notes on the city trailer

October 22, 2008

  • watch the trailer here
  • the soundtrack to the trailer, “carousel” by paper route, probably won’t be the actual theme to the show but it’s interesting to look at the contrast with the hills theme, n. bedingfield’s “unwritten.” “unwritten” is all big, bold primary color emotions, the build of the verse into this explosion of feminine energy in the chorus – it’s the aural action painting of adolescence, it’s one of lauren conrad’s epic crying jags en forme de chanson. “carousel,” on the other hand, feels gentle, muted, impressionistic. there are no peaks, there are no valleys, there is no loud, there is no soft, there is only the middle. the hills might have been alive with the sound of music, big music that was necessary to represent its technicolor rainbows and hyperreal sunsets, the great bounty of this celluloid oasis in the western wilderness, but the city needs a different kind of music because it’s not about the earth or the soil or the sky, it’s not about nature at all, it’s about glass: auster’s glass, phillip’s glass, salinger’s glass. glass – in the right light it can be a mirror, but, mostly, you can’t see in it, you can only see through it. some musicians take glass to mean broken glass, shards of glass, they might see it as invitation to dissonant modernism but that wouldn’t fit this show. the city isn’t no new york, it’s yes, new york, it’s yes please, new york! can we take bets now about what kind of acoustic singer songwriter covers will soundtrack the ends of episodes of the city? i mean, the hills already used the nouvelle vague version of “heart of glass” but there are so many more options. what about “new york, new york” (the cat power song for a depressive sad girl evening of in-home camera posing, the ryan adams one for a montage of joyfully trying on expensive clothes)? the cowboy junkies’ “sweet jane” (or better yet, a young doe-eyed youtuber’s cover of the cowboy junkies’ cover of sweet jane!) a maroon 5 AOL acoustic session cover of “pale blue eyes”? will sonic youth show up for a cameo like they did on gilmore girls? WHAT ABOUT THE STROKES?!?!?!
    • and of course note the lyrics – “on and on and on we go / just like a carousel that’s lost control” – a pretty bold self-conscious reference to the fact that this is a “spin” off. it’s so self conscious but not self conscious in like a winking metafictive way but self conscious in the way a graduating senior might pause over the blank page of the one of her friends’ yearbooks, hoping, wanting, yearning to say something “original” or “creative” but, seconds later, the pause fast becoming awkward, still, stuck there, pen in hand, eventually hastily adding a double-coded tag at the beginning of her message: “Hey, I know everybody writes this same stuff but whatev! Have a great summer, BFF 4 life, SENIORS!”
    • (didn’t you miss my ability to make something out of nothing?)
    • (a long time ago i wrote a song about whitney that i still like even though ableton’s time stretch messed up some of the vocals.)
  • my impression is that, in a very significant way, the show isn’t actually more of the same, even though that’s how it will be spun by, you know, everybody. despite the bullshit about glass above, the form and aesthetic of the show will be basically identical to the hills – the production team has that shit on lock at this point, they could make three dimensonal tone poems out of you folding your laundry if they wanted to. the thing is, the aesthetic, while important, doesn’t determine the success or failure of the show. think about laguna beach season 3, think about newport harbor: the real orange county, think about nashville. all of these shows mined basically the same aesthetic territory as the hills and all of them were artistically and economically and completely and totally unsuccessful.
  • so what is the x factor? well, as i see it, there are two: the cast and the plot. (of course, this being reality television, the two are pretty inextricably related, but i want to talk about them separately)
    • the cast – some people just don’t have what it takes to be on this kind of show. lauren’s little sister in laguna beach season 3? didn’t have it. the casts of newport harbor and nashville? didn’t have it. it’s hard to say what it is, exactly – your cynical commentators will say something about the vapidity/glazed eyes/blah blah whatever. i’ve tried to codify it before but the trick to being captivating in the world of faux reality has to be some combination of an idiosyncratic physical expressiveness (whitney!) and maybe verbally the ability to have internalized womens’ magazine and hollywood romantic comedy clichespeak and have integrated it into your personality so that it comes out as genuine and true.
    • the plot – the problem with the aforementioned bad shows were that they were all ensemble dramas and it’s really hard to have an ensemble drama that’s only twenty minutes long. those three shows grasped for a narrative center but the results were uncaptivating and crappy. the genius of the hills was that it only had the pretense of being an ensemble drama, that there was always a strong center to the narrative and everything and everyone else (whitney included) were just narrative flotsam and jetsam, props to be brought in when necessary. in season one, the story was about the creation of lauren and heidi’s friendship. in season two, the story was about the dissolution of lauren and heidi’s friendship. in season three, the story was about what is life like after the end of lauren and heidi’s friendship and whether they could make new friends. in season four, well, hell, i don’t actually watch it, but based on the google alerts i get it seems that the story is going to be about the rebirth of lauren and heidi’s friendship. this is all so simple that even if you’re not smarter than a fifth grader, you can probably follow along.
  • SO THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HILLS AND THE CITY: the main reason that i think the hills was so resonant (besides the reality-fiction thing) is that it was fundamentally about relationships between young women and more generally about friendship, about what friendship is and what it means and what is good about and what bad and when it ends how do you go on and so on and so forth. the hills, by focusing on this issue, tapped a really specific vein, scratched an itch that wasn’t being scratched. dramatic soap operas (the OC et al) have always put the spot light on romance, on the mushy heartstrings boy girl stuff. the hills was genius because it covered what wasn’t being covered, it took a new subject – it gave everyone the girl on girl action they’d been waiting for.
  • the city, on the other hand, seems to be not about female friendship at all (again, i’m extrapolating a hell of a lot from the trailer so take it with however many grains of salt you want). whitney’s female co-stars are at first glance pretty boring – the one with the bangs gets a cute line in the trailer but seems fairly blah (she’s just a sounding board – she’s whitney’s whitney!) and olivia palermo is actually really pretty but almost scarily so, like totally “femme fatale.” what i’m saying is i really doubt we’re going to have any transcendent female relationship scenes like lauren conrad was able to grace us with over the course of the hills.
  • no, the plot of season one of the city seems to be whitney working in new york and trying to decide between two very different boys she likes!
  • in other words, the plot of season one of the city of the city is the plot of the devil wears prada. i’ve discussed resonances that the hills had with the devil wears prada before (lisa love vs. meryl streep’s anna wintour, portrayal of intern life, going to paris etc.) but the city takes this referencing to a whole new insane level. in the devil wears prada, andy moves to the city, works a demanding job in fashion, and vacillates between the sweet, dependable boy she dated before she moved to the city (adrian grenier) and a bad, dangerous boy who intrigues her but will obviously fuck her over (that guy from the ring two). in the city, whitney moves to the city, works a “demanding” job in fashion, and vacillates between the sweet, dependable boy she dated before she moved to the city (the guy in the hat in the trailer) and a bad, dangerous boy who intrigues her but will obviously fuck her over at some point (the ugly australian guy in the trailer)
    • (side note about whitney’s boys: the cycle of recursion honestly gets kind of creepy sometimes. i’ve talked in the past about the repetition of lauren and heidi’s career opportunities in many distant cities (“just like lauren became “the girl who didn’t go to paris,” now heidi has become “the girl who didn’t go to vegas”) and about how lauren’s faux-beau doug reinhardt is really just a shitty copy of brody jenner, among many other things. now we have whitney falling in love with this rugged, scruffy, unwashed australian boy who seems like such a dead fucking ringer for lauren’s rugged, scruffy, unwashed parisian crush that it almost makes my head explode.)
  • but the idea of whitney at the center of a romantic plot seems absurd as the anchor of a series. i love her and i think she’s hilarious and wonderful and unique, but doesn’t seem to have any of the emotional juice that lauren exudes during her relationship scenes. there’s not enough soap opera in her, there’s not enough drama in her, that’s why she’s always been a secondary character. i actually read the book of “the devil wears prada” a couple of weeks ago. i really enjoyed it although i thought the movie was much better.  the sort of emotional emptiness and lack of drama that i expect from a whitney port relationship arc is mirrored in the ridiculous relationship between andy and her boyfriend in that novel. like, i don’t know if she even kisses him in the whole book, much less fucks him, much less has any realistic conversation with him. he is really the audrina to her LC, he seems to exist almost solely to allow her to vent and shit but then he gets fed up with it and leaves her. it’s ridiculous, anne hathaway and adrian grenier do it much better if only because they are actual three dimensional warm breathing human beings.  maybe i’m underestimating whitney – i hope so.
    • another interesting difference between the film and novel of the devil wears prada re: all the female friendship stuff above is that in the novel, the climax of the book actually is centered around female friendship. in the book, the reason andyleaves paris is because her alcoholic best friend gets in a car accident and andy realizes how she’s lost the important things in her life and blah blah blah. it was really where the book lost me because she’s like days away from this new yorker internship that she’s been suffering for for months and then her dumbass two-dimensional friend gets in a car accident and she throws it all away. i just don’t fucking buy it, sorry. it fails because the friendship is completely unconvincing.  the power struggle shit at the end of the movie was so much better.
  • yet, for all my worries about the city being the devil wears prada made real, this could also be the key to the success of the show. the hills and the city are as much fantasy as sex and the city and the devil wears prada, but all of those stories are fantasies that girls across the country want to make into their reality and are actively trying to make into their reality, trying to turn these images that they’ve watched in suburbs and small towns into real lived life. the city is just this, whitney taking a popular fiction and making it into her actual life. there’s very real potential for that to resonate with the aforementioned consumed consumers.
    • the problem i see with the show is the potential lack of conflict to drive the narrative. the devil wears prada is suffused with conflict, both the external conflict of andie trying to do this insane job for this insane boss and the internal conflict of her trying to reconcile the image she has of herself as an intellectual with this job she is doing at a “brainless” fashion magazine. i just don’t know if either of those conflicts can exist in the city. i don’t think diane von furstenburg is going to be playing a cartoony wintourian powerbitch like lisa love and kelly cutrone did. and in terms of the difficulty of the job and the stress and stuff, that drama is undercut by the clear fact that whitney is obviously not struggling to get by, that she is a popular television star. there’s the sense the DVF job needs her more than she needs it and that’s a drama killer. so without the catty girl drama, without the insane boss drama, and without any soapy romantic drama, the question I’m left with is what is this show going to be about?
  • i was going to do a bit about frank o’ hara’s walk poems and how they revel in the shining highlights of everyday life in new york and how that really resonates with the city‘s narrativising and aestheticizing and aerobicizing of quotidian banality but i don’t feel like it anymore. besides, i’ve just decided that the perfect soundtrack for the city would have to be lou reed’s “new york television conversation,” which i never made the connection until just now but really seems to be inspired by edie sedgwick in poor little rich girl. anyway, listen:

“I was sleeping, gently napping, when I heard the phone
Who is on the other end talking, am I even home
Did you see what she did to him, did you hear what they said
Just a new york conversation, rattling in my head

Oh, my, and what shall we wear
Oh, my, and whop really cares

Just a new york conversation, gossip all of the time
Did you hear who did what to whom, happens all the time
Who has touched and who has dabbled here in the city of shows
Openings, closings, bad repartee, everybody knows

Oh, how sad, why do we call
Oh, I’m glad to hear from you all

I am calling, yes I’m calling just to speak to you
For I know this night will kill me, if I cant be with you
If I cant be with you”

  • the song starts in this sarcastic mode and lou’s voice is gruff, hoarse, a little off key. he’s mocking it all, laughing along with the skipping bass line. at the end of the song, though, there’s a pivot, a turn at the end of the runway, and suddenly there’s this resolution into emotion and desire and pain and a need to love and be loved. out of the banality rises the revelation. let’s remember who whitney port is for a second, or more importantly, who she was. this was the girl who at the start of the hills just wanted to do her job at teen vogue, who hated the cameras, who didn’t want absolutely any of her private life shown on the show, who was the shy wallflower on the periphery. now she’s completely changed, now she has her own show that she will be the star of, where she will be the center of attention. something deep inside whitney has been transformed by our eyes and she’s decided that she wants them, she needs them, she loves them; she wants us, she needs us, she loves us. the question is, do we love her? check yes or no and pass it back.

the fauxdacity of soaps

September 5, 2008

imagine for a second that you’re bristol palin. imagine that it’s monday night and that earlier in the afternoon, millions of people around the country and around the world found out that you fucked up and that you’re knocked up. imagine that they found out and it’s not like funny katherine heigl knocked up and it’s not like funny juno knocked up, it’s just knocked up, it just sucks, it just does. and it’s the night after everybody in the world found out about this, that you’re knocked up, and you’re just so tired. your body is tired because, hey, you’re pregnant, and you’ve been up all day after not being able sleep on the weird, different bed in the hotel, but mostly you’re just tired of it, of all of it, the great big mass of it that’s pressing in on you from every direction. you’re stuck in this hotel room in minnesota, of all places, and you can’t go anywhere or do anything because then people would take your picture, there would be flashes everywhere and video and microphones, and so that’s not allowed, and you don’t want it anyway. and your stupid fucking boyfriend is still in alaska and his phone isn’t working cause of all the reporters calling it and you don’t even know why you want to talk to him, really, but you just want something that’s not this, that’s not it. and you’re in this hotel room and you’ve had to be around all these people all day, all of them, your family and then the rest of them, the sweaty men in shirtsleeves and women in their thick-cut pantsuits, and there’s never any break from it, there’s never any rest, it’s lights, camera, action, even though there aren’t any of those things in the room, no, no cameras near you, “no cameras near bristol,” they said, not yet, but it feels like you have to be on now, all the time, that there could always be someone watching you, looking at you, staring.

it’s late and your little sister has gone to bed and all the adults are having a meeting about something, probably you, probably about what you’ve done and what it means and how you changed things and how people are reacting, and because of this, you get a minute to yourself in the empty hotel room. you’re hungry, because, hey, you’re pregnant, but there’s no food in the room except the mini bar and you know you’re probably not supposed to touch the mini bar but at this point, seriously, you feel like if you want some oreos, well, it’s your decision to make, not anybody else’s, so you take the oreos and you rip open the package. you eat them fast and they’re so good, they fill something up inside of you not just your stomach. the mini bar is still open and you look at the alcohol, the little bottles, and you think about what it would taste like to drink them, to drink them all, what if they came in and found you on the bed, all drunk and passed out and fucked up, that’s what levi called it, “fucked up.” you remember that one time with levi at his friend’s house, when you took a gulp of whiskey from the bottle in the underwear drawer and it burned and you thought about how people in movies drink whiskey and it burns and you thought about your dad drinking whiskey and how he didn’t act like it burned and then levi took the bottle and then the lights went off. you’re sitting there on the bed with your fingers all covered in the oreo crumbs and the empty package in your lap and it’s so quiet in the room all of a sudden, so quiet after all the people talking all day, and you would think it feels good but it doesn’t, because even though they’re not there and they’re not talking, you can still hear them, in your head, all their voices, all talking about you and about what people think about you and about what people are saying about you and about what is to be done with your situation. you’re hearing all those things and it’s so horrifying but you can’t turn it off because it’s in your head. so instead of turning something off, you turn something on, the TV. you turn it on and start changing channels. what do you watch?

okay, okay, i’ll cut the overwrought fan fiction but let’s talk about daughters, for serious.

daughters, daughters, daughters. they’re all everybody’s talking about lately. hillary and obama both talked about daughters and when hillary dropped out, obama talked about daughters even more, to make sure we got it. in his speech at the convention, he talked about daughters, he mentioned them over and over, to make sure we got it, and after the speech brought them up on stage and hugged them, right in front of america. and now, the focus of our presidential election isn’t on the candidates, it’s on another daughter, someone else’s daughter. it’s on bristol palin, who got knocked up.

america, for all this talk about daughters, do you know who your daughters are really listening to, whose every word and glance they’re following, who they actually care about? it’s not barack and it’s sure as hell not john mccain. it’s not joe biden and it’s not sarah palin and it’s not even hillary clinton. instead, for millions of them, for millions of eligible and soon to be eligible female voters, it’s LC, it’s heidi, it’s lo and audrina and whitney. you might think that’s bad or wrong, that it makes them stupid or vapid, that they’re wasting their time on trivial things when they could be learning about “the important stuff.” i don’t agree.

the new 90210 premiered this week and, leading up that, everybody was talking about it, too, mostly in that binary “will it be good?” or “will it suck?” kind of way, but also in that “i remember way back when” nostalgic kind of way. now, i will go on record as not being anything close to an expert on the show and actually only having seen it a few times. i recognize this as a big gap in my cultural cred, especially since i am obsessed with watching what is in some ways a spiritual sequel to the show. but people, really, did 90210 teach you anything about what life in the real world is like? did it teach you to understand the world? did it teach you how you were supposed to live your life? i wasn’t an adult then so i can’t say for sure, i can’t understand the cultural environment of the time, but my feeling based on wikipedian speculation and reading people’s reactions to the show and nostalgia about it and comparison of it to the hills is no, it didn’t, at least not in the way that the hills does. instead, it was what gossip girl is now: kind of a pseudo-campy/pseudo-serious look at this group of young people in this exciting urban atmosphere, full of pretty actors playing ugly characters. it allowed you to kinda identify with the characters/kinda snark on them, it told a simple morality tale about how the money and drugs and sex corrupts these young people and hurts them morally but how some of them are still good deep inside and blah blah blah.  i’m really talking out of my ass but, in sum, it was a soapy drama, a TV show, it was entertainment, it was fun.

but the hills is so much more than gossip girl or 90210 and so much more than a TV show and so much more than entertainment (not least because, in and of itself, it’s not really very entertaining, as some people have made a fetish of saying over and over again in slightly different ways). what it is is this kind of primer for how to live in the twenty first century, both how to exist in the world and how to observe it and understand it and interpret what it all means. i was talking about the nouveau roman last week, but the hills isn’t life: a user’s manual, it’s a user’s manual for life. for its audience, watching the hills is providing the critical/analytical/performative tool that they need to live in and understand contemporary american society. the best/ only way i know to illustrate this is to compare things on the show to things happening in the election.

to start, watch this video of barack obama. this is a loop i cut from the official obama campaign video of his convention speech. the video itself has all these “i have a dream” aping cutaways to the crowd during the speech, cutaways that fail to be moving just as a function of aesthetics; that is, color hi def video of fat people in t-shirts in a stadium just doesn’t have quite the gravitas of grainy black and white film of soldiers and folks garbed in their mad men vestments, sweating and smoking cigarettes on the mall. i digress. anyway, before the actual speech begins, there’s a build-up of these vérité moments of the prep backstage, sort of like in concert films when they show the band psyching themselves out and then walking through the bowels of the stadium to the stage. the shot i’ve looped is one of obama, his eyes closed, mentally centering himself before he goes out to make one of the most important speeches of his career to 75,000 live screaming humans and millions more watching all around the world.

before reality TV, especially before second wave reality TV like the hills, the way we would’ve interpreted this moment is with that word i used earlier, vérité. we would have thought about this as vérité, like, the medium of this shaky handheld cheap DV camera is giving us this secret, unfiltered glimpse into the real obama, the man behind the mask, not the one that makes the big speeches, but the private soul that lives behind closed doors. but what the hills has done is broken the “real-fake” binary forever and allows us to see this moment for what it really is. of course, this moment with obama is, in one sense, completely real. the kind of focus you need to prepare yourself to appear before that many people and make a speech must be incredible. at the same time, i think you have to be kidding yourself to say that he’s not aware that there’s a camera around him, expecting him to look deep, focused, and presidential, and that, because of this, that he isn’t at least subconsciously projecting this look that is deep, focused, and presidential. the genuine essence and the performance are melded, inextricably joined, the peanut butter of the real all swirled together with the sweet jelly of artifice.

let’s keep going. remember the big deal about hillary clinton breaking down and crying after iowa. there was that viral video clip of her getting emotional at whatever campaign stop that was, right before new hampshire, in this moment she was talking not about policy but about basic human feelings. i wrote an elliptical prose poem type thing about this at the time but i’ll repeat myself, in blunter, cruder language. what was she doing? did she genuinely begin crying and genuinely continue crying because she just couldn’t take it anymore? did she genuinely begin crying and then realize that it might be a politically advantageous thing to continue doing and so played it up? or was it all fake from the start, was it a carefully deployed, last-ditch attempt at pathos, planned to engender support in new hampshire? these are the same questions that every good scene on the hills raises. what is real, what is fake, what is genuine, what is not, what is the balance, can these things coexist?

beyond the fake-real issues raised by what hillary herself did, think about the reaction. TV pundits in well-lit studios and workers around water coolers and executives in boardrooms, they were all talking about this moment, about hillary clinton’s crying and whether she was doing it for real or whether she was faking it and what did that mean and did that make her more likeable or less and did it make her more electable or less. this is basically the same level of discourse being employed at the same time by teenage girls in their bedrooms talking about the hills, discussing the way lauren looked at brody at the end of the episode and did that mean she liked him or not and do you think she really really likes or does she just like him for the show and so on and so forth.

for someone like bristol palin, or for any other seventeen year old growing up in america, the hills is instructive in two modes, the performative and the interpretive. in the performative sense understanding this real-fake paradox is essential for knowing how to be. imagine you’re bristol palin and someone asks you if you’re really in love with your boyfriend. how do you respond? how do you balance what you really feel inside with what you want people to think about you with what you want to say for your mom with how your boyfriend feels? but this is not just for the bristol palins of the world; fame is a mask that eats into the face but all of us, even the nonfamous, wear masks sometimes. the hills is instructive because it lets us know that to be real, sometimes you have to be fake and that just because you’re being fake, it doesn’t mean you’re not real, somehow, somewhere, inside. in the interpretive sense, it’s important because it forces you to confront the fact that other people aren’t as simple as characters in the two dimensional teen movies you watch but are just as contradictory and paradoxical, just as real and fake, as you are.

want more? how about the whole john edwards affair? what strikes me about that is that his affair was literally enabled by its own documentation. the idea of hiring rielle hunter to create these videos was, at least ostensibly, to show the “real” john edwards. the problem was that the john edwards that was shown was maybe a little more real than he would’ve liked. as a result of this documentary impulse, though, we have these incredible videos left over, which, like hills episodes, are completely banal and facile on the surface but bubble under with juicy subtext. in the video above, directly addressing the camera, john edwards talks about how difficult it is to be real and fake at the same time:

“you’re trained to be careful, to close off if it feel sensitive, to close off if it feels personal. i have to tell myself…i’m trying hard to do it, but you know we’re so conditioned, we’re conditioned to say the same things, to say what we say, we’re conditioned to be political. and it’s hard to shed all that. i can be in the middle of being what feels real and authentic to me and i’ll get into a little reel in my head, you know, i can see it happening and i have to pull myself back out. i think it helps, though, that you guys are filming all the time and not just when i’m standing in front of a big crowd speaking.

it’s funny because he’s talking about this real-fake paradox in the same kind of way that lauren conrad might talk about her life, directly to the camera in the interview segment on the hills: aftershow. i also think his use of the word “reel” there is very interesting, based on the different connotations of that word. i initially heard it as “reel” as in “schpiel,” like, a routine that he has to go through, the proverbial dog and pony show. you can also read it as edwards’ country boy roots revealing themselves, so, “reel” like line dancing, like a set of rigid, unnatural postures and positions you put your body through so that you can move in concert with others. there’s also “reel” in the cinematic sense, like the reel of DV tape that was recording edwards at that very second. a correspondent pointed out that edwards’ mistress is named “rielle.” finally, in terms of homophones, there’s that word we just can’t escape: “real.”

what all this reminds me of is the sex tape rumors that were such a driving force behind the rise in popularity of the hills, the rumors which helped to spark the ratings and publicity bump that occured around the beginning of the third season. at that time, spencer pratt was claiming with “1000%” certainty that a sex tape of lauren conrad existed. conrad, of course, completely and fervently denied this. the tension between them and the promise of this hyperreal document (which never manifested itself) was perfect tabloid and message board and blog fodder. along these lines, let us remember that the thing that made edwards finally admit his dalliance seemed to be the threat that photos or video, that some sort of document of the affair was going to be released – that’s what did it, that’s what forced him to get “real” and tell the truth.

speaking of tabloid fodder, remember that the john edwards story was broken not by the new york times or the washington post but by the national enquirer, a tabloid, the kind of tony journalistic organ that sits above tic tacs and chapstick at the checkout counter. think about that: the source of this major political news was a tabloid, just like us weekly. a few days ago, us weekly was attacked by the mccain campaign and its supporters for their puffy, pink exposé of sarah palin. some have drawn the comparison with the more fawning approach that the tabloid took in their profile of the intensely photogenic, almost brangelenic obama family. we could discuss the relative merits of those pieces, but all i can think about is that this magazine, which a desperate mccain rep is holding up as an exemplar of mainstream media liberal bias, is the same featherweight checkout counter glossy that’s played host to countless pictures of, listicles about, interviews with, and feature articles starring lauren conrad and heidi montag.

or let’s just move on to the big stuff. i mean, i don’t want to dwell on this or celebrate because we’re not supposed to, right? but FAKE PREGNANCY! REAL PREGNANCY! FAKE PREGNANCY! REAL PREGNANCY!!! what did i and scads of teenage and twenty something daughters read about this spring? why, how heidi montag and spencer pratt had planned a fake pregnancy to garner attention for themselves. “”This summer, Heidi plans to wear loose clothes and even strap on some padding around her waist to make it appear as if she’s about three months along. The plan is to get the baby rumor mill going so she can get photographed more. She and Spencer won’t confirm or deny the pregnancy so they can keep everyone guessing.” what were i and millions of americans talking about over the past week? why, whether the vice presidential candidate for the republican party had faked her pregnancy. as with the whole hills sex tape controversy, there were blatant lies, there were weird, sketchy details, there were conspiracy theories a gogo. then, in a soap opera style plot twist, it was revealed that no, this crazy thing wasn’t true but hey, this one is! oh, bristol palin.

people talk about the evils of identity politics and how we should avoid them, how we shouldn’t talk about sarah palin’s or barack obama’s personal lives, but i think that in this race to do so is completely unavoidable. we have to talk about the politics of the candidates’ identities because they’re using their identities to play politics, whether it’s barack obama stumping about a woman from kansas and a man from kenya or sarah palin posing in a bikini with a rifle. of course, this is all like the hills, in which heidi and lauren don’t have the safety net of “character” to fall back on, who can’t say, “oh, that’s not me, that’s just this fictional person I play on TV.” they can’t declare things off limits or unfair game – it’s all out there.

another thing is that the hills, just like the election, is all about choice. nothing is didactically meted out, you choose what you think. you choose what of the show you believe and what you think is fake. you choose who you support and who you agree with, who you ally with and who identify with. this choice, i think, is just a micro version of the american political machine. think of those branded social networks based around the hills and other mtv shows and then the ones based around hils and barack. look at form, function, style: what is the distance between iamonmtv, where viewers sign up and “follow” the stars with whom they most identify, and mybarackobama, where voters sign up to “follow” the candidate they want to support? what’s the distance between whitney answering questions from her followers on iamonmtv and barack obama sending us all a 3 AM text message? what’s the distance between megan mccain (another daughter) shilling for her dad with her blog itunes playlists and audrina or lauren’s blogs shilling for their own personal causes? what’s the distance between team heidi and team hillary?

because these choices of team heidi and team lauren aren’t simple “i like the green power ranger better than the red power ranger” kind of choices. for the girls who really care about the show, they’re lifestyle choices. they mean something. if you’re team lauren, that signifies something about you. if you’re team heidi, that signifies something about you. these relationships with media icons are the training wheels for the relationships they will have or do have with their presidential candidates.

speaking of choice, heidi montag made this joke the other day about how she was angry with john mccain not choosing her as his running mate. look at it from her perspective. i mean, here he is, he’s already admitted that he’s a fan of the hills and heidi has gone to the trouble of endorsing him and going out to lunch with his daughter a couple of times and then at the last minute he picks a brunette from alaska.

it’s funny because the way sarah palin was chosen is, in many ways, just like the way heidi montag was chosen for the hills. if you strip all the fame away from heidi montag, if we pretend that she’s just a normal girl what’s special about her, what sets her apart? nothing, really, she’s just normal. kind of pretty, sort of ambitious, but mostly normal. and, without the magic ticket she was given into the world of celebrity, into the show, that’s how she would’ve probably stayed, a normal girl from a small town in colorado.

of course, that’s the sarah palin narrative, too: plucked from the relative obscurity of the alaskan wilderness into the national spotlight, with the barest of real experience or qualifications but with scads of those particular qualities that resonate with the american public: personality, relatability, normality. i read this old interview in which sarah palin described the possibility of her being vice president as “so far in outer space.” to me, she sounds like carrie underwood talking about what it would be like to win american idol. in a sense, of course, that’s exactly what she’s talking about, this dream of american idolatry. for so many boys and girls in our country today, that is the american dream. from the snow-capped rockies of colorado to the red hills of georgia (but not only there), that’s what they dream of, that, suddenly, miraculously, the weight of attention will descend upon them like some sort of televisual rapture, that it will elevate them into the firmament of public consciousness, that it will render their essence into something bold and beautiful that the mass of the american public will take in through wifi or save to their tivos or have delivered via google reader. sarah palin is, as they say, living the dream.

one of the republicans’ big talking points against obama is that he’s a “celebrity.” while i don’t think that’s a bad thing, i don’t disagree with them on one count: obama definitely is a celebrity. he’s the classic hollywood kind of celebrity, the dashing, dapper george clooney or cary grant style leading man. he’s a celebrity because of what makes him special, what makes him exceptional, what makes him better and different than all the rest of us. he’s a movie star. sarah palin is a celebrity, too, but she’s the new kind of celebrity, like heidi montag or carrie underwood. instead of being famous for what makes her special, she’s famous for what makes her normal, the girl next door who wins a date with tad hamilton. she’s a TV star. while twenty years ago that would’ve have made her no competition at all for obama (reagan hollywood blah blah), in today’s cultural climate, i’m not so sure. she’s a TV star and that’s what scares me the most about her.

people keep ridiculing sarah palin for having been a beauty queen and posting in a mocking way those dated glamour shots and gauche bikini pics of her, as if to say “this could be our nation’s vice president”? it reeks of cheap sexism to me. personally, i feel there are a hell of a lot of reasons why sarah palin shouldn’t be vice president, but i think her pageant skills are one of the reasons she was a good choice for mccain to make. i mean, what is the distance between that debate about the couture choices of barack obama (re: lapels) and sarah palin strutting around in the swimsuit competition? what’s the distance between the youtube town hall and that hallowed Q and A session that takes place at every beauty pageant, in which the candidates are asked those cliché questions about “world peace” and “geography.”

your response to this rich pageant of american public life might be to rail against how this is all so stupid or inconsequential or even immoral or disgusting. and you might be right, it might be all of those things, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is, that this is the state of popular discourse. i have no interest in passing moral judgements on things like this; to do so seems like bad punk music to me, just angry whining that might provide you with some smug self satisfaction but nothing more, no enlightenment. i don’t know if i can offer enlightenment, either, but i think asking “why?” or “how?” is much more productive than saying “yes” or “no” or “good” or “bad.” i love america and if you love someone, it’s better to try to understand them and see the good in them than to constantly harp on their forfeits and inadequacies. you can hate the sin if you want (i don’t), but quit hating the sinner, because as americans, we’re all sinners, every one.

i know this is all getting kind of out there, trust me, i know. a valid criticism of this is whether what i’m doing here is trying to make my particular mania into a cultural universal. i know that i more than anyone am predisposed to view everything through the lens of the hills. i’ve been writing about it for a year and i’ve been talking about it with friends for longer. i think this show is more important than probably anybody else, besides maybe some of those sixteen year old daughters i talked about earlier. i’ve written over a hundred thousand words about this and why it is i think so and what it all means. what’s funny is that i don’t even really like the show anymore. i’m bored with it, i don’t enjoy watching it. i don’t think it’s as well made as it used to be. i don’t own the DVDs or the spin off book, i don’t download the soundtrack, i don’t buy the tabloids, i don’t hang out in the virtual hills. i don’t even watch reruns of it because i have to watch it so intensely when i write about it that it becomes this dead husk of a thing, used and wilted.

the thing is this show is really fucking up my life. i won’t even talk about my personal life because the less said the better but i mean my life as an artist. because that little blip of a short short i wrote about bristol palin at the top of the page? even though a lot of the details are total bullshit (was she even in minnesota then? i don’t know.) and even though it’s kind of maudlin and even though we could argue pointlessly all day about whether i’m rendering anything close to her psychological state or her relationships with her family or to politics, to me, it’s so alive, more alive than any of the fiction i’ve been trying to write lately, probably more than any of the fiction i’ve written since i wrote about heidi montag watching dharma and greg. it’s alive to me not because of the quality of the writing but simply because it’s about a real person, because it’s about her, bristol palin, but at the same time because it’s about a fake person, because i am allowing myself to animate her, to pull her marionette strings in the directions i want, to fill in details that please me, to edit and remix her essence. in creative writing workshops, one of the dead horses we beat are “stakes”; characters have to have stakes, things that are important to them and are at risk in the story. writing about real people means the stakes are automatic, because their problems and solutions, their joy and sadness, those are real, too, and i get to play with them, and so not only do they have stakes but i have stakes. concurrently, the reader, who has some kind of relationship with whoever this person is that exists outside the world of my story, the reader has stakes, too. we’ve all got stakes, we’re all high rollers. i feel like if if i admit that my characters are totally fake, i lose all the stakes, like dostoevsky at one of his casinos in a seventh seal sort of existential craps game and putting the power of fiction down and losing it to the house and hating himself even more because now he can’t dramatize his fears and dreams and hatred and love in long passionate monologues but instead has to write insipid personal essays with long run-on sentences and no capitalization in his blog. it’s like i’m sentenced to that circle of hell. if suddenly all the connotation and allusion in my little bristol palin story were stripped from it, if you couldn’t connect my dots to something existing in the real world, if it was just about some “fictional character,” well, who cares, what does that matter, why do we need to read about that? jesus, don’t get me a freudian or a jungian, i need a pirandellian.

i’m hoping this feeling is just a phase or that it’s writer’s block which i’m camouflaging from myself by having this kind of metafictional identity crisis – that’s what i hope. but i don’t know. you might say,” well, maybe you shouldn’t try to be a fiction writer, maybe you should be a journalist.” but the thing is, i could never be a journalist because i don’t care at all about the truth. i care about the truth as it interests me and the truth as it makes the bones of good story and the truth for what I can mine from it and refine into something better. i care about the truth as a raw material but as nothing more, i see it as being something like coal – largely boring and utilitarian but occasionally yielding the possibility of diamonds.

so i’m stuck in this fucked up rock/hard place situation where fiction doesn’t move me but neither does reality, where only things that exist in this weird nether realm in between make me feel anything at all. i’m stuck in this uncanny valley where nothing satisfies me except performances and simulations, where i love only liars and narcissists and beauty queens, and it’s like i’m sisyphus 2.0 – every word i write feels like a handhold to pull myself out of this but, as i try to climb up, my feet are just digging me in deeper and deeper. the hills are towering all around me and they cast shadows that cut into the landscape and create scary, dark places where i don’t want to go.

at the same time, even though it’s not really where i want to be, it’s where i feel i have to be. because, america, that’s where we are, you and me and lo and LC and all your sons and daughters. we’re a country that is completely obsessed with authenticity and we are, simultaneously, a country that is completely inauthentic. we have gaps and lacks in our veneers and big fault line cracks in our facades. i don’t think that makes us weak, though, i think it makes us strong. do we contradict ourselves? sure, we contradict ourselves. we are large, we contain multitudes. the hills is a better metaphor for that than any other piece of art i know, and that’s why, even if i don’t like it, i still have to watch. it’s why i think you should watch, too.

she speaks in your voice, american, and there’s a look in her eyes….well, i don’t know what it means. do you?

[/end quarterly overblown livejournal post]

tangents:

  • another repetition that i should have included in the video but didn’t was lo’s long walk across the yard into a dramatic confrontation with audrina in the first episode of this season which was a clear repetition of lauren’s long walk across the yard into a dramatic confrontation from last season’s finale. again, the newer version was much weaker. also the previously discussed “whitney is good at work” scene.
  • robbe-grillet probably would have liked the hills: “But the new realism that Robbe-Grillet advocates with the nouveau roman is not the rendering of the “lifelike” and the “typical.” “In this new realism,” he writes, “it is therefore no longer verisimilitude that is at issue. The small detail which ‘rings true’ no longer holds the attention of the novelist . . . ; what strikes him . . . is more likely, on the contrary, the little detail that rings false.””
  • this season, though, for all its repetition and lack of emotion, is striking me as less nouveau roman, less l’ecriture feminine, and more…uh…clip show? “Clip shows today tend to offset such criticism by trying to make the frame tale surrounding the clips compelling, or by presenting clip shows without any framing device. A show might also diffuse the awkwardness by indulging in self-parody, explicitly acknowledging or intentionally over-playing the device.”
  • still, even if the art of the hills isn’t as cutting edge as it once was, the commerce is totally avant garde. from media week: “As MTV’s flagship hit, The Hills functions as a laboratory of sorts for the ad sales and marketing people, a venue where MTV can experiment with pod structure and an array of pod-busting initiatives. “
  • (related: the salary thing which everybody has posted already)
  • i haven’t seen last year at marienbad. i really really want to. netflix doesn’t deliver to korea so i wish people would stop uploading divx cam copies of the house bunny and get on that, please.
  • a french role playing game about the hills. i’m not kidding. (via HLJ)
  • my favorite book about repetition and reenactments
  • did anybody else hear an echo of mccain in the doug-lauren “yr house/yr laguna house” exchange?
  • also on politics, a correspondent sent in this very entertaining comparison of speidi and the clintons. not to horn toot, but i still feel that i set the standard for this sort of thing (also).
  • notes on lo
  • there are few things i dislike more than improv/sketch comedy. cats, fake cheese, joy. i like janeane garofalo, though i much prefer rush or sean to air america.
  • i just don’t know what do with overdosin. i just don’t. i feel much more comfortable with the fake virgin thing since i basically already covered it in my madonna/the madonna fake family planning discussion.

meh.

tangents:

  • a bit that got cut from the monologue: “if lauren and heidi are feminist heros, spencer is definitely some sort of existential hero. he’s stuck in this land of women where he is not in charge and can’t be, but he’s smart, he recognizes his situation and recognizes that he’s not in charge, that the old style of masculine posturing and action won’t do anything for him. therefore, he rebels by inaction, not by bowing up his chest or waving around his dick or shoving his hand up skirts, but by doing absolutely nothing. he rebels against his powerlessness by reveling in it, by embracing it, by spending all his time on the couch, growing out his ugly facial hair like some homebound Samson, playing XBOX and sleeping till noon.”
  • cause everybody knows / she’s a femme fatale.
  • i love justinbobby eternally for wearing a leather jacket to a pool party in los angeles in the summer.
  • the interface seems kind of retarded to me but i still think this is a very smart move (here’s a thought, mtv: most people who buy online music do it through itunes. in order to spend their money on your site, they will want to be comfortable with it. one way to make them comfortable is to give them something they are familiar with. so, how about ripping off itunes instead of giving me this confusing, laggy broke-ass wheel-carousel shit?)
  • this site, meanwhile, continues to be a total letdown. it makes nonsociety look good.
  • do i even have to draw the connection?  we can rebuild her, we have the technology, blah blah blah.
  • this report makes me almost as happy as when i heard that anecdote about michelle obama being able to recognize brady bunch episodes by the opening shots.  live every week like it’s shark week.

i had to sit through the trailer for the house bunny about fifty times to capture these clips. stupid wordpress won’t let me embed the high quality version but please click through and watch that instead – it’s much prettier.

tangents:

anniversary

July 31, 2008

“A typical week begins with producers calling the core cast members on Sunday and getting intel on what’s happened to them over the weekend. An e-mail update is sent to the staff that night so everyone can prepare for Monday’s ”story meeting,” in which the producers and story editors sit around and dissect the Hills girls’ personal and social lives. From that, they determine whom to film during the week. (On average, it takes editors four to six weeks to cull through the footage and put together an episode.) Lauren and her costars are forbidden to attend these meetings. ”I would love to sit through one of those,” says Lauren, ”because it’s really them being like, ‘Yo, did you hear what this person said?”’

OMG DREAM JOB!!! this is a really good article, maybe the best one i’ve ever read about “the hills.” there is a lot i would like to say about it but i am trying to avoid burning out and using up all my material before the season even starts. (unless someone wants to quote me in something that i can add to my sad, flimsy resume since i spent this year writing a blog about “the hills” instead of submitting stories to small literary magazines like i was supposed to and so now i have to build a portfolio and do tedious grad school applications at the exact same time that i am writing obsessively and at great length and hopefully with video illustrations about this (possibly final) season of the most important show on television.)

on a related note, today is my one year anniversary! thanks so much to everyone who read, commented, or wrote or linked to me, especially virginia heffernan, rex sorgatz, michael newman, and also crypto who i never ever link to but who is always writing the nicest fucking things about me.

117 posts (favorite #1,2,3)

126,000 words (roughly) (favorite #1,#2)

196 comments (favorite)

6 chapters of fan fiction (favorite)

50 songs (favorite)

8 videos (favorite)

75,844 hits (favorite)

i know this is crudely done, sorry. my brain is broken.

tangents:

dear heidi, part 7

July 19, 2008

“I’m an American artist, and I have no guilt.
I seek pleasure. I seek the nerves under your skin.
The narrow archway; the layers; the scroll of ancient lettuce.
We worship the flaw, the belly, the belly, the mole on the belly of an exquisite whore.
He spared the child and spoiled the rod. I have not sold myself to God.”

dear heidi, part 6

July 3, 2008

tangents:

dear heidi, part 5

June 29, 2008

tangents:

  • one of the earliest motion picture cameras was a gun
  • “the photographer loads his camera, aims it, firesand makes a snapshot.” (pdf)
  • today, we have the pistolcam
  • “Still, there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” – suze
  • still, let us pray for soft murder, that all plots don’t lead to death
  • old, but i never saw it: jason wahler plays russian roulette
  • there goes my gun
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