planet hollywood

June 29, 2009

I don’t really understand about aquariums and I never have.  I was swimming in the ocean today and there were a lot of things to look at and I did look at the things, since looking is what I do and things are what I do it with.  The ocean is clear here, clear enough that if it’s a sunny day you can see your individual toenails even when you’re chest deep, can distinguish toe from nail from ocean floor as well as see clearly and in great detail all the various shells, weeds, and tiny creatures that are bountiful and plenty all around.  Waves are nonexistent in most weather patterns; light shimmers in the pockets of ripples; gulls land on the skin of the water and then take off again, fishless.  On weekend afternoons, single-engine planes strafe the coast trailing screen-printed bottles of Patrón and strings of black text which read “PLAY LOTTO WIN A MILLION” and “2NITE AT MANSION: LLOYD.” Girls in bikinis turn striped towels in line with the sun; women in straw hats chase children and apply lotion to their wet backs.  Illicit dogs draw occasional citations but mostly envy; from a distance, jet skis sound like photocopiers, slicing through sheets of surf.  This afternoon, a helicopter flew right over my head from the south and a man sitting in the open door looked down at me looking up at him; he was wearing a helmet with a microphone and some kind of uniform but I couldn’t tell what kind.  Later, swimming along a stretch of beach where there is no public access and so there is often no public, I noticed a group of teenage girls in the water maybe a hundred feet ahead of me, eight or nine of them giggling and splashing in a ring of froth and chatter.  As I swam farther, a matching group of teenage boys on the shore began yelling at the girls, all of them jumping up and down at the edge of the water and waving their arms, screaming, “Shark! Get outta there! Shark! Come here!”  The girls twisted and shouted momentarily and then made for the shore and fast, breaststroking and dogpaddling through the shallows and into the waiting arms of their sunbaked almost Romeos.  The sexes reunited, I continued to swim the same line I had been swimming, up the coast in the direction of the supposed shark, personally thinking that the boys were likely lying about the shark and just wanted to see the girls rising out of the water in their dripping swimsuits but not particularly worried about the off chance that they were actually telling the truth its existence, maybe even a little excited by the prospect, to be honest.

When I’m swimming in the ocean and looking at things, I also think about things, or at least that’s what I think I’m doing.  Sometimes I think about things I’m writing, like this paragraph, and sometimes I think about things I have to do later in the day, like go to the grocery store, and sometimes I think about precious and dear memories, like sitting outside a brick building with a girl at dusk, but most often I think about being attacked by a shark and what the ensuing media narrative would be like if I were attacked by a shark.  Not killed, of course, not even maimed, no facial scars or complex internal injuries, god no, but I often think that I would probably sacrifice a hand or foot to go on the Today Show as a shark attack victim.  I would really prefer to lose a foot, since I would hate to not be able to play the guitar or touch type and even though I’m also a runner, I think I could still run fairly agreeably with a bionic foot; you see people on television doing such things all the time, we have the technology.  I imagine myself as a shark attack victim on the Today Show, me and Matt Lauer at the top of the hour, the first segment, me sitting on the couch opposite him and looking handsome and brave in a sharply cut suit with the rounded end of my missing hand or foot displayed in a prominent position for the camera, perhaps resting on some kind of clear glass stand.  I think about all the possible postures I could play out in my interview and how they would affect the trajectory of my newfound fame — would I go all hemped-out and born-again beach bum, espousing cosmic love for the shark that had bitten me and angling for a Travel Channel series in which I visited various tropical locales, sampled exotic delicacies, and played whispery nylon string ballads amid the local flora and fauna?  Maybe instead I would take the media critique angle, stopping Matt in the middle of an innocuous question about my pain to deliver an explosive Network style monologue about the fear mongering of “the media” and how rare shark attacks actually are and how there is more important news for everyone to be covering, dammit.  This would, of course, not be a genuine reaction but simply a way to change my narrative from victim to attacker, to give myself the kind of agency that gets you an agent.  Could I express a religious conversion, a water-logged version of the “cross in the dirt story,” some sandy Solzenhenitzen?  Or maybe something more salty and Hemingwayesque?  Perhaps instead I would go with performance art:  Today could do a location shoot at MOMA where I would shatter The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living with a sledgehammer or pickaxe, the clear liquid and shards of broken glass running all over the gallery floor, the shark deflated like a plastic pool toy.  Maybe I would be genuinely traumatized by my injury, waking up at odd hours after having seen in dreams the dark shape of the shark coming near, and maybe because of this genuine trauma when I was on the Today show I would just give the same dull, sad interview that most victims appearing on television talk shows do, the interview that they don’t in fact give but instead receive, but this is an unpleasant fantasy for me to think of and I don’t allow myself to think of it and if I do think of it, I just open my eyes and look at the various things in and around the ocean until my brain is as empty and clear as the blue sky above.

