the fauxdacity of soaps

September 5, 2008

imagine for a second that you’re bristol palin. imagine that it’s monday night and that earlier in the afternoon, millions of people around the country and around the world found out that you fucked up and that you’re knocked up. imagine that they found out and it’s not like funny katherine heigl knocked up and it’s not like funny juno knocked up, it’s just knocked up, it just sucks, it just does. and it’s the night after everybody in the world found out about this, that you’re knocked up, and you’re just so tired. your body is tired because, hey, you’re pregnant, and you’ve been up all day after not being able sleep on the weird, different bed in the hotel, but mostly you’re just tired of it, of all of it, the great big mass of it that’s pressing in on you from every direction. you’re stuck in this hotel room in minnesota, of all places, and you can’t go anywhere or do anything because then people would take your picture, there would be flashes everywhere and video and microphones, and so that’s not allowed, and you don’t want it anyway. and your stupid fucking boyfriend is still in alaska and his phone isn’t working cause of all the reporters calling it and you don’t even know why you want to talk to him, really, but you just want something that’s not this, that’s not it. and you’re in this hotel room and you’ve had to be around all these people all day, all of them, your family and then the rest of them, the sweaty men in shirtsleeves and women in their thick-cut pantsuits, and there’s never any break from it, there’s never any rest, it’s lights, camera, action, even though there aren’t any of those things in the room, no, no cameras near you, “no cameras near bristol,” they said, not yet, but it feels like you have to be on now, all the time, that there could always be someone watching you, looking at you, staring.

it’s late and your little sister has gone to bed and all the adults are having a meeting about something, probably you, probably about what you’ve done and what it means and how you changed things and how people are reacting, and because of this, you get a minute to yourself in the empty hotel room. you’re hungry, because, hey, you’re pregnant, but there’s no food in the room except the mini bar and you know you’re probably not supposed to touch the mini bar but at this point, seriously, you feel like if you want some oreos, well, it’s your decision to make, not anybody else’s, so you take the oreos and you rip open the package. you eat them fast and they’re so good, they fill something up inside of you not just your stomach. the mini bar is still open and you look at the alcohol, the little bottles, and you think about what it would taste like to drink them, to drink them all, what if they came in and found you on the bed, all drunk and passed out and fucked up, that’s what levi called it, “fucked up.” you remember that one time with levi at his friend’s house, when you took a gulp of whiskey from the bottle in the underwear drawer and it burned and you thought about how people in movies drink whiskey and it burns and you thought about your dad drinking whiskey and how he didn’t act like it burned and then levi took the bottle and then the lights went off. you’re sitting there on the bed with your fingers all covered in the oreo crumbs and the empty package in your lap and it’s so quiet in the room all of a sudden, so quiet after all the people talking all day, and you would think it feels good but it doesn’t, because even though they’re not there and they’re not talking, you can still hear them, in your head, all their voices, all talking about you and about what people think about you and about what people are saying about you and about what is to be done with your situation. you’re hearing all those things and it’s so horrifying but you can’t turn it off because it’s in your head. so instead of turning something off, you turn something on, the TV. you turn it on and start changing channels. what do you watch?

okay, okay, i’ll cut the overwrought fan fiction but let’s talk about daughters, for serious.

daughters, daughters, daughters. they’re all everybody’s talking about lately. hillary and obama both talked about daughters and when hillary dropped out, obama talked about daughters even more, to make sure we got it. in his speech at the convention, he talked about daughters, he mentioned them over and over, to make sure we got it, and after the speech brought them up on stage and hugged them, right in front of america. and now, the focus of our presidential election isn’t on the candidates, it’s on another daughter, someone else’s daughter. it’s on bristol palin, who got knocked up.

america, for all this talk about daughters, do you know who your daughters are really listening to, whose every word and glance they’re following, who they actually care about? it’s not barack and it’s sure as hell not john mccain. it’s not joe biden and it’s not sarah palin and it’s not even hillary clinton. instead, for millions of them, for millions of eligible and soon to be eligible female voters, it’s LC, it’s heidi, it’s lo and audrina and whitney. you might think that’s bad or wrong, that it makes them stupid or vapid, that they’re wasting their time on trivial things when they could be learning about “the important stuff.” i don’t agree.

