3. dear lo – signs and symbols
April 13, 2009
lo, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul…oh wait, somebody else started it that way, i have to start it my own way, i have to “make it my own” or “make it new” or “make it work,” i don’t know which, i just know i have to make it with you somehow and that thing about the light and fire and sins and souls is not the right way for me to begin. it’s not right because i’m not all poetic like that beginning would make you believe i am. i think that’s okay, though, that i’m not a poet, because who needs poetry in a letter? a letter is about the message that you’re trying to send to the person you’re sending it to, the things you want to communicate to them, that you want to pass from you to them by the medium of the letter. if you want to write an essay, write an essay, if you want to write a poem, write a poem, right? paint a painting, sing a song, etc. but i’m writing a letter to you so i should make it like a letter, in content and in style. i should be medium-specific, you know?
so let me start over, let me say it more simply and letter-ish: lo, i like you. i feel i have this really complicated relationship with heidi and lauren that makes me emotional about them in weird and sometimes uncomfortable ways. it’s too complex for me to explain in detail here (besides, this is a letter to and about you, not them) but, basically, i feel like maybe they are different parts of me; like, lauren represents the part of me that is sometimes sad and scared and has trouble dealing with other people, the private part of me, and then heidi represents the part of me that is an artist/content generator, that is putting myself out there and hoping that people will like what i put out, the public part of me. i think that’s one of the reasons that i want them to be friends again, friends on TV or friends in real life, whichever but hopefully both, because i feel like maybe if their outer connections are reconnected then my inner connections will be too and then i can be a better and more whole person and have a happier life. i guess that’s a lot to expect from some TV characters but i’ll take what i can get. i heard a really good quote about that on fresh air recently. here, listen:
you, though, lo, you’re different than heidi and lauren. because while i have a “love/hate” relationship with those two, which involves, of course, lots and lots of love but also, inevitably, some (self) hate, i have a “like” relationship with you, which is much less complicated and much more fun. i like you for a lot of reasons. i like you because you’re bubbly and effervescent and always smiling, even if you’re pissed off or frustrated (those particular smiles are actually adorable, which is a rare thing in my experience). i like you because you are protective of your friends, even if sometimes it makes you look stupid or bitchy. i like you because you speak in a cute dialect all your own, that you put curlicues and flips on ordinary words and phrases and punctuate them with giggles and squeals.
though i like you for all those reasons, i think what really sealed the deal between me and you was when i read that you were an art history major in college. when i read that — i don’t remember where or when, though it was a while ago — i was so happy. it seemed to cement this feeling i had about u and i, about us, to make it concrete and not abstract. it’s really nice to find out things that you have in common with your favorite celebrities — i think that’s why that “stars: they’re just like us!” section in Us Weekly exists, although i don’t really like that section because i think it’s too ironic and jokey. because, really, stars are like us, even if only in small ways. like for example the two of us have this thing in common, since you were an art history major and i was an art history minor in college. we may not have many things in common, but at the very least we have that. (p.s. i thought i would put in, like, images and sounds in this letter — that’s why those are in here. mixed media and everything! i know maybe that’s not a normal thing for a letter, in terms of form, but i thought you would appreciate the artsiness of it.)
this is a photograph from a series called theaters by this photographer hiroshi sugimoto; have you seen it before? i first saw it when i was an art history minor in college, in a history of photography class. i think as an art history minor i’m supposed to like it because it’s like this commentary on the nature of film exposure and, um, making this point about time and space and everything. and i do like it for those reasons, kind of, but really i like it because it’s sublime and romantic and just makes me feel, you know? this poem i like about going to the movies has this part that goes, “it’s true that fresh air is good for the body / but what about the soul / that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images” and when i read that part, those lines, i sometimes think about being in art history class, in the dark, looking at sugimoto’s silvery images. you know, i have what on television is called a flashback. some of my most romantic memories and flashbacks of loving college (i mean the learning parts, not the “i love college” parts, though i also loved those) are of art history classes. that’s for a lot of reasons but one of them i think is that art history classes are the some of the only ones that take place in the dark. there’s something romantic about that, i think, about going through normal life out in the light with all the other people going through their normal lives, and then, at some arbitrary hour, eleven o’ clock in the morning or 3:30 in the afternoon, stepping outside of the day and sitting in this dark room and staring up at these ghost images, larger than life, projected up on a screen, and then you come out after and you have to rub your eyes like waking up from a daydream. i guess that’s kind of nerdy, but whatever.
