Friday, 16 November 2007

'From Laguna to Los Angeles: MTV Revolutionizes Reality'

[Emory Wheel] - Who needs reality when you have “The Hills?” “Laguna Beach” and its two offshoots, “The Hills” and “Newport Beach,” have become ratings juggernauts and shaped the collective unconscious about reality — except they are not quite reality shows. The infamous statement at the beginnings of these shows states that “the drama is real,” but nothing else seems to be. The sophisticated and glossy camerawork on these shows stands in stark contrast to the hand-held, cinema verité of “The Real World.” There is something compelling about these bizarre soap operas. Why bother watching the fake (and canceled) “The OC” when a more authentic image of Republican-addled southern California is available? The travails of Lauren Conrad, her former friend and roommate Heidi Montag, and Heidi’s clueless and controlling boyfriend Spencer Pratt have captivated an entire generation of teenage girls — a fascination that follows many through their college years.This reality is contrived: The slick editing and multi-camera setups require not only some form of staging and reshoots, but also necessitate an outline of a script. These shows resemble improvised skits rather than the actual lives of a group of overly pretty Orange County teens.The voiceover before the show explaining what has previously taken place and the name tags always placed under the characters make the shows palatable to people with severe forms of ADD. