My name is Ann(ie). I am a video and performance artist currently pursuing my MFA. You may recognize me as YouTube “cewebrity” Scandalishious, aka “Caroline”.
You may also recognize me from Vh1 and 51 Minds latest attempt at facilitating (or perhaps simulating) romance for audience pleasure: Frank the Entertainer…In a Basement Affair. Basement Affair places fifteen women in a house vying for the attention of Frank “The Entertainer” Maresca, a thirty two year old contestant from I Love New York 2 and I Love Money who still lives in his parent’s basement. The kicker was we all had to live in a house with him and his parents.
(I'm the skinny awkward girl in a pink tank top in the back row trying not to have a nervous breakdown)
Originally, I went on the show to do a wacky performance piece, attempting to play up the ridiculousness that is reality television and the characters it produces, a satire on a genre that is already a satire of itself. I was interested in the way reality television is reproducing female stereotypes at an alarming rate—using “real” people to validate these stereotypes’ existence.
But ultimately, I wanted to become a Famewhore. I’ve been drawn to Famewhores for as long as there has been trashy reality television, socialites releasing sex tapes, since the first woman shook her ass on YouTube. I was there, watching and wondering. What is not only my, but also many of ours, fascination with the Famewhore? Where did she come from? And what effect does the Famewhore have on us? I felt the only way I would find out would be to become one myself and surround myself with them. In doing so I would need to get over my self consciousness about my awkward body, eccentric demeanor, large nose, shyness around new people and just say “Hey, this is me. I’m super. Love me and/or hate me please. All I ask for is your attention.”
Of course, none of my family or friends wanted me to become a Famewhore (although I was already a Camwhore, via Scandalishious, the Famewhore demands a larger audience). For myself, the Famewhore persona is ridden with a self-imposed shame. Most educated, upper middle class people (such as myself) tend to look down upon the women on these dating shows as desperate, slutty and stupid. Most people, especially production, assume that one must be a complete moron to subject themselves to being humiliated and to be judged solely on their sexuality.
I believe there is more to the Famewhore than sheer stupidity. It is this something more that is important to understand how female stereotypes are currently being validated by reality television. It is precisely the belief that it is purely stupidity and vanity by both production and viewers at large that allows for the continuing negative representations of women. Despite my inclination to not be viewed as a stupid slut, I had to become a Famewhore in order to shed my own assumptions about what it means to be one.
But first, I had to get on the show. I performed in character during my audition and my pre-house interview. I knew I had to make a completely clueless yet outrageous idiot of myself in order to get on the show—aware that I lacked the typical “look” of the reality starlet. I told them about the inner most secrets of my sex life and my attraction to Frank’s perfectly proportioned neck. They loved every second of it. I was cast. It was all so easy….
I knew I would not be prepared for what being on the set of a reality show would actually be like but I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. I hid in a corner as often as I could and avoided social contact. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. The first morning I wanted to give up and go home. The cameras freaked me out. For the first three days I couldn’t ignore them and the pressure to perform (both for my own artistic goals and for the entertainment of the show itself) crippled me. My original plan fell apart.
I took my nervous breakdown as a sign. The “wacky performance art piece” was too easy. Performing a character is more or less what many contestants are doing anyways, just not under the guise of art critique. What I believed would be contradictory to the reality television model would be for me to be my awkward, shy, cynical and bashful self—the person production never would have cast-- even if that meant putting my dreams of famewhoriness on hold (or perhaps my new “real” persona would just hide those desires more effectively).
In the house setting—this was easy. The girls were nice overall and once they saw I was “being real” and didn’t particularly give a crap what they thought of me, were respectful of my presence. I began to feel more at ease and could ignore the presence of the cameras. However, in the interview setting, I found it harder to be my normal self. The camera demands the performative and I found myself hamming it up constantly. Thus, I found the performance became one that combined my “real” self with what I believed my “character” should be—what I call, my “reality TV self”.
I could not have taken the production of this show as seriously as I did if I did not have a genuine interest in Frank. While I had thought he was good looking from television and had genuinely admired his character from the shows I had watched (yes, I am a reality television junkie and I found his refusal to play dirty on I Love Money endearing) I was surprised by how much I liked him and his parents. Frank is far more attractive in person and is very charming. I liked him. I wanted to legitimately compete in a game for his affections (rather than camera time) because I believed that would be the most ridiculous thing to do. And that was what no one else was really doing.
And why would they be? It’s television! Maybe some of the girls came to like him as I did but ultimately everyone was there to be on television. To subject oneself to being on reality television (albeit fun and exciting at times, it is a more or less traumatic experience, whether you are conscious of it or not, that takes away all your adult freedoms and places you in a constant state of confusion and distrust) for reasons other than wanting to be on television seems fairly unbelievable.
The desire to be on television and to be a Famewhore is not a negative thing necessarily. It seems like a fairly reasonable desire-- stemming from our culture where a woman’s self worth is based on the attention she receives from others. My writings to come about my experience on the show will further explore not only my own performance on the show but also how production casts Famewhores and then shames them for their innate and reasonable desires. By placing the blame of any potential disingenuousness of the show onto the female contestants, production is able to obscure their own presence and give the show a more believable illusion of “reality.” It is precisely this "reality", which obfuscates production's hand in the show, that works to continually perpetuate negative stereotypes of women.
To watch me and all the other ladies on A Basement Affair tune into Vh1 Sundays at 8PM ET or catch episodes online here.
Photo via the Vh1 blog