I don’t understand about aquariums, though.  I like looking at things in the ocean but that’s because I’m in the ocean to swim, I’m already there; I don’t go to the ocean for the looking at things, it’s a bonus, value-added.  I understand aquariums as a place to take bored or fussy children, I guess, since if a child is bored or fussy you move it around to different settings in order to make it less bored or fussy, that is parenting, I understand that, but what contemporary grown adult person chooses to visit an aquarium of his or her own volition?  I can’t imagine such a person.  Even children these days seem to be weaned on screens sufficiently enough that some of their requisite changes of setting might be better achieved as virtual trips rather than actual ones.  To me, aquariums are completely irrelevant in the age of large screen high definition televisions and Blu-Ray players.  What do you do at an aquarium?  You look at things through glass.  You walk around on carpet with other people through a darkened space and you stare through different panes of thick glass at different things floating around in blue water, things which are alive and which sometimes do amusing things for your enjoyment and other times just float there being themselves and not entertaining you in any particular way.  Sometimes the things come close to the glass, making it easy to look at them, and other times the things swim away, making it hard to look at them.  If the things do amusing things or if they come close to the glass, sometimes people take pictures of the things and their camera flashes echo off the glass through the dark room and bounce into your eyes, making it hard to look at the things.  There are often rules posted against this but people are too busy looking at things in water through glass to read them.  Stray children run about the carpet, squealing, and sometimes there are corn dogs and sometimes there are ice creams in the shape of a whale and often there is vomit.  That’s basically the experience as I know it.  I don’t understand about aquariums, I really don’t.  In this day and age?  What I think is someone should take a top of the line HD camera package and a good lighting rig and go around getting video of all the very best fish in all of the very best aquariums all around the world, putting the big lens of the camera right up against the panes of glass and shooting things through them at a high frame rate.  This way, people could buy the DVDs and have the experience of the aquarium from the comfort of their own homes.  If the people have multiple televisions in their homes, they could even put different discs from the set in each television and walk their children through the dark house in sock feet to visit all the fish in their individual wide screen habitats.  What would the difference be?  What would be lost?   Aquariums aren’t like roller coasters or other amusement rides, which are about wind and force and noise and so would lose a certain something in DVD form, and they aren’t like museums, where the focus is always on learning and facts and edification — aquariums are about looking at things through glass, just like television.  There has never been a more realistic computer screensaver than the aquarium.  What could be lost in the process of digitization?  I think the films would actually be an improvement over real aquariums, where the lighting is often awful and the fish aren’t even color corrected.

I understand that my beliefs about aquariums are atypical, which there’s a medical excuse for, maybe.  Since I was born, I’ve had problems with my left eye, problems with looking at things through it; it’s a lazy eye, is what you call it.  I’ve worn glasses as long as I can remember, always looking at things through glass my whole life, but by the time I was walking and talking, a doctor proposed patching as a possible remedy for my problem.  The idea was for me to wear a patch over my strong right eye for extended periods, making it so I could only look at things through my lazy left eye.  By not looking at things through my strong eye, the idea was, I would make my lazy eye less lazy, as if all the looking would convince my eye that there really were things in the world worth working hard enough to see.  I didn’t wear a black pirate’s patch with a strap as you might imagine; instead, disposable flesh colored stickers were adhered to my face every morning.  On each day’s patch, my father would draw an image of an eye — often realistic and painterly, occasionally abstract, in pencil or ink or magic marker.  The representations of good eyes stuck over my bad eye didn’t make seeing any easier but they did make being seen somewhat less traumatic.  In terms of improving my vision, though, the patch experiment was a spectacular waste of time and energy and self consciousness and to this day I can’t see particularly well out of my left eye and live in constant subconscious fear of anything ever happening to the right one that would prevent me from looking at things in the future.  The fact that my lazy eye doesn’t see well, has, I think, predisposed me to privilege the image over the actual in some fundamental ways.  My lazy eye and its marriage to my good eye means that my depth perception is hazy and I have some trouble gauging where exactly things are in space.  This is not drastic or life-affecting and mostly manifests itself in me bumping into things.  When the space is not actually space, however, but is a simulation, a representation of space contained in a flat plane, like a screen of glass or a piece of paper, I have no problem perceiving it perfectly.  When I was trying to learn to drive, I (literally) hit the broad side of our house with a station wagon but later in life I was able to destroy anyone at Mario Kart even through multiple layers of intoxication and with my glasses off.  The only other thing I really missed out on because of my eye’s laziness, besides the ability to catch small balls, were those paper and cellophane 3D glasses given out for special comic books and movies.  It may seem stupid, but that was so crushing as a child, the idea that the magic glasses that worked for everyone else to make images real wouldn’t work for me, that I couldn’t see the world in 3D.  When I put them on, all I saw was one color.

I realized the other day that I haven’t really been in an art museum since I was in the seventh grade.  In college, I went to openings at galleries and group shows and parties where there were objets d’art sloppily tacked to the walls and et cetera but everyone knows those sort of things aren’t about art for anyone except the artists or people who have no one attractive to talk to at the moment.  I’m a person who’s read The Tradition Of The New and On Photography and who at one point or another wrote on 3X5 index cards the artist, date, style, and medium of seemingly every masterwork from Lascaux to Lichtenstein, who knows Manet from Monet, so to speak, but I haven’t been to an art museum in the daytime for learning and edification and looking at things since I was in the seventh grade.  This is not a thing I did on purpose, like last year when I realized I hadn’t ever been in a Starbucks and so stubbornly stood outside in the cold while the people I was hanging out with bought hot and elaborate coffees that smelled like love; I just haven’t felt the need to go, I guess.  Susan once talked about the necessity of an erotics of art and I thought it was sexy when she said it, or at least when I read it, late at night in a worn, borrowed library book, but I guess I’ve always been pleased enough by the pornographics of art, reproductions printed in miniature on glossy pages in thick books or projected giant size on screens in dark classrooms, images of images and representations of representations.  When I was in the seventh grade, we took a class trip to Washington DC and my visited, among other locations ,the National Gallery.  I think I saw a Van Gogh there, sunflowers or stars, I’m not sure, we didn’t stay long and mostly went for the gift shop, to buy postcards of Old Masters.  The only thing I really remember from the trip is eating lunch at Planet Hollywood, having a big cheeseburger there at a round table in the midst of the memorabilia, all the famous things to look at while I ate.

