Having spent most of my childhood feeling out of place and isolated, I've always fantasized about colorful and perfect things that lay far beyond my immediate surroundings. The minute I could scrape enough money together, I moved to NYC with the same hope that every lost, young person has, which is to be a part of an embracing collective. This has been driving me relentlessly for most of my life. I have been making decision after decision basing them on dreams that I didn't even realize I had. Most of those dreams were rooted in my need to be heard. I found many incredibly cathartic ways of expressing that need. My early days as a model and actor provided limited gratification, but it was not until I held the camera up to my eye in my very late 20s that the floodgates of self-expression really opened up. That voice has opened the doors to everything that my childhood self could only have imagined. Having overcome so many struggles in my youth, I had an epiphany a few years ago realizing that I was entirely responsible for every single thing that happened in my life, good and bad. That is when I decided that if I genuinely wanted to have the life that I fantasized about, I would have to make some changes in my behavior and how I treated myself and other people.
After years of hard work and introspection, I was able to create many incredible opportunities in my life, including the opportunity to be part of a cast of a reality television show. When this presented itself to me, I asked myself, "What can you do with this that could have some kind of purpose beyond solely gaining notoriety?" I thought that this could be an incredibly rare opportunity to try something out of the ordinary for a reality-TV docu-drama. I was going to use this powerful medium as a vehicle to show a side of life that isn't rooted in turmoil and conflict, which is what I aspire to in my life outside reality TV. There were many times when I felt unsure about my participation in the show, but after two seasons of doing The A-List: New York, I found that I had accomplished my mission. I was able to maneuver through the entire two seasons maintaining a certain level of composure. I learned so much about myself in the process. The show became somewhat of a barometer for my behavior. The more I remained composed, the better the response was from the viewers. It taught me a common-sense lesson that I had not fully comprehended until now: you reap what you sow! I am incredibly grateful to the network and production company for allowing me to be a part of pop-culture history and learn some very valuable lessons in the process.
In contrast to me, Mike Ruiz is somewhat of a veteran of reality TV, having appeared in a smorgasbord of shows, including, most recently, The A-List: New York. Despite my own peripheral participation in reality television, I have been exposed to it enough to daresay it is a "pop-culture phenomenon" that, as a genre, is undergoing some inherently important shifts within its constructs. In so doing, it is influencing us as individuals and as a society.
The field of reality TV appears to be completely uncharted territory with no firm blueprint in place. I applauded Mike's decision to join The A-List, which, at first blush, might have seemed counterintuitive and counterproductive to his work as an established photographer. In fact, many of our friends and acquaintances were very candid in expressing their concerns over his participation in appearing on reality TV. After all, his reputation was at stake. And Mike had no idea how this show would unfold, given that he had no creative control. You must know something about Mike: he flourishes and is empowered by what might otherwise seem as an enervating challenge. So, true to form, he took on this challenge headfirst.
Not to whiplash the reader, but I flash back to a young me, a product of the '80s in New York City. Picture it: The Limelight, Area, M.K.'s, or The Palladium, catching a glimpse of Keith Haring or, more specifically, the Grand Poobah of Pop Culture himself, Andy Warhol. I specifically and intentionally bring up Warhol as a reference only to make a tie-in and create a thought-provoking platform, where we might consider how reality TV has become one of our most prevalent canvasses for pop culture today.
It's well documented how experimental Warhol was with his art and how far he took his work out of context, very similarly to how so many artists draw from the environment in which they live and how they incorporate it into their experiences and their own art. Mike definitely is one such artist, one whose creativity thrives when he goes beyond his comfort zone. To take a risk is tantamount to what motivates the artist. Furthermore, enmeshing oneself into the medium itself, as Mike as the artist has done with reality TV, is something that is quite out of the ordinary. It is the artist being pop culture, just as much as the medium itself is a vehicle for pop culture.
Going out on a limb, I would go as far as to say that quite possibly, if Andy Warhol lived today, he might have very well dabbled in reality TV, expanding on his own experimental films, and made the genre his own. Warhol might have even toyed with the idea of, maybe, elevating reality TV to a very different experience from what we know today. But, of course, this is just conjecture.
Perhaps not so much by design but instinctively, this is what is driving Mike Ruiz and is the reason why he has participated in the genre of reality TV. It's my impression that he is unequivocally seeking to create a wedge to allow for this medium to develop and grow into something more, something different. For so many years, we have seen how reality TV has replaced much of television's content, how it has permeated into so many aspects of social behavior and customs. It is definitely the product of our ever-growing technological fluency and need to measure by some barometer what we are as a people.
Enter Mike Ruiz.
White-knuckling it through season one of The A-List, Mike quickly discovered his niche. The limited time that he did spend on-camera gave him the opportunity to show an aspect of his personality, his lifestyle and his interests. It gave him the opportunity to work with the producers and utilize the medium as a platform to develop his character as a mediator, as an advisor. Apparently the idea had legs, because by the time season two of The A-List came around, the producers we only too happy to promote his "positive-minded character," as "Auntie Mike" and "Papa Bear" and later as "Uncle Mikey." In return, Mike opened up more of his life to the audience.
As a result, having reality TV be such a prevalent part in what is now both of our lives has raised some interesting opportunities to see ourselves beyond how we perceive ourselves. Life presents its challenges to us, just as it does anybody else. We have each recently lived through, experienced and grown a lot -- both as individuals and as a couple. We genuinely love each other and try our best to support each other's every effort. Within the framework of our participation in reality TV, we have been thrust into this life-learning lesson in a very condensed way.
What makes the outcome most interesting is having received feedback from thousands of viewers. In a way, their comments have not only been the barometer for us to measure our behavior but have made us keenly aware of how we want to behave. I guess that could make us a part of the microcosm within pop culture. I get the sense that, as bit players in the realm of reality TV, we have come to influence, as we are influenced. To some degree, we are all influenced by the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred by the consensus within the mainstream. Such is the power of reality, not only for Mike and me, but for all of us. Undoubtedly, the pop culture canvas is constantly being painted upon and will continue to serve as a reflection of who we are for quite some time to come.