Thursday, April 15, 2010

Author Anna David Gets Real About Reality TV

Calling all intellectual reality TV fans (yes, they exist). I may have found a new heroine: a collection of essays by best-selling authors on the subject! Reality Matters (HarperCollins), edited by NY-based author Anna David (Bought and Party Girl), hits stores this week and includes literary luminaries waxing philosophical about the appeal of shows like American Idol, The Real World, and Big Brother and their effect on American culture. From her Chelsea apartment, we talked about the book, reality TV, and why she wants to see Kanye with a show of his own.

NB: How'd you come up with the idea for a reality TV anthology?
AD: Well, I know that I’m obsessed with certain reality shows and it occurred to me that fellow writers – who are all, let’s face it, usually home all day and aching from within the depths of their souls for some new form of procrastination – had to also be. Since so many of us long to have our work have the same kind of impact on society that say, your average Hills character does and are sorely disappointed when it doesn’t, I figured there had to be a form of narcissistic envy contributing to their fascination. I turned out to be right: the only writer I contacted who told me that he didn’t love reality TV confessed in the next sentence that he didn’t actually own a television.

NB: Who are/what some of your favorite writers and pieces?
AD: Oh, I could never say. The whole Sophie’s Choice thing.

NB: Did any of the writers laugh at you when you asked them to contribute?
AD: Not one. There was a writer that wrote a piece that I didn’t end up using – she’s a great writer and was initially willing to rework it but we had this conversation where I said, essentially, that I wanted her essay to cover the deep issues in her life that the particular show she was addressing hit on. She paused and said, “I’m sorry but you want me to explain how a reality show impacts my deep issues?” I was embarrassed when she phrased it that way but the truth is, most of the pieces in the collection actually do that.

NB: Reality TV gets a bad rap. Do you think there's any redeeming value in it?
AD: One hundred percent. I believe we can learn so much about humanity and ourselves from it. I’m entirely serious. I hate to admit it but when I watch the kids on The Real World talk crap about one person because they’re mad at that girl and try to get everyone on their side or do something passive aggressive in retaliation that just makes everything worse, I completely relate. I may not act that way anymore but I once did and seeing how ugly it is when someone else does it reminds me of why I don’t let my id rule my life anymore. And The Bachelor? Watching these guys have to decide between two women they’re “sure” they love only to break up with the one they chose a few months later is a great antidote to all the messages we get about love being about romance and falling for someone quickly.

NB: Is there a reality show that's too bad to watch?
AD: America’s Got Talent. I had to watch it when I was writing a reality show blog for and I wanted to tear my eyeballs out; never has there been a greater argument for the fact that America doesn’t, in fact, have any talent. I think it has – blessedly – been cancelled. Potentially A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila though I can’t say for sure since I only caught a snippet once at the gym.

NB: Is there anything in the book a hip-hop head might like?
AD: The piece about The Amazing Race covers the writer’s experience working on the show and how he used the sort of scheming values preached on Survivor to try to retain his job there, and I think anyone who has struggled to reach the top -- or likes music about that – would relate to the ethical quandary he faces. But also anyone who likes to laugh at how ridiculous certain reality show characters and then be loathe to admit that they relate to them will enjoy the whole book.

NB: If you could create one reality show on a backpack rapper, who would it be?
AD: If we’re counting Kanye as backpack, then him for sure. Just seeing him on Punk’d years ago – I can’t remember exactly what he did but I think he lost it worse than anyone ever had in the history of that show -- was one of my all-time enjoyable television experiences. And his life, just what he says at award shows and to reporters, practically already is a reality show. I’d imagine he’s much too savvy a businessman to subject himself to something that would surely make everyone detest him more than they already do, though.

Click here to buy Reality Matters.

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