Thursday, August 14, 2008

Explain how: The Hills

Okay, now here is a post in which I'm liable to lose some respect points as either a cultural elitist or as a man with his finger on the pulse -- probably both -- in which I ask someone, anyone, to explain the success of "The Hills" to me.

I am not a snob. Really. I have watched and continue to watch all kinds of shows in all kinds of genres that would get me laughed out of certain critical circles. Hell, I've been mocked on this very blog for my affections for "Beverly Hills 90210" or "American Idol" or other bits of fluff.

But I am completely, utterly, 100 percent baffled by the phenomenon that is "The Hills." Never in my life have I come across a show that is so popular and yet so stultifyingly boring. (And I know from stultifying, having been somehow hypnotized into watching the entire first season of "Big Brother.")

I mean, I get that the women are sort of hot, in a completely boring, vacuous way, and I suppose the guys are too, in a totally inarticulate, d-baggy way. And James Poniewozik has argued that the entire show is beautiful, and that's why people seem fascinated by it.

But this is an obvious cultural blind spot for me, and so I put it to anyone in the audience who actually watches the show and -- and this is the important thing -- genuinely enjoys it on some level, to attempt to explain to me why. I promise not to judge you, and I'll look unkindly on other commenters judging, but with the fourth season premiere of this masterpiece coming up on Monday, I'm trying to figure out if there's some point that's eluded me all this time.

There has to be some reason that people are so obsessed with watching this thing, and reading about its stars in the tabs. It can't all be people watching it ironically, can it?

49 comments:

ellejai said...

I tried to explain it in a story I wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I'm 28 and totally hooked on the show, even though in general, I detest reality TV -- and MTV in general. Here's my attempt at rationalizing my obsession:

Maybe it's straight-talking Lauren, who righteously dresses down her “friends” when they betray her. Or my favorite, Lauren “Lo” Bosworth, who provides bits of comedy and common sense to balance out the melodrama.

Maybe it's oh-my-God-can-anyone-really-be-that-obnoxious Spencer, or all the jaw-droppingly asinine boys in general. (Brody Jenner, Lauren's ever-camera-ready fling, has in his cell phone, a Santa-Claus-like list of girls that includes “Britney Canada Whore.” Really.)

But probably, it's the thrill of watching beautiful people live their beautiful yet ordinary lives. It's the relationships – the squabbles, the gossip, the weepy goodbyes, the deep conversations in valley-girl-ese.

“I think that everyone can change if the right person comes along, and I think that every girl wants to be the right person,” Lauren says in her trademark serious tone, to Lo. “Every girl wants to be the one girl that can change that guy.”

“But why do you have to have a guy that you have to change?” says Lo, her voice curious as usual. “Don't you want to meet somebody that's good already?”

Says Lauren: “That's too easy.”

Rick said...

I can tell you, but you won't be happy...

Two things are going on here- a disappointing reason and a devastating reason.

Brace yourself for Disappointment:
90% of young women identify with at least one of these characters. Regardless of what clique they were in, their clique had its own queen bee, and that queen bee had a lackey and a nemesis. From the preppies to the stoners to the geeks, every cliques' female contingent settles into these roles. LC and Co. resonate with them. Worse still, younger girls look up to them now as the prototypes: this is how we should behave and settle into our roles.

Brace yourself for Devastation:
Remember how Friends was popular in part because we thought of those half dozen as our friends? And how the Cosby Show was popular because we thought of Dr. H as our dad? Millions of young women think of the Hills girls as a clique that they belong to. When they miss an episode, it is as though they have let Lauren down. It doesn't matter if reasonable people say it's vapid; this is what Lauren says we care about this week, so that's what we care about.

The book "Queen Bees & Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman would be some good reading if you want a good look at what's going on. I recommend it to all my female student's parents.



...You've got a daughter, right, Alan?

That First Andrew said...

I am not a fan of the show, but my former roommate was, and I got the feeling talking with him that the dullness is a part of the appeal. There is something reassuring about watching the beautiful people and our supposed social betters leading lives that are so mundane. It makes them far more relateable than if they were going on adventures and following treasure maps or something.

