the hills, season 3, episode 21, “an unexpected friend”

April 6, 2008


  • because i have a long postscript this week, i am not going to do an exhaustive study of this week’s episode and am mainly going to focus on the two set pieces at the heart of the episode: the text messaging scene and the fashion show scene.
  • as loyal readers know, i do not tend to be a fan of crosscutting between scenes in different locations and think it is a break in the house style of “the hills.” but that scene with stephanie pratt text messaging heidi and then lauren text messaging audrina was pure genius. when the camera cut, after that break with, from stephanie pratt’s gaze to lauren, i knew the shot of lauren text messaging was coming but then it came and i could not help but kind of laugh with joy at the fact that it had come and the truth of its coming and the way that it came.
  • it’s genius because the text messaging scene is a direct mirror of what is going on with the audience as they watch the show. they are text messaging (or IMing or blog commenting) and almost undoubtedly their messages are beginning with “omg” or “oh my god” and then going on to lol about this crazy situation.
  • also lauren’s performance during her first confrontation was absolutely breathtaking. like, the on the edge of tears, whispery thing? omg! tell me how real actresses are better than this? the only acting i saw of this caliber in a fiction film last year was “margot at the wedding” and everybody seemed to hate that.
  • something i forgot to write about during the paris episode was that the girls’ scenes with the driver did not only kick up those meta-connotations of the producer-star relationship but also really made me think of of that michael mann movie “collateral” with jamie foxx and tom cruise. you know, driving around at night, commanding the driver where to go, etc. i am sure there are plenty of other like hitman/mobster/thriller movies that are examples of this, but i think i focused on the michael mann movie because he shot “collateral” on digital which was a big deal at the time and then he did “miami vice” which everybody again talked about the gorgeous cinematography and how vacuous the thing was besides that gorgeous cinematography, which, hello.
  • the scene in the paris episode that really sparked this association was the scene where the girls find out that lauren can get another dress if she can be at alberta feretti in ten minutes and so then there is a quick-cut, drive, driver, drive sort of sequence, the car cutting corners, speeding down rain-slicked streets, all to make it there just in the nick of time. it’s a feminization of an action movie trope; instead of racing to defuse a bomb or save some hostages or kill a villain, they’re rushing to pick up a pretty ball gown before the store closes.
  • a much better example of this is the second set piece in the episode, the whitney scene at the fashion show. it is the girl version of the scene in star wars where they blow up the death star. whitney has to wear a uniform (“we all wear black, everyone wears black”); she is working for a company called people’s revolution. sass and bide look like aliens with their bizarre hair. at the fashion show, whitney and sass and bide and the troops stand in disarray backstage, waiting for the show to start. they are wearing headsets and are in constant radio contact. they are lit by a brilliant and otherworldly and blinding blue light. the cutting here is faster than maybe every before and the cameras backstage are, for once, handheld, not locked down; there is overlapping dialogue and it’s clashing texturally because of the sound of the walkie talkies. the show starts and whitney is sending the models out, ships into battle. then, in the middle of the scene, something goes wrong, someone is missing. the radio is going crazy. “what’s going on?” but whitney works it out and everything works out. in the end, sass and bide take their victorious runway lap and everyone claps and cheers and awkwardly high fives.
  • (i am eagerly awaiting the attack of the clones.)
  • one last thing; the scene with lo and audrina warning lauren to “keep her guard up” because they “don’t trust” stephanie pratt is hilarious because it’s a total inversion of every scene where lauren warns someone about how they shouldn’t trust someone and then that person does something untrustworthy. foreshadowing?
  • one more last thing; i would be remiss if i didn’t note the incredible traveling shot of lauren conrad and stephanie pratt becoming friends. again, the dialogue, about steph quitting smoking, is a little camp in a kind of bret easton ellis cum “clueless” sort of way but at the very end when stephanie pratt says “now if only i could quit tanning beds,” like, i really don’t think that’s ironic or a joke, it’s real. loved it. she has “won me over, in spite of me” and shouldn’t be “alarmed if i fall, head over feet.” also genius: ending things in the school cafeteria to underscore the high school melodrama of the whole thing.

so, juliana hatfield wrote an entry on her emo myspace blog about “the hills” last week. i have been trying to think of a way to respond to it and have been so stuck and it has been so unpleasant. at first, i was going to do a line by line annotation and just sort of tear her writing up, which honestly would not have been hard in part because making up mean jokes is fun and in part because she’s just not a very good writer and says things that are at turns ridiculously hyperbolic (“I’ve watched The Hills when I could’ve been reading a book or painting a painting or trying to find a cure for cancer “), absurdly sanctimonious (“There is no joy in the la la’s“), and/or straight out of an ashlee simpson song (“so i give you pieces of ‘me’“). but i’m not going to do it. and i know this kind of move i just did is like rhetoric 101, like, making mean jokes about someone under the pretense of saying you’re not going to make mean jokes about them and writing about something under the pretense of not writing about it – it’s the classic way of being an asshole in the guise of being a nice, ethical person – but i’m not doing an annotation to her post. this is not because i want to be seen as a nice, ethical person (although of course i want to be seen as a nice ethical person) but because her post is a lot more complex than the blogs that linked to it made it out to be and after doing a close reading of it and the post that followed it i have too much respect for her as a person to be that much of a dick, even though i think she is totally fucking wrong about a lot of things.

so anyway, i’m not going to do that, but what i am going to do is quote just one part of her post, the part where i think we fundamentally disagree. she writes:

The song is scolding myself for doing this at all – for building songs and releasing them out into the cruel world – for wanting and needing attention from an audience and critics. For needing to be seen/heard/consumed/praised in order to feel good about myself.

