Initially, the prospect of speaking to Annie about her time on A Basement Affair was daunting because she’s said so much already. Her two blogs for BUST have explored her feminist interest in the reality TV genre, as well as her complete subversion of the concept of “being there for the right reasons,” as she openly discusses going on the show as a performance piece. (That, in turn, was subverted when she fond herself unable to give the intended performance: “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,” she writes.)
Being the true VH1 original that she is, it turns out that there was plenty more to discuss with Annie. Below, she talks more about her performance, the elusive ideas of persona and reality, her refusal to treat people like pawns and she also reveals that rap that got her in so much trouble.
I know that you went into this show as a performance piece, but it seems that wasn’t all. You had an agenda, too.
I sort of went in with an open mind. I saw it mainly as research, I guess. In terms of my life as a performance artist, I see myself not as performing all the time, but more as inserting myself in places that I feel I don’t belong, or in a place someone like me typically wouldn’t venture into, as a way to investigate that space.
Your writing points out the irony of going in as a performance artist and then finding yourself surrounded by performance artists.
It was a mix. Some of the girls on the show, their performances are flawless, so flawless that you probably can’t even guess who I’m talking about, and I’m not going to say who I think they are. Other girls were very sincere. But regardless of that, and how sincere they are, everyone changes on camera. I think it’s inevitable. But just being “wacky”, or playing a part, to me it just doesn’t seem all that interesting in that context, because so many people have done that on other shows.
But you did write about the “character” you put on to enter the house.
I knew that I had to be that in order to get on the show. That was very clear to me. As for what happened once I got on the show, I didn’t know. The plan was to continue the character. I did know that I would have to alter the performance based on what I was feeling. So I knew the performance was going to have to change in some way.
Even though you found yourself unable to be this character, do you still consider your time on the show to be performance art?
Oh, of course. I guess my definition of performance art is a lot more open than other people’s definitions. For me, a lot of my performance is just performing myself. The only thing that changes is the context in which I’m performing myself, and who I’m performing when. The performance I’m doing for you right now is very different than the performance I would give to the other girls on the show. They’re both me, I’m not putting anything on. It’s just another side of me.
Mainly it seems that, beyond the strange context for your character, it seems to me that you really got out of it with an education in Reality Production 101.
Yeah. And that was what I was after. I was very curious, because I didn’t realize until I was a contestant how blind we are to the editing on these shows. And I think the savvy viewer says, “Oh, I know what’s going on with editing.” But looking back on my own savvy viewing, you really have no idea. You’re blind to 90 percent of the construction of these shows, and it’s so easy to buy into the characters and situations that are created.
I love that you went in there with the interest you had. Regardless of the statement you made, your anthropological interest seemed a lot less selfish than most people’s motivation to appear on these shows…
Um, I don’t know about that…
Well, at the same time, there’s the argument that your motivation is not very different from the average girl’s. Now you have a story to tell, and now you have this angle that’ll set you apart from everybody else, something that you’ll be getting attention for. You’re just more culturally interested than most of the people on these shows.
Yes. That’s probably the statement that I would agree with.
After all, you embrace the “famewhore” label.
Yes. My problem with the fame whore is not that she exists, but that people hate her and she’s shamed for it. Our society cultivates that desire for attention in us, so we want it, but then we’re shamed for it. I don’t see what’s so bad about people wanting attention. People are like, “You want attention, you should be humble!” But I never understood why that was such a bad thing.
If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to go over a few of the negative comments you’ve received regarding your analysis of your performance. On Bust, someone wrote, “How is pursuing fame via Bust different from pursuing fame via VH1? Slapping a performance art frame and an edgy label on this doesn’t really separate Ann from the other contestants. The fact that the author sees herself as so different from the other women due to surface features (‘the look’) and what seems like class bias is disturbing. She states that she was the only cast member who wanted to ‘legitimately compete for his affection (rather than camera time). And that was what no one else was really doing.’ But how does she know?”
First of all, I don’t think I am different than the other girls on the show. The only thing that I was commenting on was I felt that people were looking at me and thought I was out of place. I didn’t feel out of place, that was something that I read other people picking up on, and generally that was based on my looks. In the situation, I didn’t really feel that out of place once I got over my initial nervousness. As far as what I said about competing for Frank’s attention, that statement I guess, is very loaded. And what I meant was that it was a decision of mine to approach the situation in a very naive way and say, “Hey, I’m actually going to play this game the way that viewers at home actually believe it’s being played.”
As opposed to what, though, really? I mean, you have to participate in the challenge they’re giving you.
Well yeah, but every girl there, including myself, went on that show to be on TV. The assumption that anyone went on to find love is utterly ridiculous [and] pretty much impossible. I mean, it’s complicated. I can say that maybe a few of the girls I do think were maybe more genuine. But ultimately, you’re still there to be on TV. And so, my goal at the time was shifted from wanting to be on TV to not caring about being on TV and to supposedly try to cultivate a legitimate relationship. I hope that readers of the BUST blog can see that even within those pieces of writing are a performance themselves, and attempt on my part to create a mythology around my meaning, which may or may not be based in reality.
So there are layers to the layers.
Yeah. I mean, I believe in the things I wrote, but they’re much more complicated than just that. I had to simplify it for that forum. Does that answer the question?
