Dr. Christian is an assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and a Peabody Fellow at the Media Center at Peabody.
This discussion will contrast the sustained popularity of corporate reality TV on cable and online (particularly in the form of GIFs and fan participation on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter) with the relative un-spreadability of the small-scale web-distributed documentaries of local artists made for OpenTV, a platform for Chicago-based queer TV. It asks why documentary benefits disproportionately from greater investment in production, while probing the value of more “ordinary” representations of the lives of artists of color to understand the consequences of corporate interest in representations of artists. The contrasting case studies will be OpenTV's five current docu-series, all of which spotlight the more mundane aspects of artists' lives and artistic production in Chicago, and glossier reality TV series focused on artists' lives and production -- Love and Hip Hop (New York, Atlanta, Hollywood) primarily, but contextualized within the competition genre led by "RuPaul’sDrag Race," "Top Chef," "Project Runway," and "America's Next Top Model," all of which have extremely active fan bases online and strong ratings that anchor cable TV network programming schedules. Of particular interest is how much corporate reality TV foregrounds competition, even in narrative series, whereas small-scale series foreground collaboration, and the ways in which diversity is a marketing and branding strategy for cable distributors, whereas small-scale contexts foreground community-building.