Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More on The Hills and its strange hybrid of fiction and reality.

I need to amend a statement I made in my previous post on The Hills. In it, I posited the notion that the brilliance of The Hills is, for the most part, a fluke, a product of reality television and celebrity obsession, a coincidental cultural phenomenon. At some point during last night's season finale, I changed my mind. Someone is crafting The Hills, and although I stand by my assertion the show hovers on the brink of destruction at the hands of its producers, I now realize that in many ways, they are responsible for the art that translates to our television screens.

I did not initially appreciate the French New Wave aspect of the cinematography and direction, since I know nothing about French New Wave cinema. But now that it has been brought to my attention, I am more than willing to accept this reading (watching?) of The Hills. I intend to educate myself on the New Wave movement before speaking further on this aspect of the show.

What dawned on me last night was the genius behind the hybrid of fiction and reality that provides a backdrop for The Hills. It is not a fluke or a coincidental phenomenon after all. The producers began by seeking out characters who are already inclined toward soap opera style drama in their personal lives. For some, Heidi and Spencer in particular, this is a calculated and intentional choice. For others, like Lauren, it is a more natural trait. The producers then nudge these characters into scenarios that are reminiscent of soap opera drama. This is where the risk lies, as they direct protagonists and antagonists to frequent the same clubs and restaurants and contrive confrontations between them. In directing the characters, the producers must carefully navigate past the lurking, ever-present danger that their machinations will be too transparent. Then they provide the characters with absurd and ostensibly unearned job opportunities, apartments, wardrobes, connections, and so on, which encourages the drama to unfold on a larger scale. And with these three simple but wonderful steps, they transcend the division between fiction and reality. Something resembling fiction blossoms from the seed of reality, and that seed endows the fiction with a soul that speaks to the viewer on a level beyond most other scripted or reality television programs.

As with nearly every episode of The Hills, last night's episode once again highlighted the added complexity provided by the fact that none of the characters are permitted to acknowledge the existence of the television show itself. This rule of reality television was established when MTV pioneered the medium with Real World. At the time, "Ignore The Cameras No Matter What" was a useful and logical statute. In an ongoing and multi-layered narrative like The Hills, however, this rule can be crippling at times. Some viewers complain that this is distracting, but I generally enjoy the subtext it creates. The frequent sighs and stares and silences so often communicate without words, "Well, you know I can't reference the television show while we're filming, so what am I supposed to say right now?" or "Could we please talk about this after the cameras are gone?" When this subtext is not taken into account, much of the dialogue seems empty and stilted and illogical. But when you become conscious of the enormous elephant in the room and begin to watch the show through this lens, the larger drama comes into focus.

One moment that I found particularly poignant during last night's episode was the conversation between Lauren and Audrina. When Audrina hesitantly accuses Lauren of excluding and ignoring her since moving into the new house with Lo, and Lauren, illogically, weeps and refuses to acknowledge that Audrina is patently correct, I felt the pang of recognition that makes "The Hills" worth watching. Lauren, like many people, has been hurt and betrayed many times, and as a result, she has resolved never to mistreat her friends as she has been so often mistreated. And yet, she has mistreated Audrina, not out of malice but out of carelessness and lack of consideration. She is so attached to the idea of her own goodness, however, that she is blind to her own cruelty. When a person like this is forced to confront her own hurtful behavior, she is almost always reduced to tears, because it is extremely difficult to reconcile a conflict between one's perception of oneself and one's actions.

Perhaps I am reading too much into The Hills. Perhaps I am giving its creators too much credit after all. But maybe a select few Renaissance theater-goers felt that way when they began to perceive the genius in the popular, bawdy plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Like most people, I prefer to see the works of Shakespeare as insightful and beautiful works of art, rather than simply entertainment for the masses. If I choose to view The Hills similarly, I believe that is valid.


Anonymous said...

Great Post. You really built upon last weeks and transitioned the conversation nicely into an analysis of the forces that create the "drama" that is the Hills.

Jessica said...

I think it is really interesting what you say about Lauren. Watching that scene was so frustrating because Audrina is too dumb to think of evidence to support her very valid claims about her friend-- like Lauren and Lo rubbing in her face "our dog has two mommies" or the very obvious fact that they banished her to the "chateau" so they could blame her for hanging out there and not with them.
I think it is totally on point that Lauren's perception of herself and the truth of how she is actually bitchy and selfish collided and all she could do was cry and completely unjustifiably claim "I don't let other people's opinions hurt my friendships"
That is all she does! It's like how our friend in high school when confronted with having a beer bong in his hand by his parents, would just be like "no its not!" When it blatantly was!!!

Anonymous said...

I actually watched this final episode after watching a special about behind the scene activity and scenes that never made it to the screen so I was much more conscious of the unspoken dialog going on than I had been. Very astute of you to be aware of this unacknowledged character without this added information.
I wonder how you would relate this set of characters and their apparent lack of self awareness and unintended cruelty to the generation at large. Or society at large if you will. I mean are they typical or a manufactured phenomenon.