the hills season 3, episode 27, “no place like home”

May 10, 2008

  • [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.

2 Responses to “the hills season 3, episode 27, “no place like home””

  1. Elana Levine Says:

    I’m with you that my take on Lo’s meanness stems from my upset with the shift–it’s totally about the fact that I like Lo and so want to see what I take to be negative characteristics as constructed, “cast,” created and not the real her. And yet I also want to see the new, improved Justinbobby as the real him, probably because I so despised the old him. Perhaps any kind of critical distance is even more impossible with this show than with any other cultural text because of these real/construction slippages.

    And yet . . . I think one could also take my analysis as an analysis of the meanings offered up by the show, meanings that include Lo is bitchy, justinbobby is pretty darn cute and sweet. Whether these meanings are a product of either person’s real self or one made up by Hills producers (of course they are not simply one or the other)is irrelevant. These are the meanings the text offers us, invites us to make and so are the focus of my criticism. In the case of Lo, I don’t like this “Lo is bitch” meaning being presented to me–real or not, that’s not the story I want told about this character.

  2. songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

    ah, ok, i understand. very interesting.

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