dear heidi

May 25, 2008

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vice president oprah

May 18, 2008

“Barack is worth millions now,” Mr. Osnos said. “It’s almost all based on these two books, two books not based on a job of prodigious research or risking one’s life as a reporter in Iraq. He has written about himself. Being able to take your own life story and turn it into this incredibly lucrative franchise, it’s a stunning fact.”

In the introduction, Mr. Obama acknowledged his use of pseudonyms, composite characters, approximated dialogue and events out of chronological order. He was writing at a time well before a recent series of publishing scandals involving fabrication in memoirs. “He was trying to be careful of people’s feelings,” said Deborah Baker, the editor on the first paperback edition of the book. “The fact is, it all had a sort of larger truth going on that you couldn’t make up.”

“The book is so literary,” said Arnold Rampersad, a professor of English at Stanford University who teaches autobiography and is the author of a recent biography of Ralph Ellison. “It is so full of clever tricks — inventions for literary effect — that I was taken aback, even astonished. But make no mistake, these are simply the tricks that art trades in, and out of these tricks is supposed to come our realization of truth.”

Don’t you worry that your fights today will affect your future?
Well, I definitely want to go into politics later in my life. I plan to be governor at least, and president if possible. But if people look back on the show, I’ll say, who were you when you were 23 years old? Don’t tell me you didn’t go to the nightclub and get in fights with your girlfriend and throw paint on the wall. It’s not going to affect my politics and things I want to change. It’s going to be about who I want to be and not who I was when I was 20.

The show only became more popular, and got more attention for all of its stars. And when Heidi and Lauren’s friendship ended — over allegations about a sex tape that has been covered seemingly as ceaselessly as the coming presidential election — the feuding spun pageview-gold for Us’ online business. Min said: “The number of comments, the amount of traffic generated — it was pretty huge for us. That’s when I thought, ‘You know what? Let’s just take a risk on these people.’ “

“The bottom line is I’m making people react and ultimately not think about that we are in a war in Iraq and are trying to pick leaders.

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this facade, this smooth and tolerant
manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought O dreamer that it may be all maya, illusion?

previously: (1 2 3)

lauren cries

  • the most worthwhile section of “the hills aftershow” has changed since the show came back from hiatus. that section, “ask the hills,” used to be about asking all of the girls superficial cosmo-quiz kind of questions about their lives (what movie made you cry? what was your worst kiss? what’s on your ipod?). since the show returned for the continuation of season 3, it’s mutated into “ask lauren” and it’s become less about superficial things and more about big issues, big questions (although of course there are still superficial things, there always superficial things). last week we heard lauren pontificate about celebrities and the falsity of dramatic acting and cinematic performance. this week, she’s talking about the nature of fame.

  • what does it mean to be famous? let’s ask lauren:

  • “it’s very up and down. i mean, for example, i’ll get to do cool stuff and go on the show with you and there’s all these people screaming and they’re all so nice. and then someone takes a picture and they put it on the internet and the same amount of people go and say how ugly and fat you look and tear you down.”

  • there’s a lot more there that i don’t have time to parse – check it out.

  • the show opens with audrina looking at a new apartment. here, as they have throughout this mini-season, the concepts of “space” and “distance” predominate – the way physical distance can equal emotional distance (audrina’s separation from lauren and lo in the guesthouse, how lauren describes audrina in the show open as becoming “more and more distant,” heidi’s desire to put “space” between spencer and herself), the way physical proximity can equal emotional closeness (the fact that lauren and lo are just “five feet apart” means they have “slumber parties” every night). note that one of the first things that audrina notices is that the apartment “is such an open space,” which justinbobby echoes. in reality, audrina is downtown but, metaphorically, she’s a world away from lauren and lo in her “little tokyo” loft. audrina herself notes feels like she’s “so far away from everyone,” but this seems to a good thing; she wants her physical distance to mirror the emotional barrier she feels between herself and the blondes.

  • visual idioms predominate: justinbobby doesn’t ask audrina if she wants to live in the apartment or if she thinks it would be fun to live there, he asks her if she “thinks she sees herself living there” [italics mine]. i.e. what he is asking her to do is to see herself from outside herself, in the third person, living in the apartment, as, of course, she might if she watched herself living there on the television show “the hills.” the first thing audrina says is that she “likes the view,” and justinbobby gives it the ultimate stamp of approval when he says it “probably looks pretty at night.” also, beyond language, the dominance of the big picture window in the compositions. the desire most of us have for good light in our homes is compounded by the need for good light to shoot an attractive television show.

  • also the way justinbobby’s sunglasses are hanging from his ears from the entire scene is ridiculous and great, the sweet, pure poetry of the banal.

  • next, my dear, lovely heidi. just like lauren became “the girl who didn’t go to paris,” now heidi has become “the girl who didn’t go to vegas” (well, actually, she’s the girl who went to vegas for a day and then came back with her boyfriend and his sister, but that lacks a certain poetry, you know?). it’s instructive to contrast the stereotypes associated with these two cities and how they tie in with the girls’ characters. paris, with its air of sophistication, fashion, and fantasy fits lauren: lauren stayed in college, she worked for a magazine (i know, it’s not exactly “harper’s” or “the new yorker” but it is a magazine that is read as well as looked at), she dresses with class (just go with me here, haters), expense, and sophistication. the fact that heidi was set to move to vegas is even more richly connected to her character. heidi is lower class than lauren, both economically and culturally. as she is forever wont to remind us, she came from a small town in colorado instead of super-rich laguna beach. she dropped out of college and, instead of working in the well-lit, comfortable offices of a fashion magazine, she got her start standing outside of clubs, “working the door” the ways whores “work the street.” when it’s time for her major, character-defining trip, she doesn’t go to haute culture paris, she goes to ho culture vegas.

  • this distinction is clear in the scene where heidi and bolthouse are being shown around the hotel. the only job that heidi is clearly assigned to do in vegas is to remake the pool area of a hotel to look like st. tropez – in other words, to create a simulation of european glamour in the desert of the surreal, a place where middle-class americans can sun themselves and pretend to be something and somewhere that they’re not. her job, then, is to be an enabler of fantasy; a fantasy that, like a disney world princess castle, might seem convincing enough until you can see what lies beyond the facade.

  • this situation, like the paris-vegas comparison, is just another way that heidi’s being reminded that she’s not as good as lauren, another way of illustrating that she’s a second, a sidekick, a buddy – not pretty enough (get new boobs, a new nose), not smart enough (you didn’t go to college, but read books and talk about them loudly, pretend to get a high powered job), not important enough (get a fashion line cause she did too, start a singing career). in the past, her life was seemingly controlled by lauren and then by spencer – she was a pawn in their tug of war. her attempts this season to become independent, to gain agency, fail – just like lauren, she gives up her career for a guy. (cue people making jokes about g. bellafante’s “feminist hero” remark).

  • yet, heidi’s choice to leave vegas just like lauren’s choice to stay with jason, while it is cast as the wrong decision in the world of the show, is in the real world certainly the right decision. we should be aware of the differences between the two: lauren’s decision to stay with jason instead of going to paris seemed like a “real” choice (i.e. in the real world, lauren was offered the choice to go to paris for teen vogue, but she really declined because she really wanted to stay with jason (and stay on her TV show)), heidi’s decision to reunite with spencer instead of staying in vegas seems undoubtedly to be a “fake” choice (i.e. the choice to stay and work in vegas never actually existed in the real world and there was never a possibility that heidi would have stayed – it was completely constructed to create drama within the show.)

  • but real or fake, their choices were or will be cast as negative in the world of the show. in the world of the show, they turned down promising career opportunities for these asshole/loser guys. yet though they have made the wrong decisions for their fake careers, they have both done the right thing for their real careers as television stars.

  • all of this heidi-lauren comparison is underlined in the scene of brent bolthouse waiting outside the hotel for heidi, who…gasp…never comes. this is a completely self conscious echo of the scene of lisa love “waiting” outside airport for lauren in the season one finale.

  • (also, brent bolthouse wants to be like mark ronson so bad it hurts.)
  • the attitudes “the hills” has toward reality is echoed in sbe creep sam nazarian’s tour of the hotel. “this area will be completely redone,” he says, “all the audio-visual.” (dubbing/cutting/restaging, etc.). “all the old stuff will go out and new stuff will come in (the way roommates are cycled in and out of lauren’s apartment, the way the apartments themselves are cycled through, the way the old boys are used up and tossed away (poor weird jordan eubanks), the emergence of the new boys to be chewed up and spit out (doug reinhardt and audrina’s new guy)). “just imagine everything you’ve seen and then completely unimagine it.” (the shattering of fairy tale fantasy, the evolution of soap opera narrative, of micronarrative, the combination of cinematic tropes with carefully chosen elements of reality TV). of course, since it’s characteristic of “the hills,” this scene ends not with an important or even significant conversation, but with characters standing in a magic hour sunset, gazing off at something in the distance, taking in a view, a vista, a vision.