I think another thing that makes the show is the archetypes that feel so familiar. They edit it so you know exactly who you should be rooting for, who is the villain, who is the sidekick, and who you can't trust. They aren't breaking new ground. They are smoothing out the old stuff, and getting to its base. I wish Joseph Campbell were alive to write about Lauren Conrad...

Amy said...

This may sound naive, but I am in the "I just don't get it" corner, and I have never been able to figure this out....is it a reality show or scripted?

I really don't know, is it the worst writing on tv or just really simple people talking?

isaac_spaceman said...

I haven't watched The Hills, ever, but based on that picture I might start. Does that answer your question? I think it might.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I haven't watched The Hills, ever, but based on that picture I might start. Does that answer your question? I think it might.

Like I said in the original post, they ain't ugly, and I'd be a lot more comfortable if that was the primary motivating factor for the audience.

Mon Chi Chi said...

It'd be easier to explain how asprin works.

But to attempt: it's kind of the same reason that poor people are Republicans. The Hills is an image that many, many teenagers in the MTV demographic aspire to be. For adults, it more of a shake-your-head kind of thing. And for many men, it's a lust thing.

That's the best I can do.

Mon Chi Chi said...

That Republican thing might have sounded a bit off... apologies. To clarify, I intended to say that it is a circumstance of wanting to aspire to an image of success.

Ed said...

Ohhhh! Feathers!

StickUpKid said...

Look, this has nothing to do with "watching beautiful people live their beautiful yet ordinary lives." First off, this is far from "reality." This is staged drama(and I use that word loosely) with cookie cutter guys and girls. You could find people just as beautiful at your local mall or grocery store. This is just more of MTV and all TV ramming down our throat who is "interesting and glamorous." I find almost every one of these shows reprehensible. Brooke Hogan? Really? These people are talentless and boring. Honestly, what unique skills do these people have other than being rich, being fast texters, having good agents and ... well, that’s about it. What is special or exciting about these people's lives? They shop, they throw tantrums, they act like stuck up bitches and d-bags. Are there no interesting people anymore? Have we really run out of ideas so badly that following a bunch of silver spoon holding babies qualifies as entertainment? This is why young girls living in the Heartland of America have 3rd grade vocabs and every high school boy I see in a mall has clearly overspent on his ripped up jeans and T-shirt with a brand name the size of a billboard on it. This is part of the dumbing down of our youth. You want to know why kids don't read a newspaper? Because the jag-offs on shows like this think its square. they’d rather spend $5 on a cup of coffee than give rip that kids their own age are dying in a place they can barely pronounce. I know there are people out there in the world worthy of the money spent to follow their lives around. But I can honestly say that my high school and college years were not spent anything like this trash and neither was anyone else I know. I realize its Cali, and things are a little different but then what makes this group of ass-clowns any more desirable or watchable than any of their peers? I really can't find an answer. A good reality show would be to round up all of these career reality stars ,(I'm looking at you Real World/Road Rulers and Big Survivor Brothers!) put them in a ring and see who can articulate a sentence without the words bro or like. That or just straight up deathmatch style, fight til there's only one left alive. My guess is Spencer is the first one out in that competition. I'm sorry but I'm just so sick of turning on my TV and having to say, "Oh my God that gave _____ a reality show?!" Bottom line, these shows are cheap to make and you need 0 IQ to watch. At least on a show like Flava of Love or some other low brow competition, you at least have the competition. People willing to out-whore or out-d-bag the other competitors. But this is just watching people with everything get more. I'm fed up with it but it draws a certain low intellect and so it succeeds because in this writer's opinion, the morons far outnumber the intellectuals in our current world. Don't believe me? Turn to MTV or VHI or E! on any given night.

Lindy said...