But I only want to be seen in a certain way. I want to be able to control it. I want you to think I’m cool. I mean, I AM cool, but there are parts of me that are not so cool. I only want you to see the cool part. The good-looking part. My good side(s). So I give you pieces of “me” – a torso, a clavicle, an arm, eyes, legs (on the new album), a bunch of carefully formed words but I am thoroughly conscious (if I can help it) of everything I choose to give (though it all often backfires, anyway, despite my best intentions).

The fact that I still want and need and court an audience – to be appreciated and acknowledged by total strangers – seems, to me, a failing, a weakness, a character flaw. I consider the fact that I submit myself and my work over and over again to the judgment of random people – when I have such a low opinion of humanity (myself included) in general – to be seriously twisted. It doesn’t make any sense…

there was a minor uproar a few weeks ago because ginia bellafante called heidi montag a “feminist hero” in her review of this season of “the hills.” there were a lot of blog posts and comments about critical standards, ginia bellafante’s stupidity, the audacity of the new york times, “i’ll never read the new york times again,” blah blah blah. personally, i don’t doubt that bellafante was completely conscious of what she was doing, that it was an intentionally provocative line, since “feminist” is a loaded word that’s difficult to define, that has a lot of connotations to a lot of people and a lot of emotions tied into it, that you wouldn’t use casually or without some consideration to describe heidi montag.

a word that’s not very loaded, though, or difficult to define, is “human.” i think we can all generally agree what a human being and that heidi montag is in fact a living, breathing example of one. yet a great many people apparently disagree with this assessment. on blog comments, on message boards, in reviews of “the hills,” heidi montag is called inhuman, subhuman, soulless, worthless, empty, plastic, a robot.

why do people feel this way? why do they hate her so much? the reason that’s given over and over again to justify the hatred of her is that she “wants to be famous,” that “all she cares about is being famous,” that she is “a talentless fame whore” or a “fameball.” this has become the go-to reason for reflexively hating heidi, and paris hilton and julia allison, too: their desire to be famous.

i don’t argue with the fact that heidi montag wants to be famous or even that her major motivating factor in life is to be famous: to argue with that would be, i think, both stupid and wrong. i don’t even argue that this desire for fame isn’t a flaw; it probably is, for reasons which i’ll touch on later. the thing i do disagree with, though, is that this flaw is a reason to hate heidi or julia or paris, that it is something nasty and ugly and wrong about them. rather, i think that it is a beautiful, beautiful flaw, that it is the thing that makes them most beautiful, that it is in fact the fundamental reason why they should be loved.

the contemporary discourse on physical beauty in pop culture is all about embracing flaws. thus, the popular concept, which probably developed contemporaneously with the explosion of reality television, of the “real woman.” real women have curves, the dove campaign for real beauty, lifetime real: women, the real woman project. “celebrity, sex, fashion. without airbrushing.” love the real you, love yourself, love your imperfections; embrace your flaws, kiss your scars, hug your defects etc. etc. yet for all this lovely rhetoric about physical beauty, there is no equivalent discussion of mental or emotional or social flaws. even though it’s arguably much harder to change these defects than physical flaws, narcissism and self-centeredness can never be seen as beautiful in the way that a fat ass or crooked nose can. julianna hatfield concludes her post on “the hills” by saying, “it’s what’s inside that makes us who we are.” well, what if what’s inside you isn’t perfect? what if you’ve got mental cellulite and social acne and philosophical love handles — does that make you less worthy of love?

what i find really ironic is that all this hatred of heidi and paris and julia for their flaws of personality is coming from people writing comments and blog posts on the internet. as heidi montag said about comments the day after she apparently cried herself to sleep over all the negative comments about her first single, “higher”:

“I appreciate people taking time to write any kind of comment. Do you know how much effort it really takes to sit down and write a comment? I’ve never written a comment in my entire life…you really have to have a lot of passion and thought to write any comment, so thank you. “

heidi is wrong; it doesn’t really take a lot of thought to write a comment: you just type it and click post. she’s at least partially right, though: it may not take a lot of effort or passion, but it does take at least some. i started a new job a couple of months ago and i was talking to another new hire during our training. we didn’t really have a lot in common, but we were doing your standard bullshit small talk. i mentioned something a blogger had written about something related to our living situation. he snorted and said something about how “those bloggers” don’t really have lives and if they did, they would be living them instead of writing about them. now, even if i am a total example of it, i am not going to go on that “people who spend time on the internet don’t have a life” trip. but what i will say and what i think is obvious is that people who are posting on the internet, whether they are posting comments or blog posts or youtube clips or whatever, they are in some way incomplete; they need something that they are not getting from their everyday lives, from their jobs, their friends, their family, their significant others, and so they are extending themselves onto the internet to try to find it.

