Kate Durbin is often described by those vague terms that obscure more than explain. Sure, she’s experimental. Yes, she does performance art, and lots of it is about digital life. A better description comes from Heidi Montag, of The Hills fame, who called Durbin “pop culture’s stenographer.” That feels apt, if a bit inadequate. She’s the founding editor of Gaga Stigmata, an online journal pioneering work in Gaga studies. Durbin may well be one of the few adults to take teen girls seriously. She coined the term “Teen Girl Tumblr Aesthetic” and documented it in Women As Objects, a real-time online archive of the phenomenon. In addition to a number of chapbooks, she’s written The Ravenous Audience and, most recently, the first contribution to a genre she calls “literary television,” E! Entertainment. She travels through the echoing halls of the Playboy Mansion, explores the commonality between Amanda Knox and Anna Nicole Smith, and, through a meticulous process of transcription, offers a strange and delightful way to consume reality TV, sweatpants not included. She spoke to contributor Alex Ronan over the phone from her home in Los Angeles about the cultural significance of Hello Kitty, what we can learn from the Real Housewives, and what happens when you spend three years straight watching reality TV.
Alex Ronan, Wag’s Revue: How did you end up focusing on reality TV?
Kate Durbin: Reality TV is the medium of our moment; we’re all straddling the line between living an “authentic” life and performing that life in front of the world. We’ve been under surveillance for a long time, but I think that reality TV is this unique medium in that it’s aware of its own surveillance. Most people think reality stars are really stupid. It actually takes a lot of savvy and a level of meta-awareness to do reality TV at all.