  • so spencer interrupts the fake dinner (i wonder what they were talking about. was it an actual business dinner and heidi was just sitting in or were they just shooting the shit? did they really have business to do in LV or were they just there for the purposes of the show?) so that he can have a fake confrontation with heidi. note again the focus on space and distance; spencer’s breaking point w/re:to giving heidi space was when she left LA and went to vegas, that was when he decided to make his move. like the bizarre scenes with stephanie as spencer’s accomplice, this is a pretty bad. you might think it’s that the performances are bad, but they’re not (spencer’s double shushing of stephanie in the car is fantastic). it’s just that the things that heidi and the pratts are saying simply do not make sense – the scenes themselves do not make sense. like, stephanie finds out where heidi is and tells spencer where she is and says something like “let’s blow the doors” and yet when they arrive at the hotel, stephanie is shocked that spencer is getting out of the car and going into the hotel. it’s just…crazy. anyone who can still argue that this show is scripted should watch these scenes over and over; they are profoundly illogical in a way that seems (to me) as if it would be impossible for any experienced screenwriter to write.

  • the low quality of these scenes is a function of the fact that spencer and heidi and stephanie are trying to make something that they know to be fake to seem real (in other words, that they are acting) but it’s also a function of the fact that we, as educated viewers, know that these scene is constructed, more constructed than the others – we can believe with something approaching certainty (which is not usually the case on “the hills”) because of our knowledge of the secondary texts. that certainty removes any sense of dramatic stakes from the proceedings; it removes our ability to slip into the mimetic trance and so we are stuck in our critical, skeptical mode.

  • also that scene, with spencer interrupting the dinner is short, it’s minor. at the end of it, we see a look on heidi’s face that makes it seem as if she’s giving in to spencer, but then she immediately goes back to the table and sits down, all business but obviously in turmoil. in any other movie or television show or book, we would need more than this, we would have another scene, a drawn-out, climactic reunion scene in the hotel room or in a restaurant or something, in which heidi and spencer would have this cathartic moment and finally break through their relationship “drama” to come back together. we don’t have that here. why? was it shot and cut for time? was it shot and then the producers decided it was too inauthentic or badly performed? was it not shot at all, deemed unnecessary – did the producers decide that, on “the hills,” a look is enough?

  • instead of that scene, we have a gotcha! sort of surprise reveal. it’s the same as the reveal in the season one finale, where there is an extended scene of lauren packing and then we are crosscutting between her in her car and lisa love waiting at the airport and jason at the condo and we don’t know what she’s going to choose and SURPRISE she chooses jason. this season, we see brent waiting and and waiting and we’re wondering where heidi is, we’re waiting with him, and SURPRISE she’s at the airport with spencer and stephanie. i see this as sort of a vestigial reminder of first wave reality TV, of the way that reality competitions like survivor used misleading or purposely obtuse editing to create cheap drama about who would win a competition or who would be voted off of the show.

  • alright, enough with them, now lauren. in this episode, lauren is in four scenes. in three of those scenes, she is doing exactly the same thing: thinking about audrina, worrying about how she has to talk to audrina, wondering whether she really has to talk to audrina, and then talking to someone about audrina and whether she has to talk to audrina and how she’s worried about talking to audrina and how she should talk to audrina. she does this first with whitney and then twice with lo. there are minute differences, but over and over again, it’s really lauren talking at someone about this audrina situation and not listening to the things they have to say (which is funny because both whitney and lo actually have cogent, useful things to say – whitney basically diagnoses the whole situation, to which lauren gives the bullshit-i-am-not-listening response of “yeah, it’s weird.”)

  • this repetition is such a tremendous waste of time, of both actual time and plot time – it’s something that would never fly on a fictional teen drama like, say, “gossip girl.” yet to me, it is absolute wonderful and true. it represents in a formal way how self-absorption, obsession, passive-agressivity, affect our daily lives. people criticize they way the “work” scenes on “the hills” are rarely about work, how they’re just a chance for lauren or heidi to talk about whatever issue is on their mind at the time. but that’s why those scenes are so good: they’re a representation of the way that when something is on your mind, everything becomes about that something.

  • something i have been thinking about lately is the way “the hills” (the main text of the show) approximates the texture of thought and memory. like, when i’m remembering things, my memories are of course subjective and self-centered. this restriction to my experiences create this very narrow alternate universe, the same way the los angeles of “the hills” doesn’t have black or hispanic or asian people and no one talks about the war in iraq or terrorist attacks. i don’t remember entire conversations or entire scenes, i get snippets, fragments – my brain jump-cuts through whatever has caught in the memory bank, details both banal (“all fish cooks fast”) and deeply emotional (“you know what you did…you KNOW what you did”). i don’t know, just a blip.

  • (but i have a lot of retarded theories, like the malcolm-gladwell-if-he-huffed-gasoline idea i had about how you could compare the evolution of celebrity to currency and how it used be backed by something solid, gold, the gold standard, and then we went off the gold standard and it is backed by fiat currency, by promises and pieces of paper, at least according to wikipedia, some kind of stupid pseud analysis that would ignore the fact that i know nothing about economics for the fact that i know a lot about celebrities and end with an overheated prose poem, all that is solid melts into air, blah blah blah i haven’t done drugs in almost a year and my brain still does this shit)

  • lauren talks to whitney about audrina: notice the extreme detail with which lauren relates the minutiae of how audrina moves through space, accompanying her speech with hand gestures to make sure whitney understands: “honestly, i don’t see her that much….well, cause she has the back house, so she doesn’t even walk through the house, she walks to the side of the house…so like most of the times, most of the times when i see her it’s like her passing by.”

  • lauren tells whitney she wishes she “did something” she wishes there was a “reason” that audrina. what she’s wishing for is a plot, a plot point – she’s wishing for some clean, neat way to take this conflict and resolve it and make everyone happy. but this is (faux)reality – that’s not possible.

  • lauren: “the thing we have in common is that we live together, so if you take that away, i don’t even know what would remain.” damn. of course, you could also replace “live” with “are on a television show.”

  • also, damn, whitney is dubbed like crazy in that scene.

  • lauren talks to lo about audrina (scene 1): note the camera laying in wait outside for audrina to leave her apartment and the carefully choreographed, perfect pan of audrina passing the window as lauren and lo prepare dinner. (also note how lo says “behind”)

  • lauren talks to lo about audrina (scene 2): note the way that lauren doesn’t tell lo that she’s upset but sits quietly and waits for lo to recognize it in her facial expression. note that space and distance again dominate the conversation. lauren doesn’t say that the conversation will be difficult, she says, “i feel uncomfortable even going out there” and lo says “yeah, that’s what’s difficult about the situation,” like, the “going out” is the incredibly difficult thing. they’re talking about walking a few feet, from one door to the other, as if its crossing the sahara or something.

  • and i know all this space and distance reading i’ve been doing is such lit 101 shit, but it’s also so true, so real. i lived in a house with four other people last year. in the house, there were two bedrooms that were markedly larger than the others, two that were obviously smaller, and one medium sized. i claimed the medium sized one (duh) and then fights began over who wanted the larger rooms. people wanted the larger rooms because they wanted to be the hangout spots, the places where everyone would want to spend their time, the popular places. there a was a bitter fight and an uncomfortable truce. in the end, our group spent very little time in either of those rooms, which were located at the far ends of the house, and spent a lot of time in my medium sized room in the middle of the house. i was neutral, like switzerland. space and distance = emotion. ok, i know you don’t care about my personal shit and it’s really not important but what i am saying is maybe it’s because i’m 22 like lauren that i am able to recognize that this shit is so real and compare it to my own life and maybe those who are more mature (either in years or intellectually) can’t always identify with her in the same way. i can’t help but identify with her. i am self centered and immature and possessive, i have done things to alienate friends, i hold a grudge, i have had stupid fights, i have had a whole lot of incredibly banal conversations. i know i can relate to her and i know i can do it in a much more tangible way than i can to stephen dedalus or nick carraway or any of the sad young literary men.

  • (not to exclude anybody with the above; there are some people who are older than me that understand the show better than i do.)

  • so, then, the big finish. lauren somehow manages to make it out the door, across the lawn, and past the pool! she comes into audrina’s guesthouse and…dramatic pause…audrina’s… reading a book! something i really admire about this show is how it over and over again has featured its characters reading books (not to mention the whole heidi and spencer whose-books-are-whose scene and their interviews about how much they love to read and what books they’re reading). it often seems forced or unreal, like they’re reading the book upside down, but i love the sentiment of it. you know the producers could care less whether they’re considered smart or not; they don’t. the characters are choosing the way they want to be seen and they want to be seen reading books. this says to me that they think of reading, like reading a real book, of ink and paper, as something that they should be doing, even if its not something they might want to be doing; it’s important enough to them that they fake it. (or maybe they really are reading, who knows) as lo would say, it warms my black little heart.

