the hills season 3, episode 15, “with this ring”
November 20, 2007
[splashcast ENEM2551TH ABWU1334AY]
- so, way to mess up my little theories, “hills,” by providing a whitney storyline not centered around the workplace. i’m going to stick to the theories, though, and say that without any other evidence, this is just the exception that proves the rule. i knew before whitney said it that the date wouldn’t go anywhere. it couldn’t, at least within the world of the show because 1) whitney is on the record as adamant that she doesn’t want her personal life taped much 2) to sustain another relationship story on any real level would be too much for a show – the show needs whitney to be a spinster, at least on TV, because to deal with her having a life every week would take too much airtime away from lauren and heidi, not to mention audrina.
- secondary texts underline the insignificance of the date. in the comments last week, hannah and i talked about chronology on “the hills” and how time is basically fluid and as non-linear as an NLE will allow. the example last week was that apparently the “declare yourself” event and sean kingston’s appearance on jimmy kimmel were like two months apart. this episode, the macro time-editing example is that whitney’s date with the trainer probably took place months before where it was placed in the narrative (it was included in the season 3 trailer, so it had to have been shot relatively early). the micro time-editing example is the way that the date is comped together, for example, the hard cut when homeboy asks whitney “so what’s your sign?”
- right now, whitney is actually dating e! film critic ben lyons. the one thing i’ve seen repeated about their relationship is this usmagazine tidbit: “Surprise! Lauren Conrad actually likes one of her friends’ boyfriends! Usmagazine.com spotted the Hills hottie, 21, hanging out with pal Whitney Port‘s new man, E! News film critic Ben Lyons, at L.A. club Opera on October 18. “She was taking pictures and showing things on her Blackberry to Ben,” an onlooker says. When Bon Jovi‘s “Livin on a Prayer” came on, “she sang along and grabbed Ben’s hand and pretended to dance with him,” the witness adds.” what i find significant is that the one press anecdote about whitney’s social life/boyfriend does not actually involve whitney (it doesn’t seem like whitney is even present) but is centered around lauren and her actions. this further cements the predominance of lauren’s character in the narrative.
- churches keep appearing. los angeles is just a concept to me, so it’s weird to think that there are churches there, except like the scientology compound. i think mtv should do a show with the “laguna beach” aesthetic except about a group of well-to-do evangelical christians. if they amped it up and dangled the carrot of controversy before us, i think it would do great numbers. evangelical teens would watch because they want to see how they’re being represented/they want to see how richer/fantasy versions of themselves live (the same way that secular teens watch “laguna beach”/”the hills”). at the same time secular america would be watching it in a sort in a sort of “seeing how the other half lives” kind of way. toss in a “last temptation of christ” style boycott and you’ve got a hit. (not to mention that it could actually be an artistically interesting show dealing with how religion and faith work in contemporary society which no other good shows on TV deal with save “big love” and, recently, “the salt and pepa show.”)
- the whole spencer-marriage issue is fascinating. in a traditional television/movie narrative context, spencer would be the one delaying the wedding because he isn’t ready or isn’t into commitment or is getting some on the side or for any number of reasons. in traditional movies and TV shows, the man is always the one who doesn’t want to get married and the woman is always starry-eyed and wedding-hungry. this is different; you can’t say that spencer fears commitment or doesn’t want to get married – he wants to get married right now, he wants to get married maybe more fervently than heidi does (unless you read his offers as empty promises, as feints that he knows heidi will turn down but will be hurt for having to turn down, but i don’t). in the traditional narrative context, the other problem TV men always have with big weddings is that they cost a lot of money, but i’m going to presume that’s not the issue here (duh). instead, the language spencer uses over and over again when he’s talking about the wedding is “big thing” and, several times, “ordeal.” what he doesn’t want is for the wedding to be a big event; he wants something small and private.
