Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I have been watching waaaaaaaay too much TV lately, which can be blamed on my iPod nano, and my shameless consumption of practically anything that graces the "magic box." Having caught up with all of my favorite network shows (The Office, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, Desperate Housewives), I finally turned to a phenomenon that I have been reading about for over a year: "The Hills." A spin-off of "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" (which I watched last year on Netflix and which made Jeff reconsider his proposal a little bit ... though not as much as when I followed that up with "Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica," but I digress), "The Hills" is a "reality" show that follows the lives of four young women living in Hollywood. There's no hook, really; they aren't competing for a prize or for money, they aren't alcoholics or divorcees (yet), and they don't seem too concerned with creating dramatic storylines. They just live their normal--albeit privileged--lives in front of an extraordinarily sympathetic and unintrusive camera (the lighting is lush and they never seem to be filmed without their express consent, unlike other reality shows that peek around corners into bedrooms and feature garish, grainy cinematography).
As many people before me have noted, the show is at once mind-numbingly meaningless and powerfully addictive. I can't really explain the phenomenon: watching it, the characters' lives are at once better and worse than your own life, which somehow works out as comforting. It has the pretty factor (i.e. not the "comfort" of something like "The Biggest Loser") but also the petty factor (their "problems" are never real problems), so you get to look at glamour and Mystic Tans while feeling good about yourself as a person. This, I think, is the magic mixture of "The Hills." The funny thing is that nobody wants to just say that it's ridiculous and fun. The media has been falling all over themselves with high-brow cultural comparisons to justify their love of it. The New York Times actually compared the show to the films of Antonioni and called its Barbie-esque villain, Heidi (who is currently dating a whiteboy Machiavelli who self-identifies as a "playa") "a feminist hero." Rolling Stone compared the dialogue to Harold Pinter, albeit "after 5 shots of NyQuil." And it seems everywhere I look people are trying to explain why "The Hills" is an important cultural phenomenon. Answer: it's not.
The women on the show are not heroines. Lauren, the narrator and lead, seems like a basically good person, but she's also basically rich and self-absorbed. Heidi, her former best friend and nemesis, got nose- and boob jobs immediately after beginning to date the evil Spencer, and generally displays the self-confidence of a wiffle ball. Audrina, Lauren's new roommate is, I'm sorry, painfully dumb (or at least sounds--and acts--like it). And Whitney, Lauren's co-worker, is sweet but garners almost no screen time, as she has an actual job, it seems. The thing is, these girls aren't trying to be the voice of a generation. And I don't think MTV is trying to make them seem that way. Can't we call it like it is, and just say that we like insipid television? Is that too much to ask?
Given that the current crop of network shows include "Farmer Wants a Wife" and "My Dad is Better Than Your Dad" (really), I guess "The Hills" seems kind of like Shakespeare. But Shakespeare was "The Hills" of its time. Think on that for a fortnight.