the new 90210 premiered this week and, leading up that, everybody was talking about it, too, mostly in that binary “will it be good?” or “will it suck?” kind of way, but also in that “i remember way back when” nostalgic kind of way. now, i will go on record as not being anything close to an expert on the show and actually only having seen it a few times. i recognize this as a big gap in my cultural cred, especially since i am obsessed with watching what is in some ways a spiritual sequel to the show. but people, really, did 90210 teach you anything about what life in the real world is like? did it teach you to understand the world? did it teach you how you were supposed to live your life? i wasn’t an adult then so i can’t say for sure, i can’t understand the cultural environment of the time, but my feeling based on wikipedian speculation and reading people’s reactions to the show and nostalgia about it and comparison of it to the hills is no, it didn’t, at least not in the way that the hills does. instead, it was what gossip girl is now: kind of a pseudo-campy/pseudo-serious look at this group of young people in this exciting urban atmosphere, full of pretty actors playing ugly characters. it allowed you to kinda identify with the characters/kinda snark on them, it told a simple morality tale about how the money and drugs and sex corrupts these young people and hurts them morally but how some of them are still good deep inside and blah blah blah.  i’m really talking out of my ass but, in sum, it was a soapy drama, a TV show, it was entertainment, it was fun.

but the hills is so much more than gossip girl or 90210 and so much more than a TV show and so much more than entertainment (not least because, in and of itself, it’s not really very entertaining, as some people have made a fetish of saying over and over again in slightly different ways). what it is is this kind of primer for how to live in the twenty first century, both how to exist in the world and how to observe it and understand it and interpret what it all means. i was talking about the nouveau roman last week, but the hills isn’t life: a user’s manual, it’s a user’s manual for life. for its audience, watching the hills is providing the critical/analytical/performative tool that they need to live in and understand contemporary american society. the best/ only way i know to illustrate this is to compare things on the show to things happening in the election.

to start, watch this video of barack obama. this is a loop i cut from the official obama campaign video of his convention speech. the video itself has all these “i have a dream” aping cutaways to the crowd during the speech, cutaways that fail to be moving just as a function of aesthetics; that is, color hi def video of fat people in t-shirts in a stadium just doesn’t have quite the gravitas of grainy black and white film of soldiers and folks garbed in their mad men vestments, sweating and smoking cigarettes on the mall. i digress. anyway, before the actual speech begins, there’s a build-up of these vérité moments of the prep backstage, sort of like in concert films when they show the band psyching themselves out and then walking through the bowels of the stadium to the stage. the shot i’ve looped is one of obama, his eyes closed, mentally centering himself before he goes out to make one of the most important speeches of his career to 75,000 live screaming humans and millions more watching all around the world.

before reality TV, especially before second wave reality TV like the hills, the way we would’ve interpreted this moment is with that word i used earlier, vérité. we would have thought about this as vérité, like, the medium of this shaky handheld cheap DV camera is giving us this secret, unfiltered glimpse into the real obama, the man behind the mask, not the one that makes the big speeches, but the private soul that lives behind closed doors. but what the hills has done is broken the “real-fake” binary forever and allows us to see this moment for what it really is. of course, this moment with obama is, in one sense, completely real. the kind of focus you need to prepare yourself to appear before that many people and make a speech must be incredible. at the same time, i think you have to be kidding yourself to say that he’s not aware that there’s a camera around him, expecting him to look deep, focused, and presidential, and that, because of this, that he isn’t at least subconsciously projecting this look that is deep, focused, and presidential. the genuine essence and the performance are melded, inextricably joined, the peanut butter of the real all swirled together with the sweet jelly of artifice.

let’s keep going. remember the big deal about hillary clinton breaking down and crying after iowa. there was that viral video clip of her getting emotional at whatever campaign stop that was, right before new hampshire, in this moment she was talking not about policy but about basic human feelings. i wrote an elliptical prose poem type thing about this at the time but i’ll repeat myself, in blunter, cruder language. what was she doing? did she genuinely begin crying and genuinely continue crying because she just couldn’t take it anymore? did she genuinely begin crying and then realize that it might be a politically advantageous thing to continue doing and so played it up? or was it all fake from the start, was it a carefully deployed, last-ditch attempt at pathos, planned to engender support in new hampshire? these are the same questions that every good scene on the hills raises. what is real, what is fake, what is genuine, what is not, what is the balance, can these things coexist?

beyond the fake-real issues raised by what hillary herself did, think about the reaction. TV pundits in well-lit studios and workers around water coolers and executives in boardrooms, they were all talking about this moment, about hillary clinton’s crying and whether she was doing it for real or whether she was faking it and what did that mean and did that make her more likeable or less and did it make her more electable or less. this is basically the same level of discourse being employed at the same time by teenage girls in their bedrooms talking about the hills, discussing the way lauren looked at brody at the end of the episode and did that mean she liked him or not and do you think she really really likes or does she just like him for the show and so on and so forth.

