Kate Durbin is a Los Angeles-based artist and writer. She is the author of The Ravenous Audience, E! ENTERTAINMENT, and co-author of Abra. Kate is founder of online pop cultural criticism journal Gaga Stigmata, and her tumblr project, Women as Objects, archives the teen girl tumblr aesthetic.
"Even more surreal than what we get on TV, and also subversively funny."
"Durbin elevates petty O.C. arguments between Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag to the status of serious literature."
"Durbin breaks down reality television and transcribes it into a vivarium of microdetail. The scripted moments of the Real Housewives shows transform into something else entirely when beamed from televised drama into ecosystems of language, fashion, and class."
I work as a transcript typist. Every weekday I go to work, look at the queue, load up audio or video files, and type them, one after the next. Mostly, I'm typing dialogue from New Zealand and Australian radio and televised news programs. But imagine for a second that I came in and typed from the American cable television networks E!, Bravo, and MTV, and my day job would be writing E! Entertainment.
Or would it?
In reality (lol, okay, got that out of my system), Kate Durbin's E! Entertainment is a lot more complicated than verbatim transcription. While her book is made up primarily of transcribed text, Kate makes active decisions that move E! beyond what a reader might reasonably pick up while viewing these shows. When I transcribe, I'm just typing what I hear. When you watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, you might choose to ignore what Lisa Vanderpump says and just watch her unimaginably small dog run around in the background, or her husband's gravity-defying hair, or her live-in pool boy, or. . . .
In E! Entertainment, Kate chooses our focus, and her lens is sharp. Told in 8 channels, presentation is everything. Access to some channels, like the "Wives Shows", is deep:
"A strip of flat, tan stomach peeks between her white tank top and distressed Armani skinny jeans."
'Why is there four places?' asks Wife Drita, moving around the table. She picks up her spray-painted woman wine glass, wrist clinking with gold chain bracelets. The woman on her wine glass has long, flowing red hair. Wife Drita shakes her red hair."
while others are limited. "The Girls Next Door" describes room after room, unbound by dialogue. "Anna Nicole Show" turns dialogue into soliloquy. "Lindsay's Necklace Trial" scrolls like a live feed. "Dynasty" is compressed into screen caps.
I've watched most of these channels before -- 7 of the 8, at least in part -- so for me, it wasn't the content that felt fresh so much as the means of telling. Camille Grammer becomes 'Wife Camille', Allison DuBois 'the Medium'. Kris Humphries becomes Kim Kardashian's 'Not-Husband', his body made up entirely of television static:
"'Where we - where we sitting at?' the Not-Husband asks. He picks up the entire piece of beef and put it in his mouth. It falls through his static body and onto the floor. He sucks his thumb loudly. Jungle Print Woman puts her hands on Stuttering Man's shoulders and massages. She looks at Kim and smiles."
When I asked Kate why she chose to put Kris into this incredibly strange body, she said one way she likes to think about it is that she didn't actually make any changes to his character: "Kris H is already TV static. I just made this obvious."
The reality stars are highly self-aware. Describing her guest appearance on the sitcom S#*! My Dad Says as a recently divorced reality star named Camille, Camille Grammer said, "My character Camille is basically a parody on myself, obviously, from Housewives of Beverly Hills. Just making fun of it, you know, making fun of all the quirky things I do and say."
It is we who tend to forget, and it's in these details, these choices Kate has made in the telling, that E! reminds us. As Kate says, "Transcription itself is inherently subjective and changes the source material. I didn't want the reader to get too comfortable with the thought that this book is 'just' transcription of what they've already seen. Nothing is ever 'just.'"