- which is bizarre, because the one thing that we know about spencer is that he loves big media events and is in fact constantly, actively trying to create big media events for himself and heidi to star in, to bolster their image and press cred. so why wouldn’t he want a big wedding? is this his attempt to inject a little heat into the narrative by going against what he actually wants with the knowledge that eventually he’ll be able to change his mind and ride the escalator up the redemption arc to the point where things are okay again?
- the question here is how to view heidi and spencer in the light of all their recent interviews together, in which they directly address the constructs of reality existence, in which they say that it’s all an act. these statements are, of course, in direct opposition to the recent presslets from audrina and lauren testifying to the show’s reality. the question is in what authenticity context can we place heidi and spencer? like the argument tonight about the wedding, how much of an act was it? on whose part, heidi or spencer or heidi and spencer or heidi and spencer and the producers? if it’s not real/captured reality, if it’s an external narrative bit dreamed up by spencer, as i implied before, does it still mirror tensions in heidi and spencer’s real life relationship and can we see that in their faces? does the way that it and they are represented have an impact on the way that they act in private, in their bedroom and their kitchen, does it have an impact on their feelings for each other? the fact that it’s difficult to answer these questions in any definitive way is, of course, what makes it so compelling. and what i really want to stress is that when most people think of the show’s mediation/staging, they think of it being a result of MTV, of producer interference in the lives of the cast. i don’t know the reality of how the show works, but i don’t agree with that hypothesis; i think that the producers’ role in shaping the narrative has to do with editing; it’s post-production. heidi and spencer and lauren and audrina are creating the story with their actions, and i don’t think the show is scripted and i don’t think they’re being coached by the producers (or maybe in scene they are, with retakes and everything, but i don’t think their actions are, i think they are living their lives without being told what to do). i think the level of mediation is up to the cast themselves, how much they think they are performing/acting and how much they think they are existing in front of cameras, how much they truly are willing to give of themselves and how much they want to create a story that’s maybe not true. of course, if they create a story that’s not true but then live it in real life and have it filmed, doesn’t that make it true, doesn’t that make it real?
- you can also look at it a completely different way; i.e. heidi and spencer are largely genuine on the show and are then embarrassed by the way they are portrayed/vilified by the producers/audience and thus, in their press coverage, they stress that the show is fake as a way of saving face, as a fake way of protecting their real existence. i think the previous explanation is way better, though.
- it’s hard not to see echoes in recently gawked new york couples who are constructing media events to further the myth of themselves, like jakob lodwick/julia allison and patrick moberg/that bitch he stared at on the subway. i prefer heidi and spencer.
- it was great when lauren went rifling through whitney’s purse (“i was just looking, i wasn’t, like, rifling.”). her line “oh, to be a natural beauty” was also good w/r/t the recent dust-ups in the real-fake discussion. i like that whole scene a lot. like, think of the moment where lauren says “big wangs” and then audrina says “big wangs.” the camera setups and the deft way that they capture these two soundbites make me feel like the girls stopped and warned the cameramen that they were about to do something, or that it was a retake, but at the same time, it seems like such a genuine, spontaneous “yeah, we’re going out ALRIGHT!” kind of moment. it’s like at the bar when lauren is chewing peanuts or something and does the big double thumbs up thing; like, that’s so obviously telegraphed to the camera, but at the same time i feel that lauren would do the same thing if the camera wasn’t there.
- and of course that date scene was a reversal of the lauren-heidi-whitney scenes last week, where now lauren is the audience and there are lots of cutaways to her watching whitney across the room, of her commenting on and reacting to how whitney acts in the scene. it reminds me of “big brother,” where one of the most popular activities in the house is to sit in the head of household room and watch the screen with the closed circuit feed of the cameras in the house; like, to be filmed on a TV show watching yourself on TV. soliplipstick!