Alan, are you familiar with Bratz dolls? The ugly, giant-headed dolls with a never-ending supply of middle-school-girl accessories? I think "The Hills" is popular for roughly the same reason Bratz are popular -- they tell girls and young women that it's OK to aspire to nothing more than being the prettiest girl around and having the coolest clothes and the cutest crush. Takes a lot of the pressure off (unless of course you happen to be pudgy or have frizzy hair or, god forbid, actually like math).

I don't think The Hills (or even Bratz) signals the downfall of civilization. But I don't think it's entirely harmless escapism either. I definitely wouldn't want my own (hypothetical) daughter watching this dopey bunch of morons and thinking they're at all cool or that their lives are something to aspire to.

JasonR said...

StickUpKid

I can't stand almost all reality TV, but I find getting so worked up about it to be silly. Put your energy somewhere else.

Something people forget is that The Hills is a success by today's cable TV standards. The actual number of people who watch it is still pretty small. The world is not ending because some people want to watch a particular TV show.

SJ said...

Shows like these are the downfall of society.

Bobman said...

20 years ago when I was a kid, we ran around with fake (but pretty real-looking) guns and pretended to shoot each other. When I was a little older we also had shows on cable like "You Can't Do That On Television," which my father forbade me to watch because it was so disrespectful to adults.

40 years ago when my dad was a kid he stole his dad's car and drove it into a lake. He owned his own BB Gun and shot at small animals.

All of those things would most likely, in modern society, be deemed MUCH worse than idolizing some vapid bimbos on a cable TV show.

The world is not coming to an end. Every generation has its high points and low points.

Jennifer said...

I'm bored stiff. It's too scripted to be fun reality TV, and it's too unscripted to be interesting on a plot level. I think people just want to ogle hotties (as usual).

Anonymous said...

I think part of the appeal of the show is that it's essentially Sex & the City for the MTV demographic. It's a bunch of pretty girls who wear great clothes, drive nice cars, hang out at trendy places, and have weekly relationship drama. Just like lots of women wished they could be Carrie Bradshaw and wanted to sip Cosmos with their friends, I think lots of young girls wish they were Lauren Conrad and could hang out every night at Les Deux. It's simple wish fulfillment.

Also, I don't totally disagree that the show can be dull. But even that is part of its charm. I like that I can toss it on in the background while I'm doing something else and feel like I haven't missed anything by only half paying attention. And with DVRs and the huge number of commericals, it really takes very little time to watch an episode.

As for the show being fake, who really cares? I know what I'm watching isn't real and I don't really care. But I also think the show has gone from seeming mostly real with some fake bits to seeming mostly fake with some real bits. Some of it has to do with the fact that as more and more of their lives are being left out (MTV doesn't want to show them being celebrities...that's not the point of the show and makes them less relateable) what we're seeing has inevitably become more and more manufactured. But some of it also has to do with the fact that the one time the show actually wasn't dull was when Spencer showed up and created actual drama. Now that that's died down, though, MTV is desperately trying to manufacture drama to create the same buzz.

StickUpKid said...

Jason R.

What can I say its a slow day at work. But to me, this is harmless escapism. And believe me, this was not large expenditure of energy. This is just htoughts on a keyboard. And I get worked up because my evenings are usually spent in front of my TV and when my beloved Cubbies aren't on I struggle to find soething interesting to watch. Especially when a large portion of programming is this type of garbage. Its just kind of sad to me that this is the type of crap that kids relate to and emulate. As the father of 3 young kids (2 boys and a girl) I do not want my kids to grow up thinking that this is the real world. Its not, and it never will be. Our civilization is in decline and no, this is not the reason but it is a symptom. As a kid, my parents weren't around much so I watched A LOT of TV. But I thank my lucky stars that this was not the norm in those days because I may have grown up dumb, misguided and confused at what the real world was. Luckily for me real life experience was enough for me to learn the ways of the world. ANd I'm better off for it. I could care less if someone in the 20's or 30's or up (though I can't believe there are a many of those) watch this. Its the kids that I worry about. And last time I turned to MTV, this type of programming is directed right at the teen and pre-teen market. There are so many fascinating people in the world that have had to fight adversity to live the lives they lead, so where is their TV check? Do these people need the money? No, they can live off daddy's trust fund for the rest of their lives. I just view this show and those like it as a sign of the declining mental capacity of the average Joe or Joesephine. I personally don't like living in a world full of idiots. I guess I do sound pretty pessemistic but no one is going to read this and start basing their personality on it. Guess I can't get a reality TV show. Shucks.