for someone like bristol palin, or for any other seventeen year old growing up in america, the hills is instructive in two modes, the performative and the interpretive. in the performative sense understanding this real-fake paradox is essential for knowing how to be. imagine you’re bristol palin and someone asks you if you’re really in love with your boyfriend. how do you respond? how do you balance what you really feel inside with what you want people to think about you with what you want to say for your mom with how your boyfriend feels? but this is not just for the bristol palins of the world; fame is a mask that eats into the face but all of us, even the nonfamous, wear masks sometimes. the hills is instructive because it lets us know that to be real, sometimes you have to be fake and that just because you’re being fake, it doesn’t mean you’re not real, somehow, somewhere, inside. in the interpretive sense, it’s important because it forces you to confront the fact that other people aren’t as simple as characters in the two dimensional teen movies you watch but are just as contradictory and paradoxical, just as real and fake, as you are.

want more? how about the whole john edwards affair? what strikes me about that is that his affair was literally enabled by its own documentation. the idea of hiring rielle hunter to create these videos was, at least ostensibly, to show the “real” john edwards. the problem was that the john edwards that was shown was maybe a little more real than he would’ve liked. as a result of this documentary impulse, though, we have these incredible videos left over, which, like hills episodes, are completely banal and facile on the surface but bubble under with juicy subtext. in the video above, directly addressing the camera, john edwards talks about how difficult it is to be real and fake at the same time:

“you’re trained to be careful, to close off if it feel sensitive, to close off if it feels personal. i have to tell myself…i’m trying hard to do it, but you know we’re so conditioned, we’re conditioned to say the same things, to say what we say, we’re conditioned to be political. and it’s hard to shed all that. i can be in the middle of being what feels real and authentic to me and i’ll get into a little reel in my head, you know, i can see it happening and i have to pull myself back out. i think it helps, though, that you guys are filming all the time and not just when i’m standing in front of a big crowd speaking.

it’s funny because he’s talking about this real-fake paradox in the same kind of way that lauren conrad might talk about her life, directly to the camera in the interview segment on the hills: aftershow. i also think his use of the word “reel” there is very interesting, based on the different connotations of that word. i initially heard it as “reel” as in “schpiel,” like, a routine that he has to go through, the proverbial dog and pony show. you can also read it as edwards’ country boy roots revealing themselves, so, “reel” like line dancing, like a set of rigid, unnatural postures and positions you put your body through so that you can move in concert with others. there’s also “reel” in the cinematic sense, like the reel of DV tape that was recording edwards at that very second. a correspondent pointed out that edwards’ mistress is named “rielle.” finally, in terms of homophones, there’s that word we just can’t escape: “real.”

what all this reminds me of is the sex tape rumors that were such a driving force behind the rise in popularity of the hills, the rumors which helped to spark the ratings and publicity bump that occured around the beginning of the third season. at that time, spencer pratt was claiming with “1000%” certainty that a sex tape of lauren conrad existed. conrad, of course, completely and fervently denied this. the tension between them and the promise of this hyperreal document (which never manifested itself) was perfect tabloid and message board and blog fodder. along these lines, let us remember that the thing that made edwards finally admit his dalliance seemed to be the threat that photos or video, that some sort of document of the affair was going to be released – that’s what did it, that’s what forced him to get “real” and tell the truth.

speaking of tabloid fodder, remember that the john edwards story was broken not by the new york times or the washington post but by the national enquirer, a tabloid, the kind of tony journalistic organ that sits above tic tacs and chapstick at the checkout counter. think about that: the source of this major political news was a tabloid, just like us weekly. a few days ago, us weekly was attacked by the mccain campaign and its supporters for their puffy, pink exposé of sarah palin. some have drawn the comparison with the more fawning approach that the tabloid took in their profile of the intensely photogenic, almost brangelenic obama family. we could discuss the relative merits of those pieces, but all i can think about is that this magazine, which a desperate mccain rep is holding up as an exemplar of mainstream media liberal bias, is the same featherweight checkout counter glossy that’s played host to countless pictures of, listicles about, interviews with, and feature articles starring lauren conrad and heidi montag.

or let’s just move on to the big stuff. i mean, i don’t want to dwell on this or celebrate because we’re not supposed to, right? but FAKE PREGNANCY! REAL PREGNANCY! FAKE PREGNANCY! REAL PREGNANCY!!! what did i and scads of teenage and twenty something daughters read about this spring? why, how heidi montag and spencer pratt had planned a fake pregnancy to garner attention for themselves. “”This summer, Heidi plans to wear loose clothes and even strap on some padding around her waist to make it appear as if she’s about three months along. The plan is to get the baby rumor mill going so she can get photographed more. She and Spencer won’t confirm or deny the pregnancy so they can keep everyone guessing.” what were i and millions of americans talking about over the past week? why, whether the vice presidential candidate for the republican party had faked her pregnancy. as with the whole hills sex tape controversy, there were blatant lies, there were weird, sketchy details, there were conspiracy theories a gogo. then, in a soap opera style plot twist, it was revealed that no, this crazy thing wasn’t true but hey, this one is! oh, bristol palin.