  • (to me, this is also an echo of daytime soaps. when i was unemployed last fall and watching “the young and the restless” everyday, i was always struck by the staggering amount of literary references made every week (off the top of my head, i can remember references to dostoevsky, tolstoy, and gabriel garcia-marquez – there were many more). these were not, like on “lost,” cryptic allusions made by the creators that we were supposed to dig through the internet and our libraries to understand and to understand how they related to the show; they were always made directly in dialogue between the characters, who would make some kind of extended reference or (gasp) even a direct quotation to a book that they had been reading recently or had read when they were younger and then make clear exactly how it related to the situation they were going through at that moment. i always viewed this completely anti-realistic gesture as a way for soap opera writers who might feel intellectually insecure or marginalized to overcompensate, to sort of flex their intellectual muscles and say, “hey, i’m smart, too, even if you don’t think i am.”)

  • it’s so wonderful that the biggest emotional gift that lauren can think to give audrina, the absolute boldest way she has of reaching out to her, is to tell her that she has “good taste”; not to compliment her personality or how she’s handling her life and relationships or her career success, not to compliment her intellect or physical beauty, but to compliment her acquired taste, her cultural cachet, and her ability to arrange items in space according to visual signs like color, texture, material, size, and shape (in other words, to compliment her ability as set decorator and costumier and make-up artist). “i knew you would make it amazing because you have good taste.” it’s a fitting conclusion to the whole “all women have fashion in common” loop and it’s a really big thing for lauren to say, considering that, even if her fashion line has not been particularly well reviewed, she is considered by many teenage and college girls to be an arbiter of style (note MTV trying to cement that on their website, as if she’s fucking jackie o or something). because the thing is, i bet lauren doesn’t think audrina has great style. yet she forced herself on national television to say that and to try to make it sound convincing. it’s tiny and incredibly superficial, but it’s also a big heartwarming thing to do, i think.

  • audrina: “it’s different, it’s weird living here” not because of lo being bitchy or lauren not being supportive but “because like at the apartment, our rooms were next to each other, so it’s like, i don’t know why i feel weird going [hand gesture] up-stairs, like it’s not my business being up there kind of…” SPACE! DISTANCE! DISTANCE! SPACE! lauren doesn’t respond by saying i want to talk to you or i miss being with you, she says, “but i want you to come up!” i.e. THE STAIRS!

  • audrina: “i know just sometimes when i’m talking to you, you’ll ignore me.” this is meta shit, for real. this is one of the sounding-board characters acknowledging the lauren monologues that she has to sit through over and over, knowing that she can’t say anything because it’s not “her” scene, it’s laurens. the dubbed line attributing the cause of this to lo is an attempt to shift the blame away from lauren (because if audrina doesn’t have a relationship with lauren, she doesn’t have a career). lauren immediately gets nasty defensive, though. she asks “when have i done that to you” and when audrina stays strong, lauren asks for a specific time. one might say audrina could just play her a dvd of the show, but the first rule of fight club…lauren immediately shuts down at the first sign of being judged or criticized – when she is given a dose of her own medicine, she doesn’t like the taste.

  • the fuses blew in my apartment and i am like writing by candlelight on the last hour of my laptop battery, so please forgive errors.

  • lauren: “that’s what friends do, they talk to each other when they have problems. i’m right here, you can walk in there.” in other words, lauren wants audrina, whose theme these past few weeks has been a desire for privacy, to step into the TV house without curtains and bare herself, tell things. this is also the great oprah book club-what we talk about when we talk about being friends-emoticlip-i know you can relate moment..

  • lauren’s movie star tear is beautiful. also, in “the hills:off the record,” it was beautiful to hear her cry in the bathroom, my favorite part

  • lauren: “i’ve never let the opinions of others affect my friendships. i don’t do that.” SAYS THE GIRL STARRING IN A TV SHOW THAT MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WATCH EVERY WEEK.

  • best scene ever.

  • and so now that this season is over, where can the show go? the title of the finale was interesting: “the next move is yours.” usually, the show titles are drawn from an important line in the episode, but after watching this episode several times, i still haven’t heard that line (did i just miss it?). who is the you in that title? does it refer to the heidi and lauren drama, i.e. what will happen next, who will extend the olive branch, can they ever reunite, do they ever want to? does it refer to audrina and lo and lauren, the roomies, and the complicated spatial-emotional dynamics underlying their relationshp, the geometry of their tension and angst? does it refer to whitney? (no, it doesn’t). does it refer to us, the us that watch weekly, and whether we’ll stick with the show through the hiatus, whether we can be sustained by tabloid headlines and glossy interviews, whether we can and will continue to make these girls stars with the power of our gaze and attention? anyway you cut it, the reference to games(wo)manship is apt.

  • secondary sources:

  • this “behind the scenes” tour of stephanie pratt’s apartment is wonderful. filmed on a shaky handheld camera by the MTV remote control blogger, it shows us her incredible ability to reel off a list of brand names and her enormous closets and ridiculous amounts of clothes. FYI, she loves “arrested development,” “friends,” and david sedaris books (like heidi and spencer, she has several bookshelves and makes overt reference to them).

  • richard lawson, whose “hills” posts i have found at turns inspiring and disheartening this spring, makes the assertion in his finale post that “the hills” should acknowledge the girls’ fame and their careers. over this mini-season, during which richard and many others have complained that the show has become boring and stagnant, “the hills” has only gotten higher ratings and become a larger cultural phenomenon. while on the one hand this growth does add to the sense of “unreality” of the show, on the other hand, my feeling is don’t fix what’s not broken – i don’t think MTV is going to risk fucking with their cash cow while it’s still producing milk. the cast, too, seems to have no interest in exposing these other parts of their lives (lauren doesn’t want her fashion line shown, whitney doesn’t want her personal life shown, lo seems content to be a minor, sounding-board character who has mini-drama with audrina (lauren noted that she’s dating a guy “off camera”), heidi and spencer might want more of their lives shown, but want it done in their own spin-off). it just doesn’t make sense for either the producers or the cast to want to add these new elements to the show and therefore i don’t think they will. whether this fucks them or not remains to be seen.

  • you must read this: zigzigger fucking kills it on the sex tape, among other things: “The sex tape and the actions surrounding its ambiguous existence constituted an event or non-event between seasons, whether real or imagined or merely rumored, which directed the narrative into one of intense passion and drama–a real soap opera. The fact that no one can say if it exists makes the sex tape into the perfect emblem for The Hills as text and object of intense cultural significance–it is at once too real and not real enough. Presumably, if it exists, the sex tape is the mediated representation that could never be questioned in terms of its authenticity–it would be the true evidence of people’s intimate lives.”

  • also, i never really liked how anti-pseudo-intellectual videogum was towards “the hills,” but the comparison of lo to (i’m assuming) little edie from “grey gardens” is so incredibly right on.

my song this week is a cover of “the sign” by ace of base. i could make some kind of painful semiotics joke, but really, truly, honestly, genuinely, it’s all about the sign.

The Hills: Off The Record

“Join Lauren and company for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at some of your favorite ‘Hills’ moments.”

heidi wink

But Baker never answers the questions that he asks. That is, he has not undertaken the historian’s task of hearing multiple arguments, listening to myriad explanations, looking at a wide range of evidence and then marshaling the evidence in order to draw a conclusion. He has not even carefully examined, as other historians have done, the various arguments about the aerial bombardment of civilians–the military tactic that appears to bother him most–to make a judicious argument against its use. Instead, he has used his license as a “novelist” to excuse himself from all of the tedious work of genuine knowledge. By way of research, he has read back issues of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune, along with a notably limited group of other historical sources, all long familiar. From them, he has plucked bits of information, shards of the historical record that he finds compelling, or perhaps contrary to what he imagines to be the conventional wisdom–and left his readers to draw their own conclusions.

this description of nicholson baker, from anne applebaum’s new republic review of his book, “human smoke,” is unpleasant. the whole review is unpleasant for many reasons, but the part quoted above is particularly unpleasant because it seems like she’s not talking about nicholson baker but is instead talking about me, because to hear myself described so specifically is kind of disturbing and uncomfortable. one of her barbs (“he has plucked bits of information, shards of the historical record that he finds compelling, or perhaps contrary to what he imagines to be the conventional wisdom”) echoes uncomfortably against what i wrote recently when i felt intellectually intimidated by another blogger (“i am kind of trying to be academic and meta in a kind of have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too sort of way (i.e. when i can flip a couple quotes from some theorist to support some hare-brained idea of mine, i will; i’m aware this is not, like, real scholarship, but again, that’s not my goal.)”)