Loose Seal said...

Basically the entire show and everything related to it is an elaborate ad campaign for a ridiculous lifestyle that Don Draper on his best day couldn't even dream of pitching with a straight face.

Why such a large amount (or large enough to make the show a commodity) of teenagers have bought into it is beyond me. My best guess is that the show depicts glamor without effort and glorifies it, but it could simply be because it's on MTV and teenagers are sheep.

Mo Ryan said...

I don't get it either, not really. But I watched it for a long time, trying to figure the damn thing out.

The Friends analogy is what I came up with as well. They are thin, rich, pretty people in the big city who get to all hang out with each other all the time. There are no real problems in their lives, just "problems" along the lines of arguments, hissy fits, crushes, job changes, etc.

It's not real. Not at all. But the younger folk are not as obsessed with authenticity as the Gen Xers among us. And some people just want their lives to be like Lauren's. They want to get in to hot clubs easily and always have designer clothes and hot dudes around.

Just like part of watching Friends was wish fulfillment for me, that's the role I think this show plays for (some) Young People Today (I said as much in a May piece/post on the show, fwiw.)

I also think the Sex and the City analogy works. As Anonymous said, it's simple wish fulfillment. Yeah, it's a little sad that the d-bag guys on the show are held up as crushworthy objects. That's the least appetizing part of it all. Having said that, Spencer is a kind of fascinatingly vapid villain.

Is the world going to hell in a Prada bag because a few million people watch this? I dunno. They're living out their fantasy lives through Lauren. That's what TV does, to some extent. There's a little wish fulfillment going on in a lot of TV viewing. Despite his problems, do I want to be Don Draper sometimes? Damn right.

Anyway, the world is more likely to go to hell due to the popularity of Celebrity Rehab (raise your hand if you've seen every episode! I have.)

Mo Ryan said...

oh, forgot to add, I also watch (occasionally) because:

-other people watch, and I want to understand why and, gulp, stay current with What The Kids Are Into. Yes, I'm that lame.
-part of the appeal of "reality" TV is feeling superior to these nitwits.
-when you're home sick for the day, it's perfectly brainless fare. I watch the Hills, then watch episodes of The Soup where they rip on The Hills. Circle of life.

Anonymous said...

Look, I'm a guy. A fairly young guy too. I started watching "The Hills" because I watched "Laguna Beach". And I watched "Laguna Beach" because of "The O.C." That's a pretty lame explanation but it's true. Yet it doesn't explain why this show needs another season. I mean how long can a person work at Teen Vigue? I used to watch it and laugh at them but now it's no fun anymore.

Nicole said...

I watch a lot of silly tv, but have never gotten into the Hills. It annoys me that these reality people then try to translate this into some kind of celebrity, but I suppose they are not any different than Paris Hilton.

I clearly fall into the Gen X side on this reality celebrity explosion and find that reality contestants/participants are overall useless members of society that should not have any more fame than necessary.

I also think the Gen Ys have not fully left the school environment and worked full-time long enough to realize that cliques are for insecure people and not actual environments to cultivate friendship. They will eventually move on from this type of "entertainment" and the Hills girls will be having babies and become boring.

pdf said...

I don't watch The Hills, but I have watched an episode or two in the past, and I watched a few episodes of Laguna Beach, the show from which it sprang. The thing that struck me the most about it, back then, was that the producers felt it necessary to identify the various girls with a chyron every single time they appeared in a scene. It was, to me, as if they were openly admitting how boring and interchangeable these rich California blondes were. And between that and the dialogue, which seemed like it had been scripted by Bret Easton Ellis, I thought the whole thing was hilarious. But the show has outlived its comedic value by a long, long stretch.