people talk about the evils of identity politics and how we should avoid them, how we shouldn’t talk about sarah palin’s or barack obama’s personal lives, but i think that in this race to do so is completely unavoidable. we have to talk about the politics of the candidates’ identities because they’re using their identities to play politics, whether it’s barack obama stumping about a woman from kansas and a man from kenya or sarah palin posing in a bikini with a rifle. of course, this is all like the hills, in which heidi and lauren don’t have the safety net of “character” to fall back on, who can’t say, “oh, that’s not me, that’s just this fictional person I play on TV.” they can’t declare things off limits or unfair game – it’s all out there.

another thing is that the hills, just like the election, is all about choice. nothing is didactically meted out, you choose what you think. you choose what of the show you believe and what you think is fake. you choose who you support and who you agree with, who you ally with and who identify with. this choice, i think, is just a micro version of the american political machine. think of those branded social networks based around the hills and other mtv shows and then the ones based around hils and barack. look at form, function, style: what is the distance between iamonmtv, where viewers sign up and “follow” the stars with whom they most identify, and mybarackobama, where voters sign up to “follow” the candidate they want to support? what’s the distance between whitney answering questions from her followers on iamonmtv and barack obama sending us all a 3 AM text message? what’s the distance between megan mccain (another daughter) shilling for her dad with her blog itunes playlists and audrina or lauren’s blogs shilling for their own personal causes? what’s the distance between team heidi and team hillary?

because these choices of team heidi and team lauren aren’t simple “i like the green power ranger better than the red power ranger” kind of choices. for the girls who really care about the show, they’re lifestyle choices. they mean something. if you’re team lauren, that signifies something about you. if you’re team heidi, that signifies something about you. these relationships with media icons are the training wheels for the relationships they will have or do have with their presidential candidates.

speaking of choice, heidi montag made this joke the other day about how she was angry with john mccain not choosing her as his running mate. look at it from her perspective. i mean, here he is, he’s already admitted that he’s a fan of the hills and heidi has gone to the trouble of endorsing him and going out to lunch with his daughter a couple of times and then at the last minute he picks a brunette from alaska.

it’s funny because the way sarah palin was chosen is, in many ways, just like the way heidi montag was chosen for the hills. if you strip all the fame away from heidi montag, if we pretend that she’s just a normal girl what’s special about her, what sets her apart? nothing, really, she’s just normal. kind of pretty, sort of ambitious, but mostly normal. and, without the magic ticket she was given into the world of celebrity, into the show, that’s how she would’ve probably stayed, a normal girl from a small town in colorado.

of course, that’s the sarah palin narrative, too: plucked from the relative obscurity of the alaskan wilderness into the national spotlight, with the barest of real experience or qualifications but with scads of those particular qualities that resonate with the american public: personality, relatability, normality. i read this old interview in which sarah palin described the possibility of her being vice president as “so far in outer space.” to me, she sounds like carrie underwood talking about what it would be like to win american idol. in a sense, of course, that’s exactly what she’s talking about, this dream of american idolatry. for so many boys and girls in our country today, that is the american dream. from the snow-capped rockies of colorado to the red hills of georgia (but not only there), that’s what they dream of, that, suddenly, miraculously, the weight of attention will descend upon them like some sort of televisual rapture, that it will elevate them into the firmament of public consciousness, that it will render their essence into something bold and beautiful that the mass of the american public will take in through wifi or save to their tivos or have delivered via google reader. sarah palin is, as they say, living the dream.

one of the republicans’ big talking points against obama is that he’s a “celebrity.” while i don’t think that’s a bad thing, i don’t disagree with them on one count: obama definitely is a celebrity. he’s the classic hollywood kind of celebrity, the dashing, dapper george clooney or cary grant style leading man. he’s a celebrity because of what makes him special, what makes him exceptional, what makes him better and different than all the rest of us. he’s a movie star. sarah palin is a celebrity, too, but she’s the new kind of celebrity, like heidi montag or carrie underwood. instead of being famous for what makes her special, she’s famous for what makes her normal, the girl next door who wins a date with tad hamilton. she’s a TV star. while twenty years ago that would’ve have made her no competition at all for obama (reagan hollywood blah blah), in today’s cultural climate, i’m not so sure. she’s a TV star and that’s what scares me the most about her.

people keep ridiculing sarah palin for having been a beauty queen and posting in a mocking way those dated glamour shots and gauche bikini pics of her, as if to say “this could be our nation’s vice president”? it reeks of cheap sexism to me. personally, i feel there are a hell of a lot of reasons why sarah palin shouldn’t be vice president, but i think her pageant skills are one of the reasons she was a good choice for mccain to make. i mean, what is the distance between that debate about the couture choices of barack obama (re: lapels) and sarah palin strutting around in the swimsuit competition? what’s the distance between the youtube town hall and that hallowed Q and A session that takes place at every beauty pageant, in which the candidates are asked those cliché questions about “world peace” and “geography.”