anecdotal bloggy digression: the event that cemented my decision to not try for an MA or PhD in literature was a term paper i had to write the second semester of my junior year of college. the class was an honors course about the way literature and philosophy deal with everyday life: we read debord and lefebvre and some other theorists, “mrs. dalloway,” georges perec, frank o’ hara, ron silliman, some other shit i can’t remember. also, “the mezzanine” by nicholson baker. i really liked “the mezzanine” by nicholson baker, so much that i checked out all the rest of his books from the library before i had even finished reading it and then i read them all, one after the other, over the course of a few weeks. i liked all of them (except “the size of thoughts,” which i found really boring and quit about a third of the way in) and so when it came time to write the term paper, i knew that i wanted to write about nicholson baker.

the problem with doing this was that i knew too much and too little at the same time, that i was too smart and too stupid, that i was both expert and amateur. if i had just read the one book by nicholson baker then i could have easily written some bullshit term paper about, i don’t know, the way nicholson baker describes paper clips or something. but that wouldn’t do; i had read everything this guy had written and i wanted to talk about everything this guy had written. after much frustrating deliberation, i sketched out some retardedly complicated plan which used david foster wallace’s “e unibus pluram” essay (another obsession of junior year) as a kind of jumping off point to show that baker’s work was the kind of new “moral fiction” that foster wallace described in his essay. as i worked on the essay, the list of things that i had to read to be able to write grew and grew. i knew foster wallace’s reference to moral fiction was a reference to some john gardner thing and i knew that john gardner had been an asshole to barthelme who i loved and who was an influence on baker and whose death was actually the inciting event for “u and i” and so i had to go find gardner’s moral fiction essay and then i found out that oh shit, it wasn’t just an essay, it was a book, and so i had to read the book and then i had to find some way to include all of this in the paper because i knew it all. i would read about something like reader-response criticism somewhere and think that it sounded interesting and could maybe support some point i was making and so to be able to talk about i had to read this book by fish i didn’t understand and to be able to try to understand that book i had to also read some book by barthes that i didn’t really understand. as the deadline grew closer and closer, the stack of books, the books i had to read to make the important points that i knew i could make if only i could figure out how to make them, grew larger and larger. the last twenty four hours before the paper was due were a coffee filled blur that i don’t remember. the essay was a disgusting mess that i can’t even look at now and the only two things that it coherently communicated were that 1) i really liked nicholson baker and 2) i desperately wanted to be smart and wanted my teacher to think i was smart and to tell me i was smart. i don’t know what grade i got on the paper, but my teacher was kind and gave me an A in the class.

so, nicholson baker was my favorite writer when i was a junior in college (both before and after the paper writing event) and he remains very dear to me. i haven’t read “human smoke” and i don’t know if i will anytime soon. if i do read it, there’s a good chance i won’t like it at all, since the main thing i like about nicholson baker is his ability to write really kickass sentences and there are only six paragraphs of his writing in the whole of “human smoke” and also it is big and heavy and expensive and the other reviews of it i have read, the more measured ones styled as book reviews instead of polemics, have all said it’s pretty crappy. but still, anne applebaum’s review pisses me off, which i’m sure is intentional, but still, gosh damn hell, it pisses me off. it is interesting that in condemning a writer for being selective and unscholarly, she does not pause anywhere in her 4000+ word review to consider said writer’s oeuvre, and does not deign to mention, in fact, any of his other books (although she does mention his NYRB wikipedia essay – perhaps a friend e-mailed her a link). i don’t know why she doesn’t discuss his other books, other than a desire to use as much space as possible to get her big, important point out of her big, important mouth. if she did read some of them, she would probably find yet more fuel for her fire (pyre?). she could kindle the flames of her anger with baker’s book “u and i,” possibly one of the source texts of this radical anti-intellectual movement she warns us of (this rash of library burnings, it’s so frightening. i’m sure nicholson baker is involved – i heard on w.a.s.t.e. that he lights small fires in periodicals sections, that’s how much he hates those dead trees newspapers). “u and i” is so boldly anti-scholarship that baker doesn’t even read – that’s the conceit of the book, that he’s going to write a book about john updike without reading anything by john updike. it is literary criticism without the literature to criticize. what a self consciously joe-six-pack sort of stunt, right, anne? it’s no different than morgan spurlock’s chugging milkshakes for a month and calling it a documentary or a.j. jacobs growing a beard and reading the bible and thinking that it’s such a big fucking deal.

it’s also a wonderful book that is touching and human and obsessive and weird and wonderful, that sentence by sentence, page by page, is a pleasurable and joyous experience that while making you smile and laugh also makes you think, maybe not in pulitzer prize sized thoughts or world war II sized thoughts but not in toenail clipping sized thoughts, either. it’s been a long time since i’ve read it, but they seemed like just the right sized thoughts to me, then. but, ok, back to anne for the finish:

But if we have arrived at the point where a solemn and excited individual can cobble together anecdotes from old newspapers and Nazi diaries, and write them up in the completely contextless manner of blog posts, and suggest that he has composed a serious critique of America’s decision to enter World War II, and then receive praise from respected reviewers in distinguished publications, then maybe it is time to say: Stop.

a lovely flourish at the end there, anne, absolutely chilling, but please, do tell me, what the fuck does it mean? stop? stop what? stop the presses? stop the clocks, stop the wheels of time? stop living, stop moving, stop breathing? stop the blogs, stop the internet, stop technology? stop writing, stop writing self consciously repetitive passages as a rhetorical flourish, stop doing that, stop it? stop? how? will you be kind, rewind, anne? are you superman, anne applebaum, are you going to fly around the world and go back in time and kill al gore before he could invent the internet? should those of us without pulitzer prizes not be allowed to write without some kind of license? maybe we should have to wear some kind of marking so that we can be identified from a distance by those who are policing the “stopping.” wait, believe me, i really don’t have any of this unearned bloggy hauteur or contempt for the mainstream media or intellectuals or academics that a lot of these other bloggers do, anne. i often find them embarrassing, like all those ron paul assholes or when edward champion went off on terry gross for no reason, that was just stupid and ridiculous and awful (i know i should make a citation, but i can’t find it within a couple of google searches so i just gave up. lazy, i know, i’m just making your argument for you). i respect people who are smart and know lots of things and are trying to learn more things and teach other people those things in a respectful way. i will admit, i will be the first to admit – i am not smart as you, anne applebaum, and i may not ever be as smart as you, but i want to be, i really do. and the way i know how to do that, to get smarter, is to keep trying, to keep reading things and talking about things and writing things. i know that through all this trying and talking and writing i will say really fucking stupid shit that is embarrassing, like all this shit i am saying right now, and i will be embarrassed not only by the solipsism and the vapidity and linty-ness of the content but, even worse, i will be embarrassed that all my personally revealing blog posts all seem the same, formally, and all end with this overheated passage where i sort of figuratively climax in a horribly cliche way, and that all my shitty short fiction that i used to think was great does this same thing too, this one move is seemingly the only one i can do right now, that i seem to only have two volumes as rhetorician, quiet and loud, like a fucking pixies song, and that i would make a pixies song as a reference to binary dynamics, i’m sure looking back i will be embarrassed by that, and will be embarrassed that i don’t go to the trouble of putting an accent mark over the e in cliche even though i write the word cliche a lot or i that enclose the names of novels and books in quotation marks because i’m too lazy to italicize them. but, fuck, i’m trying, anne, i’m doing the best i can for now, damnit. stop? can’t stop, won’t stop.

  • [the above video is maybe NSFW for about 5 seconds, although that moment is nowhere near as disturbing as the rest of the video]
  • this latimes feature on heidi and spencer is one of the most intelligent responses to them i’ve read in the mainstream press. spencer and heidi aren’t really saying things that are all that different than what they’ve said before, re: their roles on the show, but for some reason the phrasing and the confidence level here are different. spencer in particular is on fire, every quote is a pull quote:

    • “Obviously we’re entertainers. We are trying to entertain in every aspect of our lives,” says Heidi Montag, with boyfriend Spencer Pratt.

    • “We’re always the juicier story,” Spencer said. Switching to the third person, he added, “And when Heidi and Spencer are gossip machines, it’s like, ‘What did Heidi and Spencer do?’ “

    • “Every hour,” he said. “Every different magazine, every blog texts, like, ‘We heard this, we heard this.’ Most of the time, people are just making things up, trying to get you to give a source quote. Or give one line just so they can build something. On every site, in every magazine, they need content. It’s the most competitive industry in the world, I would say, the pop culture media game.”

    • “We were all of a sudden in pages next to Brad and Angelina and TomKat.”

    • “Janice Min at Us Weekly is like a family member to us,” Spencer said. “We love her. If my mom and her are e-mailing me at the same time, I’m like, ‘Uh, Janice or my mom?’ “

  • the best quote is related to the nature of fauxreality performance. the writer, kate aurthur, notes that “the criticism of Paris Hilton was once that she was famous for doing nothing, which, though it was never actually true, had a certain sting. But what Heidi and Spencer do — and there are others with their kind of fame, such as E! celebutante Kim Kardashian — can’t possibly be called nothing…” then there is a spencer quote:

    • “No celebrity does anything, really,” Spencer said. “Unless you’re a famous athlete who actually physically does something, like, how much work is reading lines from a script? We’re improv TV personalities. That’s way harder.”