Anonymous said...

I'm 26 and watch the Hills. I started watching with my girlfriend when it started. I wasn't a fan at all at first and used to constantly say, "are we really watching this crap!" My opinion changed when the character Spencer came on board though (not sure what season that was.) The guy has to be the most ridiculous human ever. He's the definition of a "d-bag" and I don't know why, but he entertains the hell out of me.

Also, for you Sports Guy (Bill Simmons) fans, this show has some classic unintentional comedy. It usually revolves around the stupid language and behavior of the cast however.

All in all, an episode lasts about eighteen minutes when you DVR it, so at least its only a short waste of time. Oh yeah and the girls are pretty hot, so that helps.

Brian said...

29 year old male and I regularly watch this show. It's entertaining in the superficial ways that a lot of people have mentioned (pretty people, pretty scenery, mindless entertainment). It also features some nice directing, cinematography, and editing. It's shot beautifully. But there's a lot more going on. I really do think that the Hills is much different than anything else on television. It's not a "reality" television show, but it's not scripted either. The girls are not living their real lives, but they're not completely making it up. I don't know, it's fascinating to me.

I would recommend that you take a look at the blog Songs About Buildings and Food. It does a good job of exploring them thar Hills.

Here's a nice post that discusses the Paris episode and its narrative technique (also a nice comparison to Friends to start):
http://songsaboutbuildingsandfood.wordpress.com/2008/03/26/the-hills-season-3-episode-19-paris-changes-everything/

"the thing i love about “the hills” and reality television in general is that they are a complete blow to the dated, romantic idea of the author, or, since we’re in france and since we’re talking about visual media, the auteur. the work that ....the editors...do is crucial to the success of “the hills,” definitely, but the work that lauren and whitney and audrina do is crucial, too, and at least equally important. they are not just actors, they are writing the story of the show with their lives. everyone is collaborating to create meaning, they are all the author, even audrina....personally, i like this model of authorship way more than david simon giving sermons on the mount about how brilliant he is and cockslapping anyone who disagrees."

Brian said...

Stick Up Kid, I think you’re completely off-base in lumping all reality-television into one pile, and even more off-base in your claim that the Hills belongs in that pile. The show is different in topic, themes, production values, performances…you name it. Does Arrested Development suck b/c of Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, Herman’s Head, etc.?

Have you actually watched the Hills by the way. Because the kids on that show read constantly.

pixelwax said...

stickupkid, i'm lacking tact and perhaps patience today, so sorry if fail on either part when i say:

paragraphs please! you may share some interesting, insightful nuggets but damn if i'll ever read what start off as seemingly endless 500-word rants that fill my screen.

P.S. I just read your second comment. Ahhh! Now, I'm sure you've got good stuff in the first. I'll return to it when I'm on my desktop, which will fit that paragraph (and some other comments) on its monitor. :)

pixelwax said...

Alan, thanks for posting about the Hills and PTI, two shows I never watch, and two shows I've held against people for too long. Since I'm trying to be less judgy, less haughty, I've now an insight into the folks who watch them. And, shock, they are pleasant people with good things to say! And now I'm on my way to at least feigning interest when cornered at cocktail parties.

stickupkid, I read it now! You sound like me when I used to go off about the Wal-Marting of America. My concern is not teens who watch the show, they tend to grow out of it, but those in their early 20s. If they aren't watching it "ironically" then yeah... go ahead and rant on about the future my man. :)

Guy said...

"They use our stares for dramatic effect. All of us have more expressions on our face now, out of habit"

StickUpKid said...

Sorry pixelwax. I'm a noobie blogger. I am yet to figure out all of the proper protocal on these things. ANd thanks. No its not the worst thing in the world but its just not interesting. If you want insight into the rich and famous, watch Cribs. I'm glad someone is picking up what I'm putting down.