Last night there was a thunderstorm over the ocean and the dog came into my room around midnight, looking for me.  I was in bed, looking at a book.  The dog is supposed to sleep in the living room, on an improvised bed made from an ottoman cushion and a leopard print blanket which sits next to the entertainment center.  She does this most nights but when there’s a thunderstorm, things change.  This is because the dog is afraid of thunderstorms.  The last dog we had wasn’t afraid of thunderstorms, but this one, who looks almost exactly the same as the last dog we had, is afraid of thunderstorms.  Appearances can be deceiving.  When there’s a thunderstorm, the dog nuzzles open my door and comes to my bed, hooking the crook of her neck over its edge so that her entire head rests on my fitted sheet.  Her eyes look up at me, begging.  I don’t let the dog in my bed because I think boundaries are important and also she smells.   When the dog first started begging in thunderstorms, I would rub her head for a minute and then, whispering in a soft tone, would walk her back out to the living room to sleep.  This didn’t work, though, and this is because the dog is afraid of thunderstorms and so by the next crash of thunder, before I could even get settled again, the dog would be back at my bed, hooked, begging.  This was annoying because I’ve always liked falling asleep to the sound of storms at night; I never dream better than when it’s terrible outside.  When I was a child, my parents had tapes of sounds from around the world on top of the boombox in their bedroom.  They had a tape that sounded like the rainforest and they had a tape that sounded like the ocean and they had a tape that sounded like a thunderstorm.  The tapes were designed to help my parents sleep by replacing the sounds of the actual world with the sounds of virtual worlds that were more peaceful and serene, more natural, places where things did not honk or slam or clatter.  The tapes didn’t work for my parents but sometimes my brother and I would use them as aids to play, to better create the illusion that we were in the rainforest or the ocean or a thunderstorm, fighting some imagined evil.  The dog is afraid of the sound of thunderstorms so the tape wouldn’t work for her, of course, it would be virtual torture, except as a dog she doesn’t understand distinctions between the virtual and actual, so it would just be torture, plain and simple.  One night, half-dreaming, I thought about making her a tape of the sounds of the average evening, the muffled tones of television hosts and forks scraping against plates and pages turning and occasional laughter, a recording of domestic calm that could mask thunderstorms in its veil, but I don’t think my microphones and speakers can capture and reproduce the right frequencies to soothe her adequately.  Perhaps earmuffs would work better, but my dog doesn’t like wearing clothes, as is natural.  Sometimes I think it would be nice to be my dog, to just be able to look at things without thinking about them so much or trying to understand them or writing a long essay about them, but then I realize that I would also have to be afraid of thunderstorms, which would be horrible, so I guess it’s kind of a trade-off.  Last night, as is now procedure, I dragged the dog’s bed from the living room down the corridor to my bedroom, stray hairs shooting off the cushion like sparks from a broken muffler.  After settling her down and telling her that everything was going to be okay, I turned off my lamp and closed the two layers of thick curtains around the windows, the curtains that I always otherwise leave open.  I closed them so that the dog wouldn’t be able to look at the lightning strikes or connect them in her mind to the crashes of thunder that she was hearing, in order to shield her from the sights since I couldn’t stop the sounds.  In the dark, there was nothing to look at so I went to sleep.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the hills season 3 finale

December 11, 2007

[splashcast POYY6205NA VZVM8531XL]

wasn’t that so terribly sad? it was like the charlie brown christmas tree version of a red carpet; short, stubby, a cheap, pasted-on backdrop. you get the feeling that the camera flashes weren’t from real paparazzi, that in the photo corral there were a group of MTV interns given disposables from walgreens and broken thrift-store polaroids; they weren’t there to capture images themselves but to try to create an image for the TV audience at home. but what image? that chintzy red carpet, the bare concrete expanse underneath, the dead, empty blackness of the sky above the bleachers, and, sandwiched in between, a crowd as small as at a middle school soccer game?

there was none of the glamour of “the hills,” the feeling that the frames of the show themselves are something more, the feeling you get looking at layouts in fashion magazines or immaculate, high-concept car commercials, where you think, wow, that looks expensive. as the song goes, it never rains in southern california, and, in popular lore, it’s never supposed to be cold in LA. yet, as heidi remarked over and over in the five seconds she was interviewed during the preshow, it was cold, so cold, “freezing.” that’s how at odds this live extravaganza was with the endless sunsets and warmth and orange light of “the hills”: it was cold and dark. through the magic of digital color correction, the editors of “the hills” can imbue even nighttime with hue and richness (go look at that justinbobby-audrina fight and compare it to this), but on the red carpet, we were placed into the dark of night and the desert of the real; the temperatures were bracing and the light was harsh and un-diffused.

