Thursday, May 07, 2009

the hills: no wonder our enemies hate us

This will sound disingenuous, but I don't normally watch the hills. Everyone says that, because even if you like watching the show it is impossible to not know that it is a horrible thing. Watching it is bad, that it exists is bad, that people produce something like this is bad. I've been unable to justify its existence at all, at least until last night. I may finally be able to make a (feeble) argument in its defense.

SOMEONE made me watch it last night, though I've been told I'm not allowed to tell anyone that he watches it because he is appropriately ashamed of this vile habit, but why would I sit through such torture if I can't make fun of it afterwards? Well, I'm nicer than I look, so I'll let this person remain nameless. Let's call him "Beth". Beth and I had gotten in a squabble and there was that moment where you feel like you've already had all the arguments a couple can manage and that you are doomed to repeat ridiculous gripes forever and ever. In that shortsighted moment, it is easy to blind yourself with all the ways that you and this other person are incompatible and also question whether or not you really are just a jackass. Maybe I'm retarded and don't know how to manage a relationship. Maybe I don't know how to communicate my feelings effectively or listen when someone else is trying to communicate them to me. Maybe we just don't work together...

None of this is true. I know that and even when feeling frustrated facing the picked scab of slow healing old fights, I still know that we've got a real good thing going on. I'm no fatalist and know better than to wallow too deeply or believe that moments of frustration are doomed to be eternal, but it is nice sometimes to have something external to your situation remind you how good you've got it.

When Beth wanted to quit talking and watch the hills, you can (if you have ever met me) imagine the look I shot in his direction. It was somewhere between over-my-dead-body and i-dare-you-to-try. Watching the hills isn't something you should wish on your worst enemy, much less someone you love. Had there been someone else to protect from this blight, I might have stood strong but he made an impassioned plea and I relented.

If you've never seen the hills, don't. It is a bunch of horrible vapid people who do horrible vapid things. Actually, that is being generous: the cast is entirely RealDolls and motorized mannikins. The purported main character, Lauren, almost comes across as human and occasionally says things that make sense. The worst people in the show are heidi and spencer. She is on the show because she is pretty. She looks like she has escaped from the Playboy Mansion and and flounces around with layered blonde extensions and a pouty, perpetually surprised/confused look. And why not? spencer doesn't make any sense. There is no reason he should be on television. She is at least pretty. He is not, and while she isn't particularly likable, her abject idiocy allows for occasional flashes of unintended humor. He isn't even funny. This is the second episode of the show I have ever seen, but just that small snippet leaves an indelible bad taste in the mouth towards this couple and him in particular. In this episode, the two are going through couples counseling. The counselor winces as she listens to their idiocy. heidi is flipping out over a bartender who he flirts with and who is sending him text messages and squares off against this jezebel when she and her brunette gang step to her blonde fembot gang at a club. All of them come across as stupid monkeys dancing in front of a camera, but the brunette wins the round by pointing out that at the end of the day, heidi is still dating a douche bag who hits on other girls and always will.

The other main drama of the show was some awful girl (named "Jayde") with bad collagen injections and a bottle of Jaegermeister acting like an idiot over a dumb boyfriend. But I'm not really here to give a play-by-play recap; I have no desire to recreate this horror. Watching all this absurdity though, suddenly my own relationship seemed incredibly healthy. We get in fights and sometimes silly fights and sometimes the same silly fights over and over, but there is no way either of us is ever going to be that disagreeable. The show's value seems to be in showing what is purported to be a fabulous life (glamor, parties, clothes, etc.) and making it look like the worst hell imaginable. And not even a fun sort of wretched hell. Lost occasionally looks like hell, being stuck on some time-travel island with an atomic bomb and people trying to kill you and your friends, but it is an interesting dynamic hell. The hell that is the hills just looks so painfully boring. They make leisure and money look awful.

And then there is what they do for relationships. If they make hanging out in bars look painful, they make dating look like pure torture (and not the waterboarding kind, but the ripping-off-fingernails-with-pliers kind). Sitting watching these... people(?) after having my own spat suddenly made me appreciate what I've got. We (like every couple) come up with some stupid things to fight about, but contrast against this alternate universe displayed in the hills we suddenly seem remarkably sane and stable. And there was a certain vicious catharsis to answering "Yes," when asked by Beth if he sounded like a particularly awful character as she picked a pointless fight. Having this televised nightmare to remind me how beautiful -even if occasionally frustrating- my reality is made the night a little easier, but I'd still rather it just didn't exist.

I would have still felt sour about the experience of being subjected to the show had we not followed it with the current episode of Family Guy, which spoofs the hills. Family Guy treated it with all the delicacy and tenderness that it treats any subject. If watching the hills made me feel better about my own small social sphere, it made me cringe for humanity in general. If this is a hit show, if people in droves are choosing to watch this eagerly, how can one have faith in our fellow man? Looking around the world today, it is easy to bump up against these terrifying dilemmas ("How can people do such horrible things?"), but then Family Guy dives in to save us. The brutal satire reminded the self-important jerk inside me that perhaps my negative reaction to the hills is the point. The show is done in arch seriousness, but everyone watching is in on the joke: no one watches it thinking these are likable people. Some are more likable than others, but all of them are kind of walking caricatures of our pop-generic obsessions and desires. Family Guy reminds that we all know this beast is absurd, that even Lauren Conrad is in on the joke, voicing herself as a character in the episode even as they present her as dating a (literal) dog (culminating with a scene of her dragging her ass around on a rug after Brian gives her worms) and lampooning the emptiness of the show.

In the end, rather than ruining my night and deepening our divide and prolonging our disagreement, the hills (I am still not going to capitalize it) actually salved the wound and gave us a common horror to be happy we weren't a part of. This isn't to say I plan on watching it again or that I don't think it should be cancelled, but you know me: always looking on the bright side.


Benjamin said...

i don't know if i'm more offended that you've outed me after i pleaded with you not to or that you use speidi as a control by which to measure our relationship. someone, let's call him danielle, is going to have to do some legwork if he has hopes of not sleeping on the couch tonight.

d.e.g. said...

I didn't say it was actually you. I totally changed your name to protect your identity; you just outed yourself.