Sorry, pixelwax, I could only muster 3 paragraphs. I promise top do better next time:)
(see, a paragraph)
Brian, yes, I may be making generalizations but you have to admit that this show is trivial and glorifies a lifestyle that 1% of the earth lives. Arrested kicks ass and Two Men is terrible. True. But relity TV is reality TV. And I realize that this is not exactly a "reality" show but it is supposed to be these boring kids living there lives. Well, I know that I spend my days sitting at a coffee shop chatting about working at a fashion mag or driving in my Land Rover drinking a latte while talking on my cell and texting on my sidekick. Give me a break. That is entertainment. And reading Highlights magazine doesn't count! And I have watched about 15 minutes of that show and will never get that time back. I should have just watched a Senate hearing on C-SPAN for all the entertainment I got out of it. ANd there is porn with good production values but it doesn't make it good, or more watchable. You could have the cinematographer from "No Country for Old Men" and this would still be about a bunch of people with no talent, talking about boring topics that are not important to anyone other than these scumbags or the Paris Hiltons of the world. By all means, watch this show. Just don't talk to me when your brain turns to mush and every other word out of your mouth is "like."

I'm not trying to change your view, but I'm telling you that I'd rather watch a drama with actual thought out characters than a show where they coach these kids to be this way or that to make the show more interesting. Do I think these people act like this normally, no probably not. So that makes it even worse, they aren't acting, but they are. Its not reality, but it is. Iwill admit though that Spencer just based on his appearances on The Soup seems like the prototypical D-bag. Thats enough for me not to support this kind of show.

StickUpKid said...

Sorry pixelwax, I could only muster 3 paragraphs but its an improvement. I promise to do better next time:)

audie said...

i'm 20 years old and a sophomore at college and i don't watch the Hills but my ex-room mate and my friend watches it on a regular basis. My ex room mate is a nursing major and my friend is a double major - accounting and economics. So suffice to say, they're pretty tough majors and they work extremely hard to keep up their high grades and scholarships.

When I asked them why they watch the show "The Hills" or "Laguna Beach" or any other reality show, they simply said that they don't want to "think" when they come home from work or school and watch tv. Like other people have said, it's mindless entertainment to them and I always found it funny when I hear my roommate screaming, "YOU BITCH!", "What an asshole!", "You fell for that?!?!", "I'd punch you in the throat", "Hah dumbass", etc. They basically enjoy watching people make total asses out of themselves and it doesn't require too much brain to laugh at that. And it's a lot of fun to talk about how big of a douche Spencer is with other people hehe.

Bryan Murray said...

I think the main reason a lot of people watch is to criticize these wealthy, good looking, and somehow successful girls and d-bags. It's a hipper version of MST3K--we can just sit around and make fun of their vapid stares and verbal miscues. And right now the show has reached new surreal heights: these girls are famous for being on this show yet the producers still pretend they're "normal girls" who live normal lives which we have heard all about through the tabloids. At least there are no snarky British judges.

No One said...

"I think the main reason a lot of people watch is to criticize these wealthy, good looking, and somehow successful girls and d-bags. It's a hipper version of MST3K--we can just sit around and make fun of their vapid stares and verbal miscues."
I'm not sure how many people watch it for this reason, but that definitely is a bulls eye for why I do.
They stereotypically fit the dumb, rich, snobby females that many make fun of when thinking about gaudy Hollywood. I find the show absolutely hilarious with its senseless drama and their utter stupidity.

dez said...

I don't watch The Hills, but Spencer appears on KROQ's morning show here (The Kevin & Bean Show) as "Spencer the Love Dispenser," where people call in to ask for advice and he says a bunch of sexist, d-baggy things that are usually pretty funny. I thought he was one of their made-up characters until I found out he was the same Spencer from The Hills, if that means anything.

velvetcannibal said...

I've gotta say, I'm tired of hearing "reality" tv described as the fault of my generation, or the generation after me. I'm tired of hearing people equate the actions of Paris Hilton or girls on the Hills with the downfall of society. Do I actually know any girls like that, or would I want to? Never! The fact that they are glorified on television sets all that women have worked to achieve back decades.