they are going to the effort of posting something on the internet because they feel that they need to. they need to express themselves, they need to communicate with others, they need to impress people, they need other people to see some manifestation of them and validate it and them with a comment or trackback or thumbs up or kudos or just a page view, just a pair of eyes on this thing they have created; they need attention. this is no different than how it has always been with writers and artists, who by and large aren’t creating their work in a vacuum or hiding it away like kafka, but the internet has made it possible for anyone to get this kind of attention in two seconds from the comfort of their own home, without having to even make anything besides a two sentence response to something someone else said.

so heidi and julia and paris want to be famous. what does that mean? it doesn’t mean they want to be rich, even if they all do, that’s a separate thing, it’s “rich and famous,” the one doesn’t contain the other, just ask gary coleman. so they want to be famous. what does that mean? i guess that they all want attention, a lot of attention, a lot of people to watch them, to read them, to hear them, to want them. heidi and julia and paris all want attention, just like people on the internet do. they are incomplete the way that those people are incomplete, the way all human beings are incomplete.

whether you believe in original sin or common sense or have just lived on planet earth for a couple of years, you know that human beings aren’t perfect. the beautiful thing about heidi and julia and paris is that their imperfections are magnified to giant size by the lens of celebrity, that their auras are exploded by the million copies of their image. they don’t want attention the way most of us do; they don’t want somebody to notice the outfit they’re wearing or that they got a haircut or the good job they did at work or the funny thing they said at the party. well, actually, they do, they do want all those things, but that’s not enough for them, they need more, more, more. they can’t get the kind of satisfaction they need the way so many “normal” people can, from their family and friends and lovers and coworkers, they need more than that. they want a hundred eyes and when they get them they want a thousand and when they get them they want a million. and sure, that’s narcissism, totally, but narcissus was a human, not a god. heidi montag is not only human, she is beautifully human, she is powerfully human, she is radiantly human.

like, ok, i am already oversharing here, just like juliana on her myspace, and so i’m just going to go all out. last fall i had a chance to be in a national magazine. notice i said “be in,” not “write for”: it was a tiny little layout filler thing, it wasn’t real writing. still, it was a national magazine and i am 22 and i have no publishing credits besides my school’s shitty undergrad magazine. yet i said no. i said no because i thought (and still think) that it was a horrible fit, that the feature would have made me look either stupid or pretentious or (most probably) stupid and pretentious at the same time. i decided, no, you have to have some kind of integrity, and so i politely declined and i felt good about it

and that was the total fucking wrong decision! it was so stupid. i write a blog about a popular television show for free, what integrity do i have? i have bit my nails and stressed and agonized over tens of thousands of words that very few people actually read, that are completely dated and useless a week after i write them, yet i can’t cash in (figuratively) and see my name printed in a magazine? why the hell not? do you know who would have never made a decision like that? heidi montag or julia allison. they wouldn’t have made that decision because they’re not afraid to look stupid in front of other people, because they’re not afraid to look ugly in front of other people, because they’re not afraid to look human in front of other people. obviously, like anyone, they would prefer not to look stupid or ugly in front of other people (thus julia’s trademark pose and heidi and spencer’s faked paparazzi photos), but they’re not afraid to look stupid or ugly and they do, all the time. and obviously, heidi and julia, like anyone, want people to perceive them in a certain way and so they speak and act and dress and write and sing and mime in a way that they hope will make people perceive them the way they want to be perceived; obviously, they are “fake” and “constructed,” the same way that you are “fake” and “constructed” in a job interview or on a blind date or talking to a cop or just trying to look cool to some people. above all, heidi montag and julia allison are these glossy, gleaming, big-titted reminders that perfection is impossible, that we are all flawed, that we all need people to pay attention to us and think about us and love us, and the fact that they remind people of these things is why so many people hate them and it’s why i think they’re the most beautiful women in the world. maybe they’re not “real” women, but they’re women living in “reality,” the same place as you and me and everyone else. they are showing us how to be human just as we are showing them.

ryan adams did a better soundtrack to this post than i could but since i am doing a song a week, here is a cover i did of the “friends” theme.

4 Responses to “the hills, season 3, episode 21, “an unexpected friend””

  1. Sienna Says:

    I love your blog and commentary about the hills. There is a reason why many dislike Heidi and it is not so much about the fact that she wants to be famous, but the way she goes about it.

  2. songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

    thanks sienna! i would love if you would elaborate on what you mean by “the way she goes about it.” is this a problem you yourself have with her? please, let me know.

  3. […] wave ska than third wave feminism (also remember that i think “the hills” is largely humanist art), but i will say that they are both womanistic in the sort of tangible way that we can actually […]

  4. […] 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 […]

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