  • let’s avoid for now a discussion of the craft of acting and “how much work is reading lines from a script” and instead listen to what spencer’s arch-enemy, lauren conrad, said about whether she would want to date a celebrity. this is from an interview segment on “the hills: aftershow” a few weeks ago – the show’s host asks her, “if you could break up a celebrity couple and move in, who would it be?” ignoring the weird specificity of this question and the fact that it would make lauren, with all her trust and relationship issues, a homewrecker, the fact that it grounds what should be a silly fantasy in angst and moral tension, let’s listen to her response:

    • “i don’t really want to date a celebrity, though.”

    • [the host asks her if she has any celebrity crushes]

    • “not really, they’re always disappointing. it’s always such a let down, you know?”

    • [host: “when you meet them in (sic) real?”]

    • “yeah. everyone looks better when they’ve been color corrected and on camera and told to say the right things and done a million takes.”

  • one of the interesting things about this interview is that it’s operating under the assumption that lauren conrad is not a celebrity, which of course she is. this sort of “what celebrity would you date” question that we all ask ourselves takes on a whole other dimension because lauren is a celebrity and probably could date celebrities if she wanted to (and let’s note again that her ex, stephen colletti, did recently date a celebrity, hayden panettiere, which i continue to mention mostly because i think it’s fun to say the name hayden panettiere – it sounds like some kind of creme-filled pastry). the interview question is resting on this distinction between celebrities and “celebrities,” between a-list and b-list, between movie stars and everybody else. this distinction is, i feel, dated, and is disappearing and will continue to disappear. i am, of course, not the first person to say this, but i feel a need to keep repeating it because some people just don’t seem to fucking get it. kate aurthur puts it nicely with a play on the thomas friedman meme – she writes, “the tabloid world…is simultaneously bursting and flat.” she defines “flat” as the idea that,

    • “…every story seems just as important as every other, and the monster needs feeding. that’s what tabloid fame is now: weekly, and sometimes hourly, we must have stories; the lives of the chosen people must appear to move forward.”

  • warhol 15 minutes of fame blah blah blah

  • so, moving past that, lauren says, no, she doesn’t want to date celebrities because “they’re always disappointing.” she says they’re disappointing because they’re “color corrected” and “on camera” and “told to say the right things” and “done a million takes.” even though she either has done these things (been color corrected, been on camera) or has been accused of them (the show being scripted, doing multiple takes of a reality show), the line doesn’t seem ironic or self conscious at all, she seems to really feel th. the main reason that Celebrities, that movie and TV stars are disappointing to her is that in real life, they’re not the same as they are on the screen. they’re “such a letdown.”

  • thus, both lauren and spencer are making strong statements against the notion of traditional cinematic/televisual acting. yet though they share this view, which is of course in their self interest as the main avatars of the style, they see their roles in divergent ways. lauren has always and continues to affirm that the show is “real,” that this is her “real life,” that she is not performing. heidi and spencer have always and continue to assert that the show is performance, that editing has changed the meaning and made them look worse than they are, that the show is “not real.”

  • the most interesting part of the interview is when spencer and heidi’s relationship is discussed. i’m just going to block quote the whole thing because there’s too much:

    • “Indeed, Season 2 was when “The Hills” changed — because Spencer changed it. He and Heidi, who was Lauren’s television roommate and sidekick, had met off-camera after the first season and started dating. Sort of. First, they had to overcome that age-old obstacle of whether he was using her because she was on an MTV reality show. Spencer, after all, had a history that included his own unscripted ambitions as an executive producer and costar of Fox’s failed “Princes of Malibu” in 2005.”

      • so heidi and spencer met off camera while heidi was filming the first season and presumably during her difficulties with then boyfriend jordan eubanks (jordan eubanks, by the way, is making really weird youtube videos which feature cameos by jason wahler, talan torriero from laguna beach, and brian drolet, jordan’s best friend from “the hills” season 1 and someone i think they tried to hook up with audrina. it’s kind of scary, like this island of lost toys where all the exiled male cast members of “the hills” go to live.) anyway, apparently the tension early in their relationship was that heidi wasn’t sure if spencer was just dating her because he wanted to be on TV, a tension i have discussed constantly in the past.

    • “The Hills” needed some evil, Spencer figured. “I saw a clip of the show, and everyone was so nice,” he said mockingly. “Friendly,” he added with disgust. So yes, he wanted to “cause drama” and “get my own show.”

      • this is him acknowledging the fakeness, that he has constructed and is constructing dramatic situations (“cause drama”) not because he dislikes people in the real world but because he thought the TV show was boring and lacked drama and plot. not that he didn’t like someone’s (moral/social) character but that he didn’t like their (televisual) character. okay, and probably the most important thing spencer did WAS to create drama, to bring a larger, catchier, more powerful narrative to the show. it makes this usweekly cover a little more telling. the headline is “the plot to destroy lauren.” the implication is of course a sort of snidely whiplash plan to…i don’t know, make lauren look like a ho? but really, the plot to destroy lauren is plot – is narrative, is story. and it’s a plot to destroy lauren – it’s a story about destroying lauren, it’s not actually doing it. spencer can’t destroy lauren (whatever “destroy” means) because if he does, he and heidi are destroyed too. they are all in the “plot” together because they are all in the plot together.

    • “Viewers loved to hate him for it, as Min saw. What those people didn’t see in Season 2 and still don’t see as Season 3 closes, Spencer said, was him falling in love with Heidi. “I was — and am — so in love with Heidi, and that stuff stops mattering. Our real world is right here.” He gestured at the space between them.”

      • this last part just makes my brain explode it’s so awesome. the reason that people “didn’t see” and still “don’t see the real love” between heidi and spencer on the show is that heidi and spencer have been consciously staging fake relationship “drama” and pretending that they are not in love to make the television show more interesting and to raise their profile. so even if they’re abs. marvy behind the scenes, in the scenes, they are a couple at war. i love his reference to the real world, which i would need to hear the tone of his voice to know if it’s a conscious allusion to the show “the real world” or whether he’s so used to talking and thinking about these authenticity issues in his life that he can use the term “the real world” in an unloaded, reference-free way. then, the coup de grace is that kate aurthur used the word “space” to describe his gesture. because there is something kind of touching and beautiful about him sitting with heidi and pointing to this tiny space in between them and saying “our real world is right here” and this is juxtaposed with, on the show this season, heidi’s bizarre obsession with “space” with her belief in the seemingly mystical properties of “space” and her desire to put more and more “space” between herself and spencer.

  • so, great feature.

  • oh shit, i still have to talk about the TV show. ok, since i already just wrote like a lot i’m going to skip the second by second close reading and talk about three main subjects: heidi and spencer, audrina, and lo

  • first, heidi and spencer. so, amid all this revelation and insight into the “real” heidi and spencer, this week’s episode featured them at their absolute most fake, most staged, most absurd and ridiculous.

  • the heidi/bolthouse scenes seemed to exist not for plot purposes or character development but solely as a sort of commercial for sbe, or, moreover, for brent bolthouse’s ego, as represented by the private jet and the hired car at the end of the episode. b. bolthouse must be so happy he had the foresight to hook up with his sugar mama, miss montag. that old guy on the plane, sam nazarian, seems really authentically skeezy, in that wealthy middle aged businessman dead hooker in the trunk of the car sort of way.

  • i also liked how heidi described spencer – she didn’t say the relationship was over, she used a visual metaphor: he’s “out of the picture” (i.e. off frame).

  • other people have done much more with heidi’s ridiculous interview scene than i could. i have no real commentary, but i do find it interesting that i haven’t heard anyone connect her funniest line (“i would love to get my hands in there and make myself available to you”) to spencer’s radar advice column about anal sex (“My boxing coach Dirty Phi says, “If you stick your pinkie in there, and then another finger, and then another, and she responds happily, then it’s cool.”)

  • the scene with spencer that closes the episode is so ridiculous. it literally doesn’t make any sense. kicked out by stephanie, he goes to heidi’s apartment and when she’s not there, he seems to have a nervous breakdown and calls stephanie, demanding to know where heidi is. maybe…at work? having coffee? the gym? target?

  • on to, lo, my love, my life, my lust. dr. television has an interesting post about the transformation of lo (“the transformation of lo” – nabokov’s other unfinished manuscript). a relevant excerpt:

    • “The problem for The Hills these days is that Lauren and Heidi are seemingly splitsville forever–these two ain’t gonna be friends again and Lauren, at least, seems to have little interest in engaging with Heidi at all, even to accuse and argue. So where’s the new drama? It seems to be brewing between new roomies Lauren, Lo, and Audrina, as Lauren is placed in between her actual, for-real childhood pal Lo and her MTV-generated friendship with Audrina.