your response to this rich pageant of american public life might be to rail against how this is all so stupid or inconsequential or even immoral or disgusting. and you might be right, it might be all of those things, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is, that this is the state of popular discourse. i have no interest in passing moral judgements on things like this; to do so seems like bad punk music to me, just angry whining that might provide you with some smug self satisfaction but nothing more, no enlightenment. i don’t know if i can offer enlightenment, either, but i think asking “why?” or “how?” is much more productive than saying “yes” or “no” or “good” or “bad.” i love america and if you love someone, it’s better to try to understand them and see the good in them than to constantly harp on their forfeits and inadequacies. you can hate the sin if you want (i don’t), but quit hating the sinner, because as americans, we’re all sinners, every one.

i know this is all getting kind of out there, trust me, i know. a valid criticism of this is whether what i’m doing here is trying to make my particular mania into a cultural universal. i know that i more than anyone am predisposed to view everything through the lens of the hills. i’ve been writing about it for a year and i’ve been talking about it with friends for longer. i think this show is more important than probably anybody else, besides maybe some of those sixteen year old daughters i talked about earlier. i’ve written over a hundred thousand words about this and why it is i think so and what it all means. what’s funny is that i don’t even really like the show anymore. i’m bored with it, i don’t enjoy watching it. i don’t think it’s as well made as it used to be. i don’t own the DVDs or the spin off book, i don’t download the soundtrack, i don’t buy the tabloids, i don’t hang out in the virtual hills. i don’t even watch reruns of it because i have to watch it so intensely when i write about it that it becomes this dead husk of a thing, used and wilted.

the thing is this show is really fucking up my life. i won’t even talk about my personal life because the less said the better but i mean my life as an artist. because that little blip of a short short i wrote about bristol palin at the top of the page? even though a lot of the details are total bullshit (was she even in minnesota then? i don’t know.) and even though it’s kind of maudlin and even though we could argue pointlessly all day about whether i’m rendering anything close to her psychological state or her relationships with her family or to politics, to me, it’s so alive, more alive than any of the fiction i’ve been trying to write lately, probably more than any of the fiction i’ve written since i wrote about heidi montag watching dharma and greg. it’s alive to me not because of the quality of the writing but simply because it’s about a real person, because it’s about her, bristol palin, but at the same time because it’s about a fake person, because i am allowing myself to animate her, to pull her marionette strings in the directions i want, to fill in details that please me, to edit and remix her essence. in creative writing workshops, one of the dead horses we beat are “stakes”; characters have to have stakes, things that are important to them and are at risk in the story. writing about real people means the stakes are automatic, because their problems and solutions, their joy and sadness, those are real, too, and i get to play with them, and so not only do they have stakes but i have stakes. concurrently, the reader, who has some kind of relationship with whoever this person is that exists outside the world of my story, the reader has stakes, too. we’ve all got stakes, we’re all high rollers. i feel like if if i admit that my characters are totally fake, i lose all the stakes, like dostoevsky at one of his casinos in a seventh seal sort of existential craps game and putting the power of fiction down and losing it to the house and hating himself even more because now he can’t dramatize his fears and dreams and hatred and love in long passionate monologues but instead has to write insipid personal essays with long run-on sentences and no capitalization in his blog. it’s like i’m sentenced to that circle of hell. if suddenly all the connotation and allusion in my little bristol palin story were stripped from it, if you couldn’t connect my dots to something existing in the real world, if it was just about some “fictional character,” well, who cares, what does that matter, why do we need to read about that? jesus, don’t get me a freudian or a jungian, i need a pirandellian.

i’m hoping this feeling is just a phase or that it’s writer’s block which i’m camouflaging from myself by having this kind of metafictional identity crisis – that’s what i hope. but i don’t know. you might say,” well, maybe you shouldn’t try to be a fiction writer, maybe you should be a journalist.” but the thing is, i could never be a journalist because i don’t care at all about the truth. i care about the truth as it interests me and the truth as it makes the bones of good story and the truth for what I can mine from it and refine into something better. i care about the truth as a raw material but as nothing more, i see it as being something like coal – largely boring and utilitarian but occasionally yielding the possibility of diamonds.

so i’m stuck in this fucked up rock/hard place situation where fiction doesn’t move me but neither does reality, where only things that exist in this weird nether realm in between make me feel anything at all. i’m stuck in this uncanny valley where nothing satisfies me except performances and simulations, where i love only liars and narcissists and beauty queens, and it’s like i’m sisyphus 2.0 – every word i write feels like a handhold to pull myself out of this but, as i try to climb up, my feet are just digging me in deeper and deeper. the hills are towering all around me and they cast shadows that cut into the landscape and create scary, dark places where i don’t want to go.

