A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Reality Conference 2011

Here follows an interview with MoCA North Miami Associate Curator Ruba Katrib and the University of Wynwood and O Miami Founder and Director P. Scott Cunningham on the subject of Reality Conference 2011, a conference about reality television organized by Cunningham and Katrib and presented by the University of Wynwood, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to advancing contemporary literature in Miami. The responses to the questions below were generated jointly by Cunningham and Katrib.

How do you qualify/define Reality TV?

In its infancy, reality TV was just TV that didn’t use actors. In other words, it didn’t pay the participants at a market rate. (Though a handful of people did make some real money off of game shows.) What’s happened since the debut of The Real World is that reality TV became a genre with conventions that are as defined as those in a Western, and the line between actor and “real person” has been continually eroded. I think in the next ten years we’ll see that line eroded even further, at least in terms of the market. With the advent of social media, many, many “average” people have made themselves into marketable personalities in the manner of 1930s actors.

The release on Reality Conference 2011 seems deliberately open ended. Does Reality Conference 2011 seek to qualify/define Reality TV through attendee participation?

No. It’s open-ended because this is the first time we’re doing something like this. We also realize that everyone has their own unique relationship to reality TV, so we hope to present a range of interests and investments in the genre during the conference without any qualifying intention.

Considering that those in attendance at the conference will have been exposed to reality TV shows, many of which begin “America’s…” can we expect a jaundice appreciation for the genre of reality TV? And if so, is this important? And if so, are you taking steps to broaden the vista?

Some people may dismiss reality TV as an inadequate subject matter, but if so, why attend? Unless it’s to come and argue, which is great.  But simply saying, “reality TV” is dumb, is a conversation-ender. Lots of very, very intelligent people are involved in the creation of these shows. If Barthes can find something interesting in fake wrestling, we can find plenty of material in reality TV. We’re really not interested in broadening anyone’s vista. That’s his/her problem.

In terms of format, for the sake of discussion, do you feel it is important to subjugate this expanding genre by differentiating and subsequently pigeon holing its many incantations into ‘types’ such as fly on the wall programming (focused on industry – restaurants, fishing fleets airlines hotels etc), skill based, often individual starred shows (such as Man Vs Wild and various instructional/dramatic home improvement shows) and contest based shows (like Big Brother, American Idol/Top Model, Art Star, Survivor and The Batchelor)?

That could be very useful, yes, but we also wouldn’t want to reduce comparisons between shows just because of an arbitrary distinction. In general, as organizers, we’re not interested in classifying anything. For most part, the presenters generate the specific topics; we are more interested in what specific angle fascinates them and this is an opportunity to share. We just want to open up the discussion.

The concept of reality TV is by no means new and subjects covered by reality TV include many industries, even within the art world such programming has seen multiple epochs. What makes now a pertinent time to discuss reality TV?

TV has become the dominant American art form, supplanting film, which long ago supplanted the novel. The high art of TV (The Wire, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, etc.) is well-discussed but the low art of reality TV has not received as much critical attention, which is a shame because it says much more about us than any of the high art shows. Also, reality TV is increasingly pervasive as a genre. There was a point when maybe it seemed it would wear it self out, but we all know with the increasing success of many shows and the endless spin-offs, the novelty is gone and reality TV is here to stay.

Considering that “Reality television frequently portrays a modified and highly influenced form of reality, at times utilizing sensationalism to attract audience viewers and increase advertising revenue profits.” (Wikipedia) will it be a priority to of Reality Conference 2011 to illuminate the inherent irony of reality TV?

Again, as organizers, we don’t have any priorities, other than getting smart people involved and having a good time with it. We think the irony of reality TV is obvious to everyone involved.  Irony in general is so pervasive at this point we’re not even sure we can call it irony, and certainly not in any classical sense.  Again, the novelty of reality TV has really worn off, and increasingly many people are “coming out of the closet,” admitting that they are avid watchers of particular shows, which do have a cultural and social impact. The Reality Conference is an occasion to publicly share what most interests us about this captivating genre that we spend so much time pretending to despise, even while we rush home to catch the latest episode of the Kardashians[.]

Excerpt from Nov 21st Release:

REALITY CONFERENCE 2011, December 10, 2011 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Lester’s Bar 2519 NW 2nd Ave. Miami, FL 33127 (map)

The Problem
Why is “reality television” so awesome? Discuss.

How Do I Attend?
Attendance at REALITY CONFERENCE is free but space is limited. Register here.

Call for Abstracts
If you’re interested in participating, please send a brief description, no more than 300 words, outlining a presentation, paper, panel, or performance on any topic related to “reality TV.” Abstracts are due on November 23rd. The presentations will be no longer than 15 minutes long with 5 minutes of questions from the audience. Prior experience in academia is not required. Please put “Reality Conference” in the subject heading and send abstracts and inquires to: Submitters will be notified by Monday, November 28th.

This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth.

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Reality Conference 2011