      Granted, this totally works as relatable drama. But. It is placing Lo in the position of villainess, and this I just can’t take. Lo is one of the few young women gracing the
      Laguna/Hills-averse that seems to have some smarts. She’s witty, clever, just seems to have thoughts going on behind her sparkly blues. (I really don’t mean to diss the others, especially not Lauren, who delivers some bon mots of her own from time to time.) In this latest friendship drama, Lo is being depicted as forcing Audrina out of Lauren’s life while Audrina is the sad victim of Lo’s actions. [Important aside: Isn’t Justinbobby’s transformation a-mazing?! Sobriety has made him actually really and truly attractive! He looks great, and is a sympathetic boyfriend/friend/whatever to Audrina!]

      The soap villainess is a crucial character, but in the daytime soap world her villainy comes from somewhere–usually insecurity or desperation or revenge–and her challenges to patriarchal strictures of femininity are a pleasure to love (or love to hate). But Lo is so not this character. No, the brainiest girl on The Hills is cast as the bitch, for no real reason other than to stir up drama. Disappointing, again.”

  • i will say that i am also dismayed by this change. lo seemed to exist in the past purely to be adorable and give people funny names and pronounce words in humorous, affected ways. my personal perception of lo in the past was as a sort of sorority “mom” figure, who makes plans and activities and decorates the spirit wall or whatever the hell else those girls do. she existed as that kind of stereotype, but i think we only saw the positive aspects of that kind of character, the fun stuff. i think she still exists as that kind of stereotype, but now we are seeing the negative aspects, too.

  • but beyond that, the problem i have is with her line that “the brainiest girl on “the hills” is cast as the bitch, for no real reason other than to stir up drama.” my issue is with the word “cast.” yes, this meanness could be a result of the producers trying to incite tension, to “start drama,” and then using editing to focus and hone that drama and, thus, “cast” lo as a bitch. but isn’t it equally possible that…lo can just be kind of a bitch? isn’t it equally possible that she can be kind of nastily territorial with regards to her oldest and closest friend, a thing i think most of us have experienced in our lives, from both smart and dumb people? isn’t it possible that she just really doesn’t like audrina very much and isn’t ashamed to show it? throughout the show, audrina has been a kind of whipping girl; lauren, lo, and even whitney (who is described in the rolling stone article as “neutral,” “like switzerland”) have made myriad subtle and not so subtle condescending remarks about audrina’s judgement and, perhaps more significantly, her poor fashion sense, which they all seem to see as tres gauche.

  • in the same paragraph, dr. television notes that isn’t justinbobby’s transformation amazing? and how he is “really and truly attractive”, that he is now “a sympathetic boyfriend/friend/whatever.” but how can we say that his change is more or less real or more or less constructed than lo’s? how can we say that she is being falsely represented as a bitch but he is genuinely changed when there is just as much of a chance that she is genuinely a bitch sometimes and he is pretending to be different, he is not sober and he is performing his way back into audrina’s heart and back on to our television screen to, i don’t know, support his modeling career. i’m not saying that either scenario is true, but what i am saying is that either of them (or any combination in between) could be and we don’t and can’t know. we have no objective evidence to check this against and we aren’t didactically “told” what’s “really” going on in the show (or, if we are, as in lauren’s monologue, we’re immediately called to be skeptical and not trust what the show “tells” or “gives” us) so a lot of things come down to just personal prejudice and how our subjectivity affects our notion of the show. like, dr. television’s post is ostensibly about how gender is represented on TV and while it is obvious she is outraged to see (someone she perceives as) an intelligent woman portrayed as a “bitch,” it seems more tangible that she is mad that lo, this person she really likes and has formed a bond with, can be kind of a bitch. she’s not angry about a whole gender, she’s angry about lo, specifically, one person. similarly, in zigzigger’s great post, “the hills is real, too,” he departs from his sort of “objective” critical voice to defend lauren’s much-criticized decision to take gavin to see a book about the show at barnes and noble (“I find it so touching to know that she is proud of her accomplishments, but whatevs.”) and to insult gavin with language that’s pretty strong and personal, (“And what’s so great about G? I think this sounds like the bitter disappointment of a guy who was rejected not only by a pretty girl he liked, a fantastic catch, but by a television show that could have made him famous. He sounds like a jilted whore.”). it’s obvious that the critical analysis he’s writing of this show is colored by the fact that he really likes lauren and that he thinks gavin is an asshole. i’m not criticizing them – far from it, i do this all the time and i think these kind of subjective personal judgements and attachments are incumbent to dealing with “the hills” on its own terms.

  • maybe what i’m trying to say is if we’re discussing completely fictional characters, it’s much easier to detach ourselves from them and think of them as things, objects, chess pieces. but since, as zigzigger says, the hills is real, too, since lo and lauren are real people playing themselves, real people with feelings and hopes and dreams, we have some kind of investment in them that we don’t have in, say, kaya (remember kaya?). when people talk about realist fictional dramas, one of the highest compliments that they can pay them is that they create characters that feel real, that feel “three-dimensional,” that could live in the real world. “the hills” doesn’t have to jump this uncanny valley because its characters already are real and three dimensional and live in the real world.

  • so maybe we suffer from the kind of documentarian’s stockholm syndrome, the way that many documentarians are, by the nature of the form, forced to spend lots and lots of time with their subjects, and that this time spent creates a relationship, of like or dislike or a more complex place in between, that colors and shades whatever document is ultimately produced. i don’t know, i’m just rambling now. whatever, errol morris needs to devote one of his times blogs to “the hills” instead of talking about old pictures of cannonballs and shit.

  • (OMG, imagine “the fog of war” but starring spencer instead of robert mcnamara.)

  • (also, thanks dr. television for teaching me that the dramatic pause at the end of soap opera scenes (the evolution of which is such a big part of the “laguna”/”hills” aesthetic) is called the “egg.” i always wondered, but the only description i had ever heard was joey tribbiani’s scatological description in that one episode of “friends.”)

  • speaking of smelling the fart, i’ve finally realized why i’ve never cared much about audrina. i’m gonna get really shallow here, so sorry, just bear with me. i used to think i didn’t like audrina because i didn’t find her as attractive as the other girls on the show. this is shallow, i know, sue me. i don’t mock people on the street for being unattractive, but i do hold people who are on television shows and movies to a different aesthetic standard and i don’t think that’s totally wrong. some people don’t like audrina because they think she’s stupid. i don’t know if she is or isn’t (or how you define that. a lot of people call heidi stupid, my mom called heidi stupid when i talked to her on the phone the other day, but heidi has created a life for herself where she can be paid fifty thousand dollars to sit in a club for two hours, so that sounds like a pretty smart kind of stupid to me) but i think this is as shallow as reason to dislike someone as for their looks. however, i think i’ve finally realized why i don’t care much about her and why i don’t think she’s that important to the show: she’s just not very good at expressing herself.

  • let’s go back to the fauxreality performance vs. dramatic acting thread from earlier. for all the bullshit most people spew about lauren and the gang being talentless, they’re, quite simply, not. they have a skill set, they have tools as performers that not everyone has – you couldn’t just drop anyone into this show and expect them to be interesting to watch and relatable and memorable. this is a skill, either physically or verbally, that audrina just doesn’t have. she really can’t do any of the facial gymnastics that lauren and heidi specialize in and she can’t manage the idiot savant free jazz ballet that whitney graces us with whenever she’s on screen. she’s not as fauxarticulate or quotable as lauren or spencer, she doesn’t say things in the quirky patois that lo and justinbobby and whitney manage, and her speech isn’t as idiosyncratically illogical and insane as a lot of heidi’s monologues are; she just talks kind of like a normal person who doesn’t have a lot of interesting things to say. this doesn’t make her stupid or vapid or ugly, it just means she’s not a very good performer. she’s not a bad or worthless person, she’s just not very good at entertaining us.

  • which makes all the secondary sources that are coming in about audrina right now all the more insane. because audrina, off camera, is becoming a performer in the most old school sense of the word for example, she was seen a few weeks ago in vegas, dancing on stage with the pussycat dolls. though she said this was a one time thing and that she would not be joining the pussycat dolls, she is dancing on a stage in a theater, straight vaudeville. at a bar that night, audrina (reportedly) said, “i’ll be more famous than lauren conrad one day.”

  • and now, according to usweekly, she’s going to be in a movie! like, the old fashioned kind, where people act and they play characters that are not themselves. and, shock, it turns out that audrina has always wanted to be an actress (“this is why i moved to l.a.”) and recently fired her agent because he wasn’t getting her enough jobs. audrina describes her role (“Patridge said she’ll play “the girlfriend of this cocky guy who think he’s the s–t … and I kind of have him wrapped around my fingers.” “It’s cool,” she added, “because on The Hills, I don’t have that.” – i.e. she enjoys the fictional role because she has agency that she doesn’t have in her real life) but won’t say what the title of the movie is (“I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say!” ).

  • this confidentiality is absolutely puzzling, since as a producer it seems as if the main reason you would put audrina in a movie is because she is semi-famous and you might get to be involved in a bliplet or listicle in usweekly or something and get a little buzz. but if that’s not the case, then…why? i guess we’ll see.

  • little things:

  • my favorite line in the episode was when lo said of the new dog, chloe, “her reactions are fantastic.” oh, the irony!

  • the scene with the alkaline trio – so ridiculous. why would epic show us a session for this shitty modern rock band instead of, i don’t know, a musical artist that the audience of “the hills” might actually want to listen to. because audrina has to be ROCK AND ROLL, i guess? getting your song on “the hills” is like the mainstream equivalent of getting a decent review in pitchfork. it’s for people like lo, who “don’t feel cool enough” – it’s a way for them to feel cool, hip, with it – tuned in to the cool teen girl pop zeitgeist, where they can listen to avril lavigne but also yelle and santogold. i am not saying that in a sarcastic hipstery way, i think anything that helps people feel cool is great, i’m just saying. i will admit again that 90% of my hits before the season started were based on viewers searching desperately for the name of a song they heard in a particular episode. the new MTV chyrons that pop up and announce what song is playing have killed a lot of that, but since the show plays completely different (read: crappier, cheaper) songs during the internet airings that some of us are forced to watch, i still get some traffic.

  • in other music news, i spent an inordinate amount of time on my crappy stolen wifi paging through 15 pages of this rolling stone listicle about “the best music moments on ‘the hills'” and they didn’t fucking list the scene with heidi painting the wall to that cat power song! yet they listed two songs by some band called “a fine frenzy”? TOTALLY ridiculous.

  • also, this week, my favorite video blog about “the hills” is skeptical about whether the girls actually live in their new house. they argue that the reason audrina is unfamiliar with the house and the reason they haven’t unpacked the living room yet were able to have a housewarming party is that the girls don’t actually live there and the house is really only a set. who knows, but interesting notion and one that would support the rumor of whitney and lauren moving into an apartment together.

i’ll put up a song later this weekend but until then i’ll leave you with the dulcet tones of jordan eubanks, brian drolet, and talan torriero. if you’re interested, you can hear more of talan’s music at his myspace page. the first two lines of his song “somewhere dead in hollywood” are “looking for a flying diamond starship / just another boy in southern california.” like, totally.

the whole thing is funny (the radiohead part! the overacknowledgment of the waiter! the fact that spencer looks like my freshman dorm’s pot dealer!) but the end is mindblowing.  wait for it.

lauren and stephen surrounded by flowers

  • the featured article on radar online today is “the ballad of east and west: the battle between gossip girl and the hills,” a sort of character comparison “steel cage match.” it’s cute. coincidentally, i saw my very first episode of “gossip girl” the other night, on korean TV at like 2 in the morning. it was the episode where the rich girl has a sleepover and the poor girl gets invited and then, wooed by fancy clothes and booze, she starts mirroring the rich girl but then snaps out of it in the end. also her brother the brooklyn guy goes on a date with the bland blond girl and in parallel, his brooklyn dad flirts with the bland blond girl’s mom who seemed like the best actress on the whole thing to me. obviously, it didn’t really work for me, although i may give it another try. there was some snap to the writing and i guess it’s kind of fun and kitschy, but i don’t much get the appeal for adults and the idea that it is even comparable as a cultural force or on an aesthetic level to “the hills” is pretty laughable. although, full disclosure, i’ve never seen a single episode of “the o.c.” which i’ve always felt is a major gap in the knowledge i need to write about “the hills.”

  • (“gossip girl” is the most popular american TV show among the korean teens i teach. obviously, it’s more popular with the girls, although the other day a shy, slightly overweight sixteen year old boy told me it was his favorite show, blushingly saying, “jenny humphrey, she’s my kind of girl.” it was fucking adorable. i always ask the GG fanatics if they watch “the hills,” but none of them have ever heard of it.)

  • but anyway, all this gossip girl stuff is simpatico with this week’s episode of “the hills,” which was even more high school than usual. this was not a difficult bit of analysis to come by, what with all the references the characters make to “high school” and “ninth grade” and “senior year,” the preeminence of lauren’s high school friend lo over her college friend audrina, the reappearance of lauren’s high school crush, and the title of the episode, “a date with the past.”

  • telling perhaps that the first thing lo says about their new house is that it’s “a real house.” yes, “real,” but it’s also a set for a TV show. i wonder if there’s a room where the crew stores their camera equipment or a place set up 24/7 for tab interviews. this thread continues: the first room lauren introduces is “the TV room” – i.e. the room where they will watch TV, but will also be filmed on TV watching TV and talking about TV. note that lauren is narrating; she’s not talking about what the room could be, but what it will be, what she has decided it will be. later lo notes (in her requisite weirdly pronounced word ever episode) that she doesn’t have doesn’t have curtains yet and that she wonders if the neighbors have seen her naked. thus, in the TV house, the window functioning as a screen for voyeurs to look in. (also notice the repetition of “it’s pretty” several times as they gaze at their new digs; this is what’s important, not usability, not features, but prettiness, the quality of beauty (later, stephen will note that the house is also “awesome” and “really nice.”)

  • the thing about audrina’s guest house living being indicative of the rift between her and lauren/lo is so clearly telegraphed (with stephen even saying during his date with lauren, “you guys don’t talk about that at all? …but then again, she’s in the guest house.”) that i don’t really feel there’s much to say about it. it’s another of those things that would be a stupid, cliche device if this show was a fiction but is something more because this is real life and audrina is really lauren’s friend (or was) and she is really usurped by lauren’s closer, high school friend lo, and is really separated from them by physical space (lauren: “i don’t feel like i can go…back there.”), into, as lo diminutively describes it, “audrina’s little house” and i have no doubt that there is real tension between them. also note that the main quality that audrina likes about the guesthouse is that it’s “private” i.e. the opposite of the wired-for-sound main house. one presumes audrina will be buying some curtains.

  • as heidi so memorably noted, “all woman have fashion in common,” but even if all women are created equal, some women are more equal than others. lauren notes, “audrina and i are completely different so, you know, we shop separately.” anyone who looks at the way the two of them dress would probably assume as such, but i prefer to interpret this as the way that when you come to dislike someone, you can view relatively banal things about them (“the way she shops”) as negative and even offensive.

  • spencer’s biggest moment in the episode: getting up from a couch. also note that in the spencer and stephanie scene, the evidence of spencer’s hypocrisy that stephanie brings up is…an example from high school.

  • the scene in the kitchen before the party is great because it’s some of audrina’s best emoting. for once, lauren really doesn’t seem to be trying to be bitchy about JB, she’s just asking a question, but audrina does a face that signals that the topic is off limits, which lauren reads and interprets as such. lo, forever the interjector, then makes a smart ass remark mocking JB and audrina makes this great weird look at lauren and then away when she realizes lauren will offer no support. later, there’s a shot of audrina finding out that lauren talked to stephen and she looks genuinely surprised and happy at being surprised, saying all big teethed and joyful, “oh, you did?!” but then lo shuts her down again by saying, “they’ve been talking for a while,” i.e. we, lauren and lo, BFF 4eva, have already had a conversation about this and you are out of the loop, audrina. this triggers a totally sad sigh from audrina. the wardrobe is great at distancing her, too; lauren and lo, the blondes, are wearing cocktail dresses in pink and bright red. audrina, her hair and eye makeup darker than ever, is wearing a gray sweater thing.

  • high school: lauren asks lo not to “get all ninth grade on me.”

  • brody jenner brings a juicer to the party as a housewarmin gift. also, his new girlfriend! sometimes you’ve just got to love him. great reaction from lauren. justinbobby brings his new haircut, an elaborate outfit, and puts his hand through the flame of a tiki torch. there is also something i really like about justinbobby and brody jenner becoming best friends, about JB becoming “one of the boys.” maybe some sort of web buddy-comedy, triangulated between “rob and big,” “entourage,” and “jackass”?!

  • stephanie: “i think we got some boys on campus.” lauren: “where?…i think they’re, like, workers.” oh lauren, not pretty. this is why i prefer when “the hills” as a.stanley’s maligned “classless utopia.” although an insight into both lauren’s character and the structure of the show came in an aftershow interview when she noted that her biggest turn-off with guys is if they’re rude to waiters…i.e. how they treat the help. just playing, but perhaps this is the reason we always see waiters delivering food and the reaction that the characters have to them (lo’s usually chirpy thank you’s, heidi and spencer’s self-absorbed indifference…). note that stephen colleti is weirdly effusive towards the waiter on his date with lauren (i have never seen someone so excited about calamari).

