the hills season 3 finale

December 11, 2007

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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.