- i think one of the reasons people like whitney, besides all the ones i’ve laid out in previous posts, it’s when jarett asks her on a workout date and she matter-of-factly says “when, i’ll do it as soon as possible.” it’s like, who would be that direct and specific? it would be embarrassing and losery to admit that you’re doing nothing all weekend, even if you really like someone and want to go out with them; it’s not coy, it’s not how we’re taught to act. but when whitney does it, it feels like this refreshing lack of artifice (not that artifice is bad). “feels” may be the operative word there, of course, but she makes me want to believe.
- when whitney and jarett were jogging on the mountain, i couldn’t help but think of when marvin killed u-turn. this must be some fad workout in california or something? jarett in that scene shows why he couldn’t be a regular on “the hills”: he doesn’t understand how to shut the fuck up and look pretty. even gavin understood that. in this episode, homeboy just keeps spitting platitudes and trainerspeak like he’s getting paid by the word. during the date, there’s a shot of him bouncing up and down in his chair: is he coked up? too much redbull?
- i’ve talked before about how the strength of “the hills” is that narrative information is withheld, that we’re forced to fill in gaps which is a more mentally/emotionally pleasurable/powerful experience than being didactically told very clearly the significance of everything. something i thought about with this episode is the way that the same thing is done with visual information. take the first scene at the gym. it opens with these close-ups of thighs pumping, of feet walking. it’s almost abstract; it all adds up to “gym,” but we have to add it up; we’re not being presented with wide shots of groups of people exercising or a (literal) sign that says “gym.” at the bar, it’s 1) close-up of hands playing pool 2) close-up of beer being poured into a pitcher 3) close-up of boobs in t-shirt. the beginning of whitney and jarett’s date is similar. the first shot is two pairs of legs walking down the sidewalk approaching the camera, the second shot breaks the 180 degree rule and the camera jumps across the street to a wide shot of two people from behind as they cross the street; our view of them is largely obscured by traffic. the audio under this is whitney and jarett smalltalking. our brains naturally, almost instantly make the connection (thanks, lev) and think “oh, it’s whitney and jarett’s date” but the show is able to avoid the cliche setups, the medium shot of whitney and jarett from the waist up approaching the camera. it’s operation by implication and inference.
- what was most interesting about the date scene was the pacing and how different it was from, say, the pacing of that lauren/jason encounter at ketchup or lauren’s date with gavin. in those scenes, things moved more slowly and the focus was on pauses followed by glances and short, isolated lines of dialogue. here, the pace was quick, almost screwball, with so much dialogue said so fast that when whitney and jarett stop to sip their drinks at the end, it’s like they’re really stopping to breathe. how much of this is a function of snappy editing, i don’t know, but there was a certain giddy something or other to it.
- the way whitney says, at the beginning of the date postmortem with lauren, “can i have some – do you have any…sweetener?” it’s the kind of superfluous moment would get chopped off in a second in any other show on television, that would have no place because it means nothing to the narrative or the character or anything at all, but it is the glimmer of the real that is “the hills.” the way in that scene that they break down the date by what the guy was wearing (“a v-neck american apparel t-shirt”) and the discussion about how to avoid stolen kisses (lauren, “you go to the side” – whitney,”oh, awkward, that’s so awkward.” – lauren, “not really, you can make it – not awkward” – whitney, “knowing me, i would make it awkward” – lauren awkwardly plays with her drink – whitney awkwardly shakes her head – and…scene.)
- heidi, re: her wedding: “i’m definitely wearing a crown.” i don’t really have to comment, do i?
- 3 episodes left
in the player is a song i wrote called “american idyll.” it is overcooked. next week i am going to do something funkier and funner, no more of this wintry lap-pop. i do like that in the chorus it sounds like i’m singing “american idol, our only survival,” and also starting the song with fantasia’s name. if this was a radiohead song it would be satire, but here it is at least partly true. and, really, i think thom yorke would be happy with cereal, beer, and TV, too, it’s just his cereal would be like macrobiotic wheat chunks and his beer would be microbrewed with barley that was allowed to roast comfortably in the sun on a beach in andalucia instead of the newcastle factory and his TV would be an issue of the economist or something by naomi klein, but, like, basically the same.