at the same time, even though it’s not really where i want to be, it’s where i feel i have to be. because, america, that’s where we are, you and me and lo and LC and all your sons and daughters. we’re a country that is completely obsessed with authenticity and we are, simultaneously, a country that is completely inauthentic. we have gaps and lacks in our veneers and big fault line cracks in our facades. i don’t think that makes us weak, though, i think it makes us strong. do we contradict ourselves? sure, we contradict ourselves. we are large, we contain multitudes. the hills is a better metaphor for that than any other piece of art i know, and that’s why, even if i don’t like it, i still have to watch. it’s why i think you should watch, too.

she speaks in your voice, american, and there’s a look in her eyes….well, i don’t know what it means. do you?

[/end quarterly overblown livejournal post]


  • another repetition that i should have included in the video but didn’t was lo’s long walk across the yard into a dramatic confrontation with audrina in the first episode of this season which was a clear repetition of lauren’s long walk across the yard into a dramatic confrontation from last season’s finale. again, the newer version was much weaker. also the previously discussed “whitney is good at work” scene.
  • robbe-grillet probably would have liked the hills: “But the new realism that Robbe-Grillet advocates with the nouveau roman is not the rendering of the “lifelike” and the “typical.” “In this new realism,” he writes, “it is therefore no longer verisimilitude that is at issue. The small detail which ‘rings true’ no longer holds the attention of the novelist . . . ; what strikes him . . . is more likely, on the contrary, the little detail that rings false.””
  • this season, though, for all its repetition and lack of emotion, is striking me as less nouveau roman, less l’ecriture feminine, and more…uh…clip show? “Clip shows today tend to offset such criticism by trying to make the frame tale surrounding the clips compelling, or by presenting clip shows without any framing device. A show might also diffuse the awkwardness by indulging in self-parody, explicitly acknowledging or intentionally over-playing the device.”
  • still, even if the art of the hills isn’t as cutting edge as it once was, the commerce is totally avant garde. from media week: “As MTV’s flagship hit, The Hills functions as a laboratory of sorts for the ad sales and marketing people, a venue where MTV can experiment with pod structure and an array of pod-busting initiatives. “
  • (related: the salary thing which everybody has posted already)
  • i haven’t seen last year at marienbad. i really really want to. netflix doesn’t deliver to korea so i wish people would stop uploading divx cam copies of the house bunny and get on that, please.
  • a french role playing game about the hills. i’m not kidding. (via HLJ)
  • my favorite book about repetition and reenactments
  • did anybody else hear an echo of mccain in the doug-lauren “yr house/yr laguna house” exchange?
  • also on politics, a correspondent sent in this very entertaining comparison of speidi and the clintons. not to horn toot, but i still feel that i set the standard for this sort of thing (also).
  • notes on lo
  • there are few things i dislike more than improv/sketch comedy. cats, fake cheese, joy. i like janeane garofalo, though i much prefer rush or sean to air america.
  • i just don’t know what do with overdosin. i just don’t. i feel much more comfortable with the fake virgin thing since i basically already covered it in my madonna/the madonna fake family planning discussion.



  • a bit that got cut from the monologue: “if lauren and heidi are feminist heros, spencer is definitely some sort of existential hero. he’s stuck in this land of women where he is not in charge and can’t be, but he’s smart, he recognizes his situation and recognizes that he’s not in charge, that the old style of masculine posturing and action won’t do anything for him. therefore, he rebels by inaction, not by bowing up his chest or waving around his dick or shoving his hand up skirts, but by doing absolutely nothing. he rebels against his powerlessness by reveling in it, by embracing it, by spending all his time on the couch, growing out his ugly facial hair like some homebound Samson, playing XBOX and sleeping till noon.”
  • cause everybody knows / she’s a femme fatale.
  • i love justinbobby eternally for wearing a leather jacket to a pool party in los angeles in the summer.
  • the interface seems kind of retarded to me but i still think this is a very smart move (here’s a thought, mtv: most people who buy online music do it through itunes. in order to spend their money on your site, they will want to be comfortable with it. one way to make them comfortable is to give them something they are familiar with. so, how about ripping off itunes instead of giving me this confusing, laggy broke-ass wheel-carousel shit?)
  • this site, meanwhile, continues to be a total letdown. it makes nonsociety look good.
  • do i even have to draw the connection?  we can rebuild her, we have the technology, blah blah blah.
  • this report makes me almost as happy as when i heard that anecdote about michelle obama being able to recognize brady bunch episodes by the opening shots.  live every week like it’s shark week.

i had to sit through the trailer for the house bunny about fifty times to capture these clips. stupid wordpress won’t let me embed the high quality version but please click through and watch that instead – it’s much prettier.