anyway, last week, i read a really interesting interview with you in TV guide. well not in TV guide, of course, ha, who reads that anymore, right? did you ever see that old episode of seinfeld about the guy elaine meets on the subway who collects issues of TV guide and is like this obsessive weirdo about TV guide and everybody laughs at him for being weird and it’s so funny? i used to laugh at that episode a lot but now i don’t think it’s as funny anymore, partially because it’s kind of dated, right, because TV guide isn’t relevant anymore and the jokes kind of depend on TV guide as a reference to be funny, but mostly because i think some people might see me as being like that guy who was like an obsessive weirdo about TV guide and they might laugh about that or think i’m weird which would make me feel bad, personally. like they would that i don’t have anything in my life except this pop culture object and so i just think more and more about that, making crazy theories about it instead of making meaningful relationships with people. which is totally not true, totally, but anyway let’s get back to talking about your interview with tvguide.com. the interviewer asked you:
TVGuide.com: Will we finally get to see you dating at all this season?
and you said:
Lo: I don’t ever really date on the show. It’s something I talked to the producers about back when I was doing Laguna Beach and said this is part of my life that I don’t want to have on TV. For me, I’m comfortable being a secondary character on the show. I want to have a career afterwards and the less people know about me, the easier it will be to branch into something else afterward. So I try to keep my really private life private and to myself.
the reason i thought this comment was interesting is because i think it relates in some way to this movie called guest of cindy sherman which has just come out in limited release and which is getting a lot of attention right now. you said in the interview you are “in the art scene” so i’m sure you’ve probably heard all about the controversy surrounding it (i had, months ago), but in case you haven’t, i thought i’d tell you a little bit about it.
guest of cindy sherman is a documentary made by and costarring this guy paul h-o. the basic synopsis i’ve seen is that he was a new york art scenester who produced and hosted a jokey t.v. show about goings on in the art world and who, as a result of his TV show, met and got into a relationship with the artist cindy sherman. over time, as she became a super famous celebrity artist and he remained a nobody, he became more and more frustrated with living in her shadow, with being the “guest of cindy sherman.” (that’s where he got the title from) apparently paul got cindy to sign a release at the very beginning of their relationship for all the video he was taking of her, so that their whole relationship was mediated in some way by the presence of his camera shooting her shooting herself with her camera and of course also his camera shooting the two of them spending non-art personal time together, couple time, except of course that was also “art” time since he was shooting video and so basically their whole relationship was captured on video, kind of like lauren and doug’s was on the hills. (considering how complicated all that is, it’s probably a good thing you don’t show your relationships on TV!)
did you study cindy sherman in college? i’m sure you did. i studied her a little, in that history of photography class and also i think in some kind of contemporary art survey that i can’t remember very well. as you know, cindy sherman’s work is all about changing and becoming different people. cindy sherman is not my favorite artist but her work when i first read about it made me think things and sometimes also made me feel things. i made this video last year comparing cindy sherman’s most famous work, her untitled film stills, to heidi’s staged paparazzi pictures (marc jacobs is also in the video, in case it sounds boring). one of my blog commenters challenged me on the comparison and i said this thing which in retrospect is kind of harsh to cindy sherman but i felt at the time was really clever, in kind of an art history class pop quiz kind of way:
the reason i think all this is related to you, lo, is that, as i understand it (i haven’t seen the movie but that certainly hasn’t stopped some people from talking about it, so why should it stop me?) paul h-o got into this relationship with cindy sherman and eventually realized that he was always going to be a secondary character in her “show,” just like you’re a secondary character on the hills and probably will be until you’re not on it anymore. paul h-0 was never going to get some plot twist or story arc that was going to make him more important (or even as important) as cindy. eventually, he couldn’t take that — he couldn’t stand to be a minor character and so he made this movie to try to inject some buzz into his personal narrative. i guess it’s working, to some extent.
most people who don’t like guest of cindy sherman seem to take issue with paul h-o’s “narcissism” or “egotism,” his inability to recognize that he really just isn’t that important, that of course he doesn’t hold a candle to cindy sherman as an artist and therefore isn’t deserving of the kind of attention she gets and what kind of gall does he have to be making this movie and et cetera. female critics tend to focus on the sexism that paul h-o apparently exhibits in the movie, and on the fact that cindy sherman herself is unhappy with the movie and had to use lawyers to force changes to it before its release. i don’t know what the truth about any of that is, although his comment about being a “wife” in the trailer is admittedly pretty gross and makes the criticism of him as sexist seem pretty valid but i have to say i empathize with him, a little bit at least. i think you should too, lo.
like, in that interview, you say that you’re okay with being a secondary character on the hills, that’s what you want, what you’ve always wanted. you’ve say you’ve never cared about being a star, a main character, a heroine or villainess. that’s fine and i hope you keep feeling that way; i think that would mean a healthier and better life for you, probably. but what if you end up changing your mind? what if at some point you decide that you’re not satisfied with your standing, that you want to move up, be a main character in your life? what if you want other people to see you as important or smart or interesting and moreso than lauren or heidi, what if you want to be on the cover of Us or InTouch and you want to be there by yourself and not just in some lame group shot? what do you do then? how do you deal with it?