  • when describing the motions of lauren’s face, i sometimes feel like i’m writing stage directions for a beckett play. smile on, eyes off, etc. related: this great youtube video. also, watch these infomercials in which lauren sells contact solution or some method for cleaning your contacts or something. first, lauren wears contacts? is this some clue into her eyegleam and glint, the way her eyes catch ours? the videos themselves are weirdly overlong and infomercial-y – not particularly viral. the camerawork is awkward, this kind of handheld talking-head stuff that just looks like some high school video project. lauren seems to speak more in each of the videos than she does in an entire episode of the hills, which is kind of disconcerting. also, interesting that lauren is hawking contact solution after her original arch-enemy (kristin cavallari) shilled for lasik eye surgery. makes me think about lauren or heidi getting their eyes insured by lloyds of london like betty grable’s legs.

  • heidi and spencer are truly made for each other, no matter how they pretend they’re not: i love how heidi’s attack on stephanie (“if you are feeling guilty and asking for permission, that’s because you feel you’ve done something wrong”) is a total echo of spencer’s (“you’re making yourself cry, thinking about what you did.”) his and hers insults, like monogrammed bath towels. and what i love is the way that their sort of post-bush rhetorical strategy works, that their complete lack of logic and ability to make a coherent argument always beats stephanie. spencer makes her cry and heidi convinces her to stay in and watch a movie instead of going to the party. since mccain and barry have already made their “hills” references, maybe HRC can hire heidi and spencer as consultants in a last ditch effort to save her campaign. imagine spencer as the new mark penn, that spin master, that devil, he. he could probably implicate BO as having been in a sex tape within the week, all without getting off the couch.

  • when stephanie says to heidi, “i don’t know how this all started,” and when she pretends to lauren she doesn’t know who stephen colletti is, it’s obv. totally bullshit because she could just, like…watch the previous two and half seasons of the show on DVD. she could even get them on her ipod so she could watch them at the gym. it’s like when lauren asks stephen if he’s met justinbobby and he feigns ignorance of who JB is, says, “with the bike?” and she confirms, says, “with the bike.” like he hasn’t seen every episode of the show. the show is sort of straining here from its self imposed restrictions, the fact that it can’t acknowledge that it’s a show and that the characters can’t acknowledge that they’re on it and have seen it. i still believe that’s the right thing to do, though, and that everything that makes the show popular would disappear if this rule was broken. the frosting of artifice seeps into even everyday conversation, where stephen has to pretend he doesn’t know who justinbobby is, even though he does, but he’s pretending this in a real conversation with lauren where real feelings (on her part, mostly) are involved and where she probably hopes to exchange some real emotional trash stuff with him, but he’s pretending because they’re being filmed for a scene, but this detachment based on artifice and television form really isn’t inauthentic because it’s just paralleling his emotional detachment and disinterest in lauren, who is still authentically crushing on him like they are still in high school.

  • and in terms of high school, we can’t ignore that stephen colletti, unlike everyone else on “the hills,” is actually an actor, as in a real actor, not a reality performer (heidi dreams of academy awards but has never actually been in a movie or another TV show). in march, stephen, reprised his role as a minor character on the CW teen drama “one tree hill,” which was about high school students for its first four seasons and which i haven’t seen but seems like a rural version of josh schwartz dramas like “the o.c.” and “gossip girl.” some people on the internet speculate that stephen’s involvement in the episode and the fact that he is spending time with lauren again (after dating another actor, hayden panettiere) is that he’s trying to raise his profile and impress the producers of the show so that they’ll bring him back in a larger role in the sixth season. (also, apparently he is also in some (pilot?) (indie film?) called tinsletars in which he plays a “hollywood executive” named “lou masters.” oh steven, don’t do it…)

  • it’s great that the thing that lauren is most proud of in her 2.3 million dollar house is a flower. the mini-scene with her showing stephen her flower is great because, in the same way that the guest house thing is an obvious fictional device made real, this a romcom/teen movie cliche made real. she’s thought about this scene before the party, she’s set it up, she’s practiced what she’s going to say and how she’s going to hold the flower, how she’s going to move around it, the blocking, how she’s going to look at stephen, what the lights are going to be around her, where the cameras will be; she’s made this scene, this fantasy, she’s, as she said to lo, “built it up.” and then stephen casually breaks the fantasy; he says the flower’s just going to die, that it’s gonna last for “about…three days” and then it’ll be gone.

  • it’s kind of funny, then, that on stephen and lauren’s date, they are surrounded by flowers, and in the midst of these flowers, stephen totally breaks her heart again (for the XXth time? i stopped keeping score). he sets her up with the line about lo (who lauren, sticking to the high school theme, has said is “stuck in senior year” and who lauren has reminded that “we’re not 18 anymore), he says, “she’s kind of like everybody else who wants to see us together,” and you can see the hope rise in lauren’s eyes, like, yes, everyone, my audience, they want to see me happy with a boy and i want that boy to be you. he strings her along a bit, talking about family, before absolutely crushing her with the word platonic. her reaction shot is sad and wonderful and priceless. in that instant she is right back in high school and all of her adult success, her fashion line, her starring role in a TV show, all of the power she has in the social sphere, over her friends and their relationships, none of that means anything at all because underneath it all she still can’t get the boy she wants to like her to like her. stephen’s rejection lets her know that, underneath her success, she is still the person she was in high school and she is still the person that he might toy with for a minute but would never take seriously enough for a real relationship. she is sad and alone and crushed and the whole thing is beautifully tragic. on the car ride home, she clings to this little pearl of a high school memory about she and stephen: she repeats it, reiterates it, expands it, wraps herself in it. it’s a quotidian memory – it’s not about anything exciting or romantic in the capital R sense, it’s about routine and stability and timing, how stephen always got her home by her curfew. eating comfort ice cream with lo in the kitchen (again, making real a cliche perpetuated by every other woman in every other romantic comedy ever), lauren says that, “hanging out with him, i feel like I’m in high school. but I’m not in high school anymore.” that’s a good, strong statement that smacks of growth and confidence, but i think it’s belied by the sad way she’s attacking that container of ice cream. i think the true lesson for lauren, whose high school years were filmed and shown on television, who capitalized on that success in the years of her nascent adulthood to become the star of her own show, is that high school, with its thrills and disappointments and well-worn tropes, its break-ups and make-ups and cliques, its banality and idiocy and epiphany, is never very far away – it’s just over the hills.

  • sorry things took so long this week. i honestly thought i was just going to stop doing this. this is not some melodramatic plea for attention, it’s just getting harder and harder to write these and i enjoy it less and less. i feel like i’m constantly butting my head against the notion of the “recap.” i used to labor under the illusion that i was doing something special and different than, like, the people at TVGasm or Television Without Pity do. they, i thought, were basically just summarizing shows and adding in jokes, imbuing summary with their personality to own the show in some way and get some attention. in an elitist, haughty way, i thought they were kind of coarse and low class and i was different. i thought that i was doing something a little more interesting, a sort of gonzo obsessive performance art pseud-y criticism thing (kind of like the current incarnation of baugher, which i used to think was just a mean person making really obvious jokes but has recently become more intensely weird and obsessive and interesting). i don’t think that anymore, this has basically become me doing recaps of the show, which i accept, but i am still butting my head against the wall, trying to figure out what is interesting and what is not interesting and what is worth saying and what is not and what expresses the blogging persona i have tried to create and what doesn’t.

  • the other thing is that i’ve gotten myself into this groove of writing a 3 to 5000 word post every week and the knowledge that i have to write that much about something i’ve already written probably over 50K words about becomes more and more stressful and difficult and so i avoid it and that makes it more stressful and difficult. i need to get myself into the habit of writing eight 500-word posts instead of one 4000 word post; that’s how blogs are supposed to work, right? but i don’t know how to work like that and i can hardly cough in 500 words and i like long blog posts (mmm…clapclap) and i’m always happy when other people write them. so, crisis. (the other thing is the constant little jiminy cricket in my head telling me that stressing out about all this and defining myself by writing about a TV show for the handful of people who read this regularly is really silly and ridiculous and i should just go to the beach more often and work on my tan and try to be happier in the corporeal world instead of the digital one)

  • but anyway, then barry talked about his goal of brokering peace between heidi and lauren and i was charmed and inspired to continue. yes we can.

  • “Late in life, another literary critic, Roland Barthes, became obsessed by the fact that he was a fake and he used to ring up Alain Robbe-Grillet, the famous novelist and say, “But Alain, I’m a fake, aren’t I?” And Robbe-Grillet used to say – soothingly, wisely – “Of course you are, Roland. Of course you are. But, Roland, it’s all right. You’re a genuine fake” – i am, in the words of spencer, “1000% sure” that lauren and lo have had this exact same phone conversation. aww, BFFs!

this week i recorded a cover of “when you wish upon a star.” i had the synth riff sitting around for awhile and really liked it but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. i started to do a cover of “flashing lights” but then i decided on this instead.