Six Characters in Search of a Blogger

2.7 The Seventh Day: Over The Hill(s)
November 23, 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Guys from "The Hills"

I’m much older than the average viewer of The Hills.  It’s something I know and accept.  But it sometimes gives me comfort to think that if I were suddenly stranded in an elevator with a bunch of teenage girls we’d have something to talk about–at least for an hour or so.  Because I haven’t seen Twilight yet.  That’s on my “to do” list.

What remains in my mind after a rather difficult week of blog posts (it’s really hard to be thoughtful about such a thoughtless group of characters), is how much The Hills has played with the definition of reality TV.  One only needs to look at gossip magazines to realize how far the show veers away from what’s actually true.  Take, for instance, the on-again, off-again nature of Heidi and Spencer’s romance on screen; yet somehow, in celebrity magazines and gossip profiles they have always been together, without interruption.  And seemingly happy.  Or take the fact that Lauren has conducted at least one relationship off-camera, but claims on the show she’s “not dating anyone.” 

Now some of this variation between what’s true and what’s not may have to do with the time lapse between tapings and when the episode is actually shown (it’s typically several months from taping to airing); but ultimately, The Hills appears disingenuous because its producers engage in some questionable practices.  They cherry-pick elements of their stars’ lives to share with the audience; they re-stage scenes after they have already happened; they deliberately create provocative situations by placing antagonistic people together in awkward moments; they ask leading questions before they record characters’ on-camera conversations.  And we, as viewers, become a bit annoyed because we feel manipulated, too.  Because we have a right to the truth–isn’t that what the show is supposed to be about?  “Reality?”  

Susan Sontag, in her brilliant On Photography (written more than 30 years ago, but still relevant today), wrote “To photograph people is to violate them…It turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.”  I don’t know what it is about us as a society that craves the fame that is, in some sense, a possession.  We have such a voracious hunger for information about those in the public spotlight–think of Princess Diana, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan to name a few–a hunger that tends to destroy what it creates. (We have as examples of this destruction the sobering death of Diana, and on-camera implosion of Spears and Lohan with their various breakdowns and stints in rehab.)  

To me, it leads to larger questions about celebrity–like, is it truly possible for a celebrity to have a private life?  And is the sacrifice of privacy worth the reward it brings?  And how does constant public attention change someone?   

Keeping these questions in mind, I think we walk a dangerous line by putting average people on certain “manipulated” dramatic reality shows (like The Hills and its predecessor, Laguna Beach) by making their lives the subjects of plot lines and their personal choices subject to scrutiny.  This is especially true for the kids on The Hills–because by playing themselves, they are putting themselves on display for our consumption in an unprecedented way.  We, as their audience, then take their lives as possessions for our commentary, our curiosity, our hopes, our scorn.  

Will they survive the experience of fame without the foundation of talent it’s often built on?  And what will happen to them when the show ends and they are no longer in the spotlight?  I guess we will have to wait and see if, like so many who have come before them, they will become victims of the celebrity they craved.


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