like, i kind of see this paul h-o situation as being similar to what happened to whitney. when whitney was first on the hills, she was just like you: she had no interest in being a major character, she just wanted to buzz along in the background, get paid, maybe make some contacts in the fashion industry that would help her pursue her real dreams off-camera. but then, either gradually or at some crucial, unspecified point, something inside her changed and she became a different person, in a way, and she wanted to be a major character, a heroine, and so she made herself one, by leaving lauren’s show (the hills, duh) and making her show the city. this is like what paul h-o is trying to do, to make himself the main character in his personal narrative. should we hate whitney or say that she’s bad just because she changed, just because she became a different person? should we feel the same way about paul h-o, even though he’s not as pretty or as nice as whitney?
i don’t think so. i mean, i’ve done things that i’m ashamed of, too. i think we all have, right? anyone who puts him or herself out there enough to do things and live in the world is eventually going to do bad things which hurt themselves or other people. that doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re a “bad person,” like some cheesy villain in a movie, it just means that all people have the capacity to do lots of things, some of them good and some of them bad. even people who i like, like you, who i think are “good people,” even they can do things which aren’t necessarily “good” or “right.” okay, i can see you rolling your eyes, lo, i know this is not groundbreaking stuff, okay, but i’m trying to make a point. like, remember how you were, well, so mean to audrina when she moved in with you and lauren in the hills season 3? do you sometimes regret that? do you regret that you did it, that you were mean, or do you regret that it is captured on video and that lots of people have seen it? because i understand that maybe you weren’t mean for natural reasons, maybe you were pressured by the producers (or lauren) to create tension for the show or maybe you just felt a pressure to be a bigger presence in the show — like, since you were moving in with lauren, you finally needed a role, an angle, a plotline and so you decided being semi-mean to audrina would be your story. even if you don’t feel bad about how you acted, do you maybe feel bad that a lot of young girls watched you acting that way and thought that that was the right way to act? do you think of yourself as “role model”?
gosh, i’m sorry, i’m really hitting you with these tough, tyra banks style questions! i’ll stop, and, to show that nobody’s perfect, especially me, i’ll give you an example from my blog of something i did that i didn’t feel particularly good about. it’s one of the few stories i have that involves me interacting with a real life celebrity. i mean, i’m interacting with you, lo, of course, but we both know it’s kind of fake and one way, whereas this was kind of real and two way. the celebrity in the story is the person you hear in that audio clip, one of my first regular blog commenters, the movie writer and director mike white. he saw my blog when it was mentioned in the new york times and started commenting after that. he wrote interesting things like this:
so, in the regular course of writing and doing artsy behaviors on my blog, i commented on a funny or die parody of the hills starring james franco and mila kunis. this was during the writer’s strike in 2007 (remember? what was LA like for you then? was it different, did people have ill will towards you for being a reality star?) and basically the video was a viral parody of the hills, supporting the striking writers by making the joke that if the strike wasn’t settled, all we would have were unscripted shows like the hills. “without writers — there’s only reality.” in doing so, it made the hills basically out to be a stupid, worthless show populated by idiots. at the time, i felt very strongly that the third season of the hills was the best and most innovative show on TV and certainly not stupid or worthless (and certainly not populated by idiots, especially not you, lo). so i did a post where i basically said that i didn’t like the parody and thought it was bad and i said it in kind of a mean and condescending and snarky way because that’s the way a lot of people write on the internet (somebody even wrote a book about it!). after that, mike white left me another comment:
it was a complicated feeling i had after i read that, because when i wrote that post criticizing the funny or die parody, i wasn’t trying to impress anybody or put on airs or anything, i was just giving my honest reaction to this piece of art, i was just saying how i felt about something i felt strongly about. at the same time, though, i had said this mean thing which was probably unnecessarily mean and which was mean about this thing that people worked hard on and that a lot of people liked, and not only was it mean to all of them but it was also mean to this nice person who, even though he was a celebrity, had taken the time to say these nice things about me and support my writing when only a few people were supporting me. i felt kind of bad about that — it was hard for me to deal with. at the same time, i couldn’t go back and change what i had said — it was done, it was set, it was archived.
that hills parody video was on the website funny or die and sometimes i feel like that’s a rule for being successful on the internet, like, be funny or die. a lot of the times, i’ve felt like if i was writing “ironic” and “cutting” and “snarky” things about you and heidi and lauren and the other celebrities i write about, i would probably be a lot more successful and would have a bigger audience. some writers online have these big audiences who love them for doing just that and every week after they write their ironic and cutting and snarky posts in which they “eviscerate” popular television shows, their audiences tell them how smart and clever they are and how much they love them for their writing and everything. sometimes i wish more people would tell me that they love me for the things i wrote, lots of people, but i can’t just write the things that i think people will love, i have to write the things that i believe are true and that i think are good for me to write, both good for me and good in terms of the public good (and, since this is a letter that i’m writing here, good for you, lo). not that i’m being self righteous, not that i think i’m any better than writers with acid tongues and razor-tipped pens — i just know that i can’t do what they do myself because i would eventually just end up feeling bad about the mean things i wrote, even if i thought they were clever or funny when i wrote them.