it was classic bad live television, all false starts and miscues and stalling and broken technology. our hosts attempted banter, like preteens in maybelline trying to mimic melissa rivers and ryan seacrest, but they had nothing to say. the stars, our gang, who shine so gloriously every week within the context of color-corrected, carefully lit, letterboxed 24p – suddenly, they were moving through space live, at thirty frames a second, and they weren’t within the flattering constraints of the letterbox and they weren’t carefully framed to show their good sides, and the editing and blocking were a mess. they moved like us, which is strange because we’re used to seeing them move at a completely different speed, and they held their microphones and stared into the camera and they knew we were watching them and they were looking out at us. and it was so bad.

and then they spoke and it was even worse. these masters of intimate dialogue, what awful interviews they gave. what they remind me of are the david foster wallace essays about tennis players (“how tracy austin broke my heart” and “roger federer as religious experience“). in “how tracy austin broke my heart,” he writes that,

“It may well be that we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only ones able truly to see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift we are denied. And that those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it — and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.”

lauren and heidi are neither blind nor dumb, and i don’t think performance on “the hills” is an unconscious thing, but i think there’s something of that quote here, the idea that in their moment, in their environment, these girls are perfect, incredible, beyond the beyond, but outside of it, in the too-clear, too-honest waters of live television, they are more frogs than princesses. on “the hills,” when they’re trying to act like normal people, lauren and whitney and heidi and audrina feel like celebrities, like movie stars. but on the red carpet, when they’re trying to act like celebrities and movie stars, they feel startling, disappointingly, like normal people.

the sadness, the embarrassment that was the red carpet event is the best argument for the fakeness of “the hills”; that no, it is not a literally true representation of the real (so no, alessandra stanley, we aren’t going to see the migrant workers build LC’s family mansion, but who cares, this isn’t “the grapes of wrath”), it’s better than the real, it’s the idealized everyday, it’s a fantasy of how living life could be. not capital F fantasy, none of the big old narratives, no princesses or slayed dragons. “the hills” isn’t like a movie, nothing ever really happens, but at the same time, it’s not like everyday life or those scratchy, ugly verite attempts to represent real everyday life. we don’t hear toilets flush and we don’t see hairs out of place or bad makeup. it’s the narrative of our casually exhibitionist moment, of facebook, where the minutiae of the everyday becomes elevated because it’s selected and exhibited and viewed by an audience; all those scenes where lauren talks at whitney or heidi talks at elodie or audrina talks at chiara, those one-sided dialogues, they’re the televisual equivalent of facebook status updates (“heidi is feeling sad.” “lauren doesn’t know what to do anymore.” “audrina is done with him.”) the tabloids that are so important to the success of “the hills,” usweekly and intouch and OK, they’re one big facebook profile for our girls, where they list their hopes and dreams and the books they’re reading right now and their favorite singers and whether or not they’re in a relationship, where they post only the most flattering pictures of themselves (although sometimes they get tagged with ugly ones of them drunk or in their sweatpants by jerks they don’t like).

the form of the show, the casual voyeurism, is, again, perfectly suited to our age. it’s not like those voyeurism movies, like “lost highway” or “cache” or “the truman show,” where there’s some sinister subtext to the viewing, where there’s a Reason that these people are being watched. we’re not watching lauren and whitney because of any big, important reasons; we’re watching them for the simple joy of seeing them move through space and eat cereal and iron clothes and push paper and staple things, the excitement of seeing them wrinkle their noses and scrunch their eyebrows, the fun of being invited into their first dates and days at the office and nights on the town, their tiffs and their spats

no more big narratives, no more capital F fantasy. the thematic preoccupation of the season three finale was with fairy tales. lisa love tells whitney that she “might come back a princess” from paris and later tells lauren her own fairy tale story of living in paris as a girl. elsewhere, lauren and brody argue about whether or not lauren wants a “prince charming.” if there’s anything we’ve learned from lauren and jason or, for that matter, from heidi and spencer, it’s that there is no prince charming, that prince charming is a myth and if you choose to believe the myth, like heidi does, you get burned, and even if you are a hardened cynic like lauren is and you try not to believe it, you’re still going to eventually let your guard down and you get burned.