But who is feeding us this nonsense? Which generation is putting this crap on tv, shaping the culture by setting standards with images that are unrealistic, vapid, and ridiculous? It's not my generation. Just saying. Look older. Plus, it's not just my generation watching those shows. It's people of all ages, from all walks of life, but these girls who are pawns in a big game take all the heat for being poor "role models." Even from me. But why should any 25-year old be a role model? Even put together people in their 20s are still kind of a mess at least a quarter of the time.

Back to the topic at hand, sorry. My sister is about to turn 21 in September. She is a double-major in college, works 40+ hours a week to afford school, pays for her own rent, her own clothes, her own gas, and has since she turned 18, which in my family means she got off lucky. She never watches TV, except for The Soup and the Hills. When she comes home exhausted from work, she says exactly what's been mentioned previously. She doesn't want to "think." She wants to watch something completely escapist, to take a little vacation from all her stress and problems and laugh a bit at the fantasy life these other girls are leading. Then she gets up and goes on with her life, running the Environmental fraternity at her college, studying, running errands, and occasionally grabbing some sleep.

And her story is not unique. Most of the people I knew or still know in that age bracket are working extremely hard, about to head out into a crappy job market and a plummeting economy, all while working on their own personal "Save the World" projects, and this is why I don't begrudge them when they say they watch The Hills, though my feelings on the show are pretty clear in the first couple paragraphs. If anything, the decline of civilization is limited to a few rich kids in California. Many young people just want some brief, total escapism before they have to get back to paying the bills.

Anonymous said...

As a twenty-year old, I say thank you velvetcannibal. I think that was a perfectly-written response. It's always a little annoying to be criticized by older generations like we're some lazy, unintelligent slobs when just about every person I know around the age of 19-25 are working their asses off with college, a job, or both.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Two things:

1)Thanks for all the explanations so far, guys. You've given me a lot to think about, even if my brain still screams at me to change the channel whenever I put the show on.

2)Let's try to avoid making sweeping generalizations about other people. I asked why you enjoy The Hills, not why you think other people do, and I'm not going to tolerate a Gen X/Gen Y war -- especially since I know that my own generation is too lazy and cynical to fight this all the way through. :)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to share this quote from Whitney, the girl on the right in the picture:

"I don't really know how to justify watching The Hills, to be honest." —Whitney Port, star of The Hills

http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment
/2008/03/
whitney_port_is_under_no_illus.html

StickUpKid said...

Alan,
thanks for picking a topic that made a slow work day more manageable.

velvetcannibal,
I can respect that response. And I'm no oldy looking down on the youngsters. I'm 26 and I just feel that overall there is a catering to the lowest common denominator in entertainment.

I'm a hip-hop fan, have been for a long time, and the brand of rap(not hip-hop) music you hear on the radio has gotten so incredibly dumb. Everyone has the same type of beat and you have to have a stupid dance that makes you look like you're havnig a seizure and your name must have soem form of Young(or yung)or Lil'.

I guess what it comes down to is the people who bring in the ratings and $s are those who seem to enjoy a generic brand of entertainment. You are right that it is a generation ahead of mine that is pulling the strings on these shows. its an easy buck. We are a capitalist society afterall.

But I can't begrudge anyone for what they choose to watch. I just wish people wouldn't support bad TV/music because then it would go away. i for one don't want to be a party to that Spencer dude getting a fatter paycheck.

Regardless, this was a fun discussion. Thanks.

Maura said...

I watched several episodes because I got curious about it. I wanted to know these people were, since The Soup found them stupid enough to do a segment on them every week. It didn't hold my interest for long, though. I'm so far out of the demographic for this show, there's probably a law against watching it.

