Monday, April 6, 2009

The Hills are Dead With the Sound of Teen Spirit

I don't know what's going on in popular culture. I don't care to, either. If there is a skilled actor in circulation, s/he will announce him/herself eventually. The rest is detritus and fluff that accumulates in the gutter and is washed away in time. I don't buy into celebrity, I don't admire people who are famous because they're famous--I am a Meritocrat.

That said, events conspired to make me watch The Hills on MTV. It was in the break room at work. I went for my afternoon coffee and emptied a carafe in pouring my cup. I am not the sort to flee from the scene (unlike everyone else around here) and brought the carafe into the back to fill it up, and it was there I found the other carafe. We have one for regular coffee and one for flavored coffee, and both were drained.

I was going to be here for a while.

The TV was playing a show I'd never seen before. There were young women talking with each other. They did not appear to be acting, so it seemed like a reality show, but the cameras were not all up in everyone's grills either. The script was empty and clichéd and the acting was vapid. I wondered briefly whether it was a serial that presented itself as a reality show, whether these were actors instructed to limit their vocabulary and waver between two closely related facial expressions: "happy" and "confused." If this was acting, every single one of these women deserved all the Oscars. No one was ever more convincing and true-to-life in any portrayal, ever.

It was not a serial. It really was a bunch of unintelligent, shallow young women with way too much money, protracting their adolescence with starkly juvenile political scheming. This was The Hills.

The name of the show has skirted the periphery of my consciousness. I've dimly perceived its mention on rare occasions, usually associated with other offensive and easily dismissed material. But here, as my good conscience compelled me to refill two carafes of coffee for the rest of the office, I was stuck watching an episode. I tried to change the channel but, astoundingly, someone was TiVo'ing this show. My good conscience bade me to respect this faceless, tasteless individual and I let it go. I began to resent my conscience.

The dialog was banal to the point of near-randomness.
BLONDE #1: "You two are like little sisters to me."
BLONDE #2: "I am your little sister!"
(I'm serious, this is an actual quote.)

It's like stage techs were pulling little strings in their lower backs and activating sound-boxes to spit out non sequiturs and clichés. "I think he will always be there for you." The girl who said that originally heard it in a number of throwaway Top 40 songs and it stuck: now she can bring it up in casual conversation, prefixing it with "I think" to pretend it's actually her opinion--indeed, pretending she thinks at all. If there were a script, every scene would look like this:
"Well, he did this and she did this and I think [INSERT T-SHIRT SLOGAN]."
"Well, I think [BUMPER STICKER]."

Oh yes, everyone here is young and very white, and almost everyone was female. Some girl was out with a creepy guy. They were having pasta. She ventured a couple clichés at him and he generally responded with contempt. She looked alternately delighted and confused, but overall she considered herself to be having a very special night with a very special guy.

Apparently she works for Epic Records, or knows someone who does. She was in charge of organizing a publicity event for a band. The band were a bunch of soft, young white men with expensive clothes and tattoos and piercings. Their music was highly polished, though they tried to portray themselves as an AngryTM "punk," somehow. The audience, homogeneously white, waved their hands in the ai-yah and gently swayed to the music. They were not punk either, but they acted as though they were moved by this highly polished, AngryTM music.

So the girl from the dinner, she's flitting around in the background (need to find a better word than "flitting," as that implies a life-like quality) and chatting with her friends about how this great guy she had dinner with will be there. He's not there yet, but he will be. Oh, the editing is sculpting this to try and draw as much dramatic tension out of this as possible. The girl's face is in "happy" mode. At the end of the sequence, when the band's done playing and everyone's getting ready to leave, he still hasn't shown up and the girl's face is in "confused" mode. ("Confused" is the same as "happy" but with a slightly weaker grin.)

Seriously. Everyone, everyone on this show presents as unintelligent, illiterate, and emotionally regressed. These are profoundly uninteresting people being filmed while doing extremely tedious things. The fact that no one resembling these women (and man) is in my life to any extent is one clear indicator of my success.

But this is a show that is being broadcast. The advertisements said its new season begins tonight. That means that people watch this show, it has an audience.

I'm at odds to begin to comprehend how sad someone's life must be, that they feel a desire to keep watching this show.

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