what was the big decision, the defining moment for lauren’s character? right, she chose to stay with jason for the summer instead of the teen vogue internship in paris. it’s branded on her, it’s her defining characteristic, she’s “the girl who didn’t go to paris” (subtitle: for a man). you can read this decision as choosing a man over a career, or choosing love over opportunity, but you can also read as choosing the status quo, the everyday, over the big, earth-shaking life-changing move, as choosing stability and comfort (however fleeting) over excitement and possibility.

the sometimes problem with heidi and spencer is that they try too hard to give the audience what they want. they’re afraid of being edged out of the story and out of the show and so they feel they have to present this big drama to stay relevant. so, in the season finale, they have an over the top fight and “break up.” and in a way, this is crucial: the struggles of their relationship have been really important to maintaining the soap style micronarrative pull of “the hills.” but it’s also why heidi and spencer can come off as inauthentic, because sometimes their oft-professed desire to be stars overwhelms their ability to seem like regular human beings. because heidi wants to be a singer and spencer wants to be a politician, but all we want them to be is themselves, heidi and spencer, a couple that we watch on TV.

lauren, meanwhile, is boring and self-assured enough of the stability of her role to stay boring (i.e. to be herself). while heidi and spencer are performative in terms of plot, i think lauren only performs in the moment, with her eyes, with her face. because what really happened to her this season? nothing much at all. she worked a lot, she partied occasionally, she went on a couple of dates that didn’t really go anywhere, she fought briefly with an ex-friend. it’s not really an exciting life, i bet that’s how a lot of people you know spent their fall. yet she was the star of and her life was the story of a major, popular television show that millions of people followed, rapt, and she’s boring, gloriously boring, and that’s incredible. and i hope she gets more boring, because that’s what the show is really about, at least to me, not big trips to paris or catfights, it’s moments like seeing lauren cram all those pairs of shoes into her suitcase when she’s packing for paris and her telling audrina that she’s taking black ones because they match everything. maybe it was rehearsed, maybe it was blocked out by jason sands, maybe it was scripted, maybe there were storyboards and miniatures and 3d rendered pre viz, but it doesn’t matter; it feels so true that i don’t care whether it actually is or not.

in the player is my version of the song “what’ll i do” by irving berlin. i first heard nellie mckay’s version, which led me to the doris day version, which is probably my favorite, although the harry nilsson version is also pretty incredible. anyway it’s one of my favorite songs and it’s so simple and beautiful, just a repeated verse and a chorus (well, also there’s an intro but i cut that because it’s dated). this is a really rough take and normally i would have time to rerecord it but i don’t, so this is it until i have time to fix it up. the song is addressed to a lover who is leaving, and, as the chorus makes clear, all that the singer has left is a photograph, a weak representation of the flesh and blood person. the song is about a lost lover, but i think it could also be addressed to a television show on the eve of a season finale. the relationship, at least for now, has come to an end, and all that the viewer is left with is reruns. reruns are good and comforting things, but they don’t give us anything more than we already have. we don’t watch them to remember what happened to the characters, we watch them as records, to try to remember the experience of watching them for the first time, to try to get at it again. which is of course impossible, but it beats the alternative, which is nothing.

thank you very much to everyone who read this and wrote about it or in it or to me; i really and truly appreciate it and you. i am moving to south korea in about a week (yes, i did schedule this major global move around “the hills” season finale; if it’s not abundantly clear already, i have issues), but, besides maybe a one or two week break to get settled, i will still be posting at least a song and some kind of prose piece every week and probably more, so please do come back. do you want to be friends? mark yes or no and pass it back.