I have to admit, though, that I kind of like Lauren C. She's a perfect put-upon soap opera heroine. She's wealthy but sweet, has bad taste in men, has friends who don't always deserve her friendship, and she's completely confused about the real world. She's like Mary Richards in really expensive shoes. :)

I don't think The Hills popularity is a sign of the apocalypse. Young girls finding role models on television shows isn't exactly new. Think Jan and Marcia Brady (although I'd rather not), or Anne Marie on "That Girl". My personal role model was Anne Francis as "Honey West". The girls will grow out of it, just like they'll grow out of their love for The Jonas Brothers.

Someone here equated this heroine worship with the worship generated by Sex and the City. I agree, but I found that much more puzzling and troubling, because the overinvested SatC fans were mostly old enough to know better.

Brien said...

Maura nailed it. The appeal of the show for me is all about Lauren. I started watching Laguna Beach, and she's just the sort of great character that most television writers can't seem to create.

She's "real" in a way that most reality show stars aren't and in a way that makes it not even matter if some of the show is scripted.

When I watch the show I'm cheering for Lauren to succeed. In a way, it's a classic coming-of-age story. We've seen Lauren grow up from high school in Laguna Beach to "the real world" in the Hills. She's stumbled and made mistakes in ways that let us see her flaws and humanity, but at the same time make us like her even more.

For as vapid as the show seems to be, it's impossible to understand the reasons I watch it based on one or two viewings. It's only when you find yourself totally invested in Lauren's successes and failures (and all too frequent mistakes in her choice of men) that you'll truly "get" The Hills.

I knew I had a problem when I saw a news story saying that Lauren had been seen dating former Duke Basketball player Josh McRoberts. I'm a big Duke hater, but I was surprised at how strong my reaction was. I couldn't believe that Lauren was making another horrible decision in her love life, and I was crushed that she was going to have to go through another awful breakup (it didn't even cross my mind that they might be happy together). When you're that invested in a reality character, the show is doing something right.

Brien said...

Oh, and I should have said that I'm a 26 year old man.

StickUpKid said...

Wow, I thought I was done with this but I just read someone saying they would rather watch the Hills than a David Simon project. Really? I guess if you don't really want to watch something tht makes sense, but... Wow, I just don't know what to say to that.

Maura said...

I guess if you don't really want to watch something tht makes sense, but... Wow, I just don't know what to say to that.

stickupkid, television means different things to different people (states the Queen of the Obvious). For some people, it's background noise; others want thoughtful, stimulating drama. Some just need a little time to veg out. And it's possible to love shows like Deadwood and Mad Men and shows like The Hills and American Idol. They fill different needs.

I feel bad for anyone who doesn't engage in some mindless escape. Don't we all need a little of that?

Travis said...

All I know about the Hills is what I hear every Tuesday morning from the 3 of the girls who sit outside my office.

Conversation usually goes as follows:
"I can't beleive that (name) actually (verb) with (name) even though (name) was already (verb) with (name)"
or some variation of the above.

The names are interchangable, but the verbs are usually similar.

And I'm a 29y old guy who thinks he should be prime demographic for this show (young, single, successful) and having watched alot of other tv (big brother/survivor/etc) and I don't understand it one bit!

mrsb said...

I don't watch The Hills. Unless you count laughing when Joel McHale has sharks eat the "characters" on The Soup.

Linda said...

Go back and watch The Love Boat for a while, and try to figure out why many, many, many times more people sat down and watched that show than watch The Hills. Or That's Incredible, or Dynasty, or America's Funniest Home Videos, or Full House, or The Facts Of Life.

Much of television has always been there just to give people something to do. Less than two percent of the population watches this show -- more like twenty percent watched Charo on The Love Boat. There's always been a big appetite for things you could just watch and not think about.

As I've said, I personally think a lot of it comes down to the fun of gossip that feels harmless because people have essentially volunteered to be gossiped about. I'm not sure it's anything more insidious than that.

One more thing -- if you think nobody who's ever been on a reality show can put a sentence together, I assure you, you're mistaken. It depends on the person, as it does in all walks of life.

Anonymous said...

I believe "The Hills" succeeds because it's rooted in the Ups and Downs of Relationships between High School friends and newly discovered first loves.