court: THEY R US.
Reality TV: DUH.
Reality TV: goes back further than the galloping horse; goes back to the marble statues, to the cave paintings, to the first gaze into the lake (the first Laguna Beach).
Reality TV: the final scene of the final episode of MTV’s The Hills is the medium’s masterpiece for its meta-reveal. It is also its failure, for revealing ON PURPOSE the medium’s intentionality, its forceful little paws playing with the pixelshit of life. This scene is more radical than the occasional glimpse of a microphone pack in the back of Lauren Conrad’s halter dress. This reveal opens its mouth to show Reality as always tongue-in-cheek.
Reality TV: the final scene of The Hills led me to recognize the genius of the medium. Led me to finally understand Reality TV as none other than life itself.
Reality TV: in the final scene of The Hills—one of several endings shot by producers—Brody Jenner says goodbye to Kristin Cavallari, on a palm-lined street in Los Angeles. The camera then pans out, and the street is shown to be a set. A grip rolls away the Hollywood sign.
Reality TV: in every movie set in Los Angeles, you can see the Hollywood sign from every vantage point. You can see it in the dark.
Reality TV: one day this life of yours will end, and the grip will roll away the Hollywood sign for you.

Reality TV: explodes our concepts of time and space, collapses false binaries. These include but are not limited to: real vs. fake, public vs. private, technological vs. natural, good vs. evil, high art vs. kitsch, dead vs. alive, on vs. off, Team Lauren vs. Team Heidi.
Reality TV: promotes the totalized life of the actor-singer-dancer-clothing-designer-wife-mother-REALITY STAR.
Reality TV: wouldn’t you like to be a star at life, to walk the walk of fame? You already are.
Reality TV: the lie of the screen is that in Reality there is no screen.
Reality TV: the world is watching. The world is your pixelized oyster. What are you hiding in the bathroom on your iPhone for?
Reality TV: just as technology is an extension of our bodies, so is Reality. We construct the world we live in by placing ourselves strategically within it, and in relation to others, our audience, our co-conspirators, our doubles.
Reality TV: so, like, when our “actors” do something we don’t like, when they “act” in debased ways, like when Heidi and Spencer tell the press that Lauren and her boyfriend made secret porn tapes, or when Kim Kardashian divorces that baseball dude 70 days after her most-watched-thing-on-TV-ever fairy-tale wedding, we must ask ourselves: why did we do that?
Reality TV: demands we ask ourselves, not Kim, not Speidi. Ask why we want to watch the fairy ending shit glitter static all over us. Ask why we have projected the Roman Forum’s crumbing hologram over and over and over.
Reality TV: if a show isn’t a hit, we didn’t want it. If it’s a hit, we wanted it. To watch = to want.

Reality TV: more than watching, reading the medium can help us destroy it. Not “it”self—the culturally dismissed, dismissive idea of it. Because it is us.
Reality TV: is why I wrote a book called E! Entertainment, which takes as its subject Reality TV. Which subjects Reality to the operating theater.
Notes:

1. While I was writing this piece, my fiancé was in the other room on his BlackBerry talking to his sister-in-law, trying to hook her up with this producer for a new reality TV show, Navy Wives. This correlation was entirely unplanned.

2. All the screen captures in this article came from Google searches. If you would like credit for your image(s), please contact me here.