i’ve always been a positive person but after that comment and also some other stuff that happened in my (real) life, i’ve tried a lot harder to not write mean or bad things, or, if i’m going to write mean or bad things, if i feel that i just have to for reasons of being an artist, i try to balance them out with nice or good things, or at least sincere and understanding things and humanistic things instead of harsh and ironic things. like i said, i’m not perfect, it doesn’t always work that way, but i try to be aware of my sometimes tendency towards meanness and do the best i can to be a nice person who doesn’t make other people feel bad, at least not on purpose or without good reason.
sometimes that is the good thing about having documents and records of ourselves and the things we’ve done, that we can learn from them and try to be better, as people and artists and everything. i know looking at old things i wrote sometimes i cringe because they’re embarrassing, but in that cringing and being embarrassed, i can recognize growth and change, which i think is a good thing or at least feels like it is. sometimes it is hard to see past versions of yourself but sometimes you have to do hard things in order to make your life or the lives of others better. like the way you could learn from watching how you dealt with audrina on the hills, lo, and maybe decide to act differently in future situations. that’s why i think that it’s “good” (or at least “not bad”) that the movie guest of cindy sherman was made and i don’t think the creator should be “demonized” even if he is maybe definitely not a perfect person. i don’t know if by making his movie paul h-o learned something about himself but maybe he did or maybe watching the movie after making it he learned something about himself or maybe hearing how other people are now reacting to the movie now he is learning something about himself or will learn something in the future, something that he can use to make himself better for himself and other people. maybe cindy sherman, seeing herself in the movie, seeing herself as framed by someone else other than herself, in portrait instead of self portrait, maybe she learned something, too, something good, something she can use as an artist or celebrity or even just as as a regular person. maybe the hip and art-type people who see guest of cindy sherman (are you going to see it? i don’t think it’s out in LA yet) will watch it and see things in it which might help them learn things about themselves, even if they are negative things, like how not to be or what not to do, they could still learn things and if they do, that would be good, i think.
to finish up, i think that the other interesting part of your tvguide.com interview was the thing you said at the very end:
TVguide.com: Based on the trailer for the new season, it seems as though a lot of loose ends will be tied up.
Lo: I think so. There are a few events that haven’t happened yet, and I know they are going to be included in the show, so we have to see how those things play out. But I truly think it is going to come full circle where everybody grows up and comes together. And like any popular show on TV, you want to end it on a high note. So I think it’s going to end in a good way that everyone’s happy with.
i think that’s a really interesting thing to say. like, the idea that you might normally live your life this one way, but, because your life is shown on a TV show, you then might change it, improve it, not for your own sake but to give the “narrative” a “resolution,” i think that’s interesting. the idea that the loose ends of life can be tied up as easily as a string bikini or bunny-looped shoelace (happy easter, btw!). a lot of people would consider living your life that way, according to television conventions, to be “inauthentic” but i think that if you fake a good thing in your TV life, it might make your real life better, too. and if your real faking and fake realing makes other people watching you on TV feel better or live their lives in some better way, then that’s even better, better for you and them and the world and everybody, like that is like hope, like if that picture that i “made” of you with the shephard fairey image generator wasn’t some snarky ironic joke but was really a true belief in the potential of you, in the power you have to create change. anyway, it’s a very positive attitude you have which hopefully i can take something from in order to help me live my life better, too, by learning from the example you set on reality TV. like for example maybe if i write better, both in terms of the quality of the writing and in terms of being more good as a person, maybe things will turn out better for me, too, in the process, the process of writing and being, of faking and realing. i don’t know that it will but at least it’s something to try, which you gave me the idea for with the interesting things you said in TV guide. that’s just one more reason that i like you, lo, and i hope you’re doing great, for real.
p.s. i was cleaning my room the other day and by some weird coincidence, i found this old art history paper i did when i was in college. i’m not the kind of person that keeps old school papers — this one was randomly stuck in this textbook i had saved because i thought it was a good book with a lot of pretty pictures and interesting ideas. the paper i found is not, like, good or anything and you probably did way better ones at UCLA. it’s actually kind of embarrassing to show it to you but i’m trying to give you as much of myself as i can and i think it kind of goes with what i was talking to you about it in the letter and also the “mixed media” form (random!) so i’m going to put it right here at the end, just in case you’re interested.