In Part I of Shaming Famewhores I discussed going on the reality TV dating show Frank the Entertainer…In a Basement Affair, currently on Vh1, as a performance art piece. I performed as myself rather than as a typical wacky performance artist in hopes to deny what I believed was production’s expectations of me. I also went on the show to do research on the stereotyping machine that is reality television. To do so, I needed to challenge my own assumptions about the women that go on these shows and accept my own inner Famewhore.
To my astonishment, and most likely everyone else’s, I survived six eliminations. I can only credit my survival to a genuine connection with Frank, and my presence being a complete anomaly on the show. My original shyness of the cameras turned to indifference and I was able to interact with the people on the show at a relatively normal, although still extremely guarded, level. I wasn’t the best Famewhore I could be, but my reticence, or perhaps inability, to conform to the typical model allowed me to stand out. To be a successful Famewhore, and also the winner of the show I found that one needed to command and desire attention while appearing oblivious of that fact.
To stay on the show you needed to have both Frank and production on your side. Production acted as a big brother to Frank, able to enlighten him with information and fabricating drama with some women while allowing others to fly under the radar to continue a courtship.
I developed a genuine relationship with Frank that was rooted in friendship and I wanted our interactions to be real and not just for television. I began to compare my interactions with Frank with the interactions he was having with the other girls. And certainly the difference was a lack of a sexual chemistry between us. Frank was not attracted to me.
In my attempt to unleash my inner Famewhore I was unable to cultivate the most important feature—sex appeal. Whether it is subtle or overt, a woman who can demand a large audience’s attention usually must have large amounts of sex appeal. My own brand of Famewhore tended to use humor rather than sexiness to get attention. However, that sort of behavior typically renders women romantically disabled.
I knew in some way I had to perform my sexuality not only to entice Frank but also to be able to stay on the show. My previous experience attempting to be sexy in a public forum was as my internet persona Scandalishious. I used this character to speak about the ways young women have come to imitate sexiness. My performances as Scandalishious, mirroring a phenomenon in which young women attempt to be sexy based on popular culture's definition of sex appeal, demanded that I too attempt to be sexy. My performances showcased my own awkwardness as a way to speak to a defunct definition of female sexuality. Aware of my own inability to master a sex appeal that could be deemed socially acceptable, I knew any attempt on television to master it would be awkward and disastrous.
I found this predicament to be damning and frustrating. While originally being cast on the show as a zany mess, once in the house my character was reshaped to be the shy, sweet girl—the “realest” girl in the house, as I was often told. My character as the nice girl was also devoid of sexuality, and the non-sexualization of my character, both through my own doing and through careful editing (i.e. clips of me staring mysteriously at a bikini top or awkwardly pulling a bra out of my dress contrasted with the blatant objectification of some of the women’s jiggling asses or strutting legs) rendered me an inadequate partner for Frank. To give both Frank and production what they wanted from me in terms of sexiness would have only ended in humiliation. To be unable to perform sexiness would be seen as a failure.
These are societal pressures that in the real world are much easier to ignore. However, on the set of a reality television show, they are intensified. I realized the effect that production's expectations were having on me and decided to come out of my perfomative shell. For a moment I stopped being the “Annie” character in order to break the role that had become determined for me—one that kept me bound so tightly.
So, at a “crooning” challenge, instead of singing the song I had carefully constructed with my partner Dana, I rapped (well, really yelled) a song about getting freaky with Frank, spouting out expletives about Frank cumming in my mouth not only in front of Frank, but also in front of his supposedly "horrified" parents.
I was sure that I would be sent home. No longer at the point in the show where everything was fun and games, the competition was beginning to become real in that connections with Frank had to become more substantial than just a few moments of dialogue and a kiss. I was feeling the pressure to further entrench myself in a stereotypical character and allow myself to be used for production's ends or suffer the consequences. This was a game I could not play since I was not willing to engage in a faux romance with someone I cared about. Nor was I willing to play a role as a woman I did not feel comfortable in. While originally willing to play along with reality television, I found I could play along no longer.
My lyrical outburst was an attempt to illustrate and also poke fun of my frustration and inability to perform my own sex appeal in a socially normal way. Rather than sing romantically, dance sensually or even act respectably, I wanted to throw these expectations of me out the window. I wanted to break character in a forum production would not be able to edit out. I wanted everyone, both people on the show and viewers at home, to see the ridiculous game of expectations we were all playing. I didn’t want to allow production to be rid of me for not fulfilling the role of the “accepted” female mate. I wanted them to be rid of me for making a mockery of them to increase ratings rather than the other way around.
Production, using Frank as a proxy, attempted to use the “friendship only” feelings he had towards me as an excuse to let me go. But in fact production wanted me gone because I had stepped out of the role I was assigned in a significant way. Production could not reconcile this difference in character for an audience and now being uncertain in the role I would be able to fulfill for them, had to let me go. By showing my true colors as a performer rather than a potential mate, I temporarily disrupted the illusion of reality production carefully crafts.
I would still call myself a Famewhore. The desire to be desired by many is a quality that exists in many women. It is cultivated within us from a young age while we are simultaneously shamed for it. Reality television didn’t invent this predicament; it simply exploits it to hide its own hand in perpetuating stereotypes. Production claims to be on the side of the bachelor on these shows by purporting to help him sort out who is there for television versus who is “real”. This is production’s mask of seeming genuineness, which occurs by taking the stance of the savvy viewer in acknowledging that reality television can be fake and people on reality television can also be fake. Therefore, production’s supposed job is to sort out the fake from the reality to provide viewers with the most "real" experience possible. But of course production tends to cast women who they know they can expose as being fake or not, depending on how they believe they can cast each woman to fit society’s notions of an acceptable female partner.
As viewers, we are only able to place the blame on the women in these situations because our position as viewers will never allow us to truly see production’s hand in the show. Even as a contestant on the show, I was not fully able to see this, although production's methods of fabrication did become much clearer than if I had not gone on the show. The construction of reality television is not a simple binary between the real and the staged but rather a far more complex system, which involves a lot more facilitating, composing, simplification and imitation. This will be explored further in my final blog. For now, by beginning to learn to reevaluate how women are viewed in general we can begin to uncover the mask reality television production hides behind. Rather than shame the Famewhore we must learn to accept her.
Photo via the Vh1 blog: blog.vh1.com