Sure. Someone wrote on our blog, “Do we really need to delve into the deep seeded philosophies of reality television? REALLY? I mean, anyone who doesn’t see the big picture of these shows and doesn’t see the obvious lack of reality is, truthfully, an idiot. OH and then she actually fell for him which was TOTALLY unexpected! So doesn’t that then simply PROVE the point that these shows are saying, ‘you really CAN find love on t.v.!!!’ which then makes her entire analysis moot?” [sic]
I didn’t fall in love on TV, what I was saying was that I genuinely like Frank as a person, and I didn’t want to play him or mislead him in any way. To me, what happened was that I wasn’t able to disconnect myself and feel that the people he was interacting with were just pawns, or not real people. I have respect for everyone on the show, and I didn’t want to be misleading in any way, even though obviously I already was.
In general, do you just find the entire concept of reality, not reality TV, but “reality,” complicated?
Oh yeah, of course.
It seems like you pay particular attention to the elusiveness of the truth.
Well, with that comment, it seems that the viewer really does believe that they can discern the falsity of the show, where really my belief is that they cannot and that we’re never going to be able to see through that illusion that production creates. Between the editing, and all of the personal and political elements, it’s impossible.
Did you ever talk to the other women about the idea that they’re being shamed for what they’re being brought on the show for?
Not usually, because when it was happening, it was usually happening during the exit. Like Jenny. None of us saw that one coming, and when it did we were all like, “Oh my god!” And then she left. I think that was the worst situation we’ve seen on the show so far. But no, I found that being a feminist and asserting that, a lot of times that can repel people from you, because feminism has become a dirty word. So that’s not something I’ll dive in to with people I don’t know.
Have you talked to any of the girls after the point? Have any of the girls read your BUST blog and have you gotten any feedback from them?
Jessica read it, and she sent me a message that said she agreed and that she appreciated it, which is great to hear. Because, oh my god, the portrayal of Jessica…She’s a very smart girl, and all of my friends who watch the show think that she’s a complete idiot. She was probably one of the more intelligent girls there. She’s very artistic, and into some pretty neat things. So her portrayal was pretty weird and damning. And the other girls, they know…I hung out with Melody lately in Nashville, which was great. She’s an amazing woman. And it was sort of mentioned, but it’s not really a big topic of conversation, I think. I don’t know if the other girls can handle it.
They’re not interested in art in that way really, right?
No, I don’t think so. I think it being about me started to make more sense when more stuff started coming out about me. Like the Scandalicious stuff first, and then the blog. I think people were more like, “OK…” And since the show, there’s been more realization between the girls of who was there for what reason. And my reason just happened to be this random thing.
It feels weird to go over particulars in light of all of the things you’ve said, but do you remember the rap that you performed on this last episode? I think everyone’s curious about that.
Yeah, I posted it on celebritiesfarting.com.
Were you shocked at everyone’s shock?
I did not know that Dana was going to become so upset, and then I was getting this really weird vibe from the other girls. They were kind of really thrown off, they didn’t know what was going on because it was such a break of character from me. No one expected me to do that. I hadn’t been acting like that at all, even though for me, that’s totally something I would do. But then they started questioning me, like, “What’s going on? Is she for real? Is this some kind of a big joke? What’s the deal with Annie?” After that, they were all sort of on guard with me, being like, “We don’t know what your deal is, really.” And then the situation switched very quickly from being about me to being about Melody. I felt bad it was to Melody, because she’s such a sweet girl.
What did you think of that: Dana’s threat of violence because of what you said or because of what Melody did?
Melody was an easy target! I will say from my own perspective going in there, I didn’t know if I could trust Melody. At the time, in my head, I thought, “Oh, Melody’s trying to be that friend to everybody,” or whatever. Now, stepping outside the show and having interactions with her, she’s so f***ing nice to everyone. But in that setting, it’s like, “Oh, you’re being nice to her, and you’re being nice to me, and you’re saying the same things to me.” That was circumstance in when that happened. So I think Dana was actually taken aback by Melody. But she obviously blew it up very big.
I know that you wrote about it, but that rap was self sabotage, right? You were ready to go?
Yeah, even having to watch myself every week, I’m really glad. I couldn’t watch myself anymore.
I just hate it. I hate it. Every Sunday I’d just be a big ball of nerves. Like, “What are they going to have me do this week?”
Do you feel like you were in control? It seems like even when you reevaluated and decided to give this up, you were still very much in control of this situation.
But I was so not though, really. Because they’re editing you, ultimately, and they’re really painting a picture of you. The way I was in the interview was not the way I was with the girls. They barely showed me interacting with the girls at all. Probably because I didn’t really do much. I pretty much kept to myself. Or said a few things here and there.
So what do you think of the portrayal of your portrayal of yourself?
It wasn’t what I expected. I thought I was pretty boring in the house, and they made me seem much more entertaining than I really was. I think that may have been surprising to some of the other girls, too. But overall, I think the character was funny.
So aside from a document and a greater understanding, are you taking anything else away from this experience?
Umm…Fifteen new friends! (laughs) No. I am grateful for all of the people I met through the show. I learned a lot about myself: there’s been too much of me, and I’ve been looking too much at myself lately. But I hope to make art about this for a little while.
Will it involve plungers?
(Laughs) Maybe…maybe that’ll be a performance piece. “Getting Freaky With A Plunger.”
Keep up with Annie via her MySpace and her Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. Oh, and don’t forget to read her blogs for BUST (Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here), which are at the very least, fascinating.
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