July 31, 2008

“A typical week begins with producers calling the core cast members on Sunday and getting intel on what’s happened to them over the weekend. An e-mail update is sent to the staff that night so everyone can prepare for Monday’s ”story meeting,” in which the producers and story editors sit around and dissect the Hills girls’ personal and social lives. From that, they determine whom to film during the week. (On average, it takes editors four to six weeks to cull through the footage and put together an episode.) Lauren and her costars are forbidden to attend these meetings. ”I would love to sit through one of those,” says Lauren, ”because it’s really them being like, ‘Yo, did you hear what this person said?”’

OMG DREAM JOB!!! this is a really good article, maybe the best one i’ve ever read about “the hills.” there is a lot i would like to say about it but i am trying to avoid burning out and using up all my material before the season even starts. (unless someone wants to quote me in something that i can add to my sad, flimsy resume since i spent this year writing a blog about “the hills” instead of submitting stories to small literary magazines like i was supposed to and so now i have to build a portfolio and do tedious grad school applications at the exact same time that i am writing obsessively and at great length and hopefully with video illustrations about this (possibly final) season of the most important show on television.)

on a related note, today is my one year anniversary! thanks so much to everyone who read, commented, or wrote or linked to me, especially virginia heffernan, rex sorgatz, michael newman, and also crypto who i never ever link to but who is always writing the nicest fucking things about me.

117 posts (favorite #1,2,3)

126,000 words (roughly) (favorite #1,#2)

196 comments (favorite)

6 chapters of fan fiction (favorite)

50 songs (favorite)

8 videos (favorite)

75,844 hits (favorite)

dear heidi, part 3

June 18, 2008


  • rampant speculation
  • great monologue about actresses who play joan of arc
  • are there people crazier than me? maybe.
  • two quotes from the book i just read:
    1. “in accounting for our love of story-filled lives, escapism seems too brutal a word, suggesting that these stories have nothing to do with us, rather than that they reflect dormant fragments of ourselves. the drama that oedipus lived is not any less our own because we married well and live in a leafy suburb. the extremes of biological lives are fuller articulations of ourselves which the environment has curtailed. the life of nelson may be fascinating to someone who would not dare to row across the serpentine because, containing in a fully developed form so many of our half-formulated fantasies, it constitutes an exercise in self knowledge.”
    2. “…one may suggest a connection between attachment and the biographical impulse, that is, an impulse to know another fully. every attachment involes a more or less conscious process of biography [as one works out dates, characteristics, favoured wash cycles and snacks…], much as a true biography demands a more or less conscious emotional relationship between author and subject. what else could account for the gargantuan energy required to finish such a book?”
  • “For me it was a lot like creating the Sims,” she explained…”

dear heidi, part 2

June 8, 2008


cracked actors

June 1, 2008

the LA times continues to deliver on “hills” related news. their story today? “Former cast members of ‘The Hills’ complain of bad editing, sudden exits”. it’s about the frustration of forgotten secondary characters as lauren and co. leave them in their wake. there is, of course, the requisite bitching from gavin. there is also the sad, sad story of elodie:

Hoping to capitalize on her 15 minutes, Otto quit Bolthouse and started a line of bath and body products, but nothing worked out according to plan. Her time on the show was cut back, and as she waited for a loan to clear on her fledgling company, she tried to find work elsewhere.

“It’s just hard,” she says. During job interviews, prospective employers ignore her resume and just want to know what it was like to work with Montag.

“Everybody thinks my whole life is great,” she says, “that I have my own company and I live at the beach and have a boyfriend and I have my own line and I’m a gazillionaire. But no.”

i don’t really think anybody thinks that, but, still, awfully sad. for me, though, the real joy of the article was the focus on jessica trent, the publicist at people’s revolution who was made to look stupid so that whitney would look comparatively smart. my take on this, from a couple of months ago:

…and either way, the drama is real because la publicist jessica is getting totally bitchslapped by kelly cutrone here. she is not only getting bitchslapped in real life, she is getting bitchslapped on television. it’s similar to the elodie situation: this is not some fake job for her, this is her real job, and at her real job, she is getting upstaged by a TV character. it would be like if i was the cool guy at my office and everybody liked me and then my boss hired jim halpert, like, literally, jim halpert from “the office,” and then i was by comparison forced to be a total loser, even if i was a cool person and i was great at my job. look at jessica’s face in this scene after whitney upstages her. like that is discomfort and hatred and jealousy and just bad feelings all at once and it feels so real. all her friends know she’s on “the hills” and they watch it and i’m sure to reassure her they will say things like “oh, that show is scripted, it’s so fake” and she will say the same thing, but even if that is all completely true, she still got bitchslapped by her boss on television for everybody to see, with her name in a chyron under her so it is tied to her identity forever.

