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· Culture Notes: The Hills

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Culture Notes: The Hills
by The Kindly One

In my sketchbook, I listed The Hills as one of my favorite shows. There is a part of me that enjoys it for the pretty clothes and the general pretty girl vibe of the show. I don't have those elements in any other part of my life, and this show is really my only outlet for that. The other reason I watch the show is because I'm fascinated with the disconnect between what's ostensibly for show and what is really being revealed.

One of the most fascinating elements of The Hills is the cinematography. That show would not have reached the astronomical success it enjoys were its production level that of shows like The Bachelor. Cheap production values can be alienating and often devalue a story. Watch a high school version of West Side Story and you get the idea. The rich cinematography of The Hills works in an opposite way to draw viewers into the show. The photography is beautiful and compelling (I would watch it for that alone), and its lushness feeds into the idea of the whole upper middle class spectacle the show draws upon. I would argue that the cinematography, as well as the Los Angeles it films, are characters just as vital to the show as its stars, and when I watch the show, I always have a desire to ask the producers, "How did you know? How did you know the production value was key to transmitting the message of the show, or did you just stumble upon a lucrative coincidence?"

The Hills has also proven to be an educational show for me. Growing up in predominantly upper middle class environments without being a part of the culture myself, there were certain behaviors I observed that I never understood and, in ignorance and intimidation, always found irksome. Some of these include communicating in call-and-response (the listener repeating what you just said - "I got new Jimmy Choos." "Jimmy Choos."), wearing a constant, seemingly fake smile, and a resistance toward philosophical conversations. I always thought these behaviors were indication of a lack of intelligence or erudition and tended to dismiss people with these behavioral traits as fake and unfeeling. These observations might be true about some people. However, after a sad, pitiful excuse for a birthday last year which was marked primarily by wine and a Hills marathon, something clicked. After watching four episodes of The Hills in a row, I was able to get past the forms of behavior and see more into the actual people themselves. This is something bound to happen with anyone with whom you spend significant amounts of time, and there was something about watching back-to-back episodes without interruption that allowed me to see behavioral patterns as what they were, cultural indicators that facilitate the flow of communication. Whereas call-and-response was something I'd previously considered annoying, seeing it communicated over and over again helped me get past what I'd always considered to be the superficial nature of it to realize it's simply a way that this culture communicates. It's an affirmation, a signal that you're listening and share similar interests. Same with the other behaviors. There are many cultures that don't value externalizing feelings and deeper currents, and I'd say the upper middle class is one of them, hence the perma smiles and diversion from deeper conversation.

I also developed a realization regarding the depth of the characters. One of my long-term assumptions has been that anyone who doesn't speak about his or her depths doesn't have them. Not necessarily so. There is an episode in the fourth season in which Audrina speaks about not being sure who she is anymore. She may have a smile on her face the whole time, but she's crying, and given her decisions leading up to this moment, I believe it. What struck me so much in that moment was the admission that she had an inner life and a personal depth unrelated to the shallow projections of the world around her. Had she not said this, it would not have occurred to me to think that of her. All her smiles mean nothing. They're just a way of facing the world.

Having had these insights, I've started watching The Hills in a different light. For one, I can now watch it (I had to give it up for all the stress of the drama). I am also watching less in judgement and more to see what I can learn and question. It's a lot more relaxing to go in with that attitude, I can tell you, and I doubt that has so much to do with that one show as it does with the attitude of judgement. There's very little relaxing about standing in strict disregard of another. So I enjoy watching it for the pretty sky, the color saturation, and the fluff of it. And I also watch it for those deeper notes, the ones under the surface describing the people within, who may or may not be the people on the outside.

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2/24/2009 [2]

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