and of course, because of the editing, this is all TOTAL speculation (that should be the alternate title for this blog). we have no idea how long this meeting was, what was discussed, what and who were cut out. it is so highly compressed that who knows what kind of truth it represents. yet we (ok, i) still speculate and search for something in it.

i also made a catty comment about her lipstick, which i regret now that i am trying to write a rhapsodic post about her. her take, from her personal blog:

Well friends….what did you think of tonight? Some day I will have the most amazing book to write. For now, only allowed to say so much. A sweet girl from VA swallowed up into the firey gates of fashion hell. I am laughing as I knew these scenes would be coming up. Though maybe not to the degree they became. I’m sorry my family was so worried about me. Ah well, for some it probably gave them great pleasure to see me appear dimwitted or sad on the mocu-drama, and you know thats fine if it gives some folks some satisfaction. Honestly. For others with more developed minds, they’ll see crafty editing turning a real person into some faux dolt persona for the entertainment sake of the televised machine..

(aside: it seems that we continue to hear this, over and over, time and time again, that editors are the real villains in hollywood, that editing is the deadliest weapon. has that been a horror movie yet? it should be. the evil editor – he splices, he cuts, he renders! i remember being really disturbed by that movie “the final cut” with robin williams but i don’t think it was on purpose. are editors socials pariahs on the reality scene? are they ostracized at cocktail parties, do they get drinks thrown in their faces by celebutantes and realitards?)

jessica trent’s blog is called “la steel magnolia” and is subtitled

l’officiel blog of jessica trent (you may have known me as jessica trent nichols). so many lives in this one life. moved around too much and here’s a way to keep in touch.

yes, all of that. i clicked the link in the LA times article and devoured the contents immediately, in their entirety. it was pleasurable in that obsessive, binge-y sort of way – clicking the “older posts” button again and again is like the sort of decadent sugar trance of digging farther and farther into a pint of ice cream until you convince yourself that there’s not enough to save so you might as well finish it. the feeling i got reading it was a weak echo of the feeling i got the long afternoon months ago when i read the whole of julia allison’s blog. i love doing this sort of thing, even though i rarely am moved enough by a person’s voice to want to. when i do, it’s like the internet equivalent of really connecting with a person and having one of those amazing conversations with them where time just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. of course it’s not really that thing, it’s virtual, it’s voyeuristic and one sided and i’ll admit kind of creepy. it’s not the same as a real relationship. the risk is eliminated, which for a loner like me is wonderful, but then without risk there’s no possibility for anything tangible, anything other than a simulation of epiphany and an imitation of happiness. wow, that’s negative and depressing.

(okay, but now i am coming back to this after ten minutes of idle image grabbing and i thought of memoirs, like the kind you get at the library or at a bookstore. my thought is: if i read a memoir in a long afternoon, if i read speak, memory or experience or my beloved everybody’s autobiography, i wouldn’t be an obsessive weirdo wasting time, i would be a reader, broadening my horizons and filling out my personal canon. i wouldn’t have to feel guilty about it, i could hold the glow of that virtual friendship and empathy and love without self consciousness, i could even be proud of it. so what is the difference? the medium? i read fear of flying in college because i was in love with a girl who loved it and while i thought it was pretty good, i don’t see how it’s any better than julia allison’s blog (i know FOF is a novel, whatever, i don’t need facts to make my points). you read memoir because you want to feel close to someone or you want to understand them more deeply or you want to hear their story in their words. why does it matter if that experience comes on a paper page or on one made of pixels? obviously julia allison is not gertrude stein and leonora epstein isn’t even candace bushnell, but if i get something out of reading them, what’s wrong with that? why must pleasures be guilty?)

((is it perhaps the possibility of communication that makes it feel weird? like, i know i will never be able to talk to martin amis or gertrude stein, but it’s not inconceivable that i could exchange an e-mail with JA? is that why it’s weird, because in a way it’s a little too real and not virtual enough? is it because instead of the dead tree finality and closure of published books, blogs are always living and changing and being updated? is it because, to get back to editing, personal blogs don’t have editors besides the person writing them – there’s no one at 12:38 a.m. when that person’s drunk or horny or alone telling them not to hit the post button and because of their instantaneous nature there’s a lack of polish to them that’s human in an oft beautiful yet also vaguely unsettling way?))

anyway, here are my favorite parts of jessica trent’s blog, for your consideration. what i’m doing is editing, too, but i’m doing it for good, out of love. does that make it any more right or wrong, any more true or false? who knows. it’s at least a little more productive than staring at myself in the mirror and that’s enough for two in the morning.

lauren cries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • best scene ever.

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

  • secondary sources:

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

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

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

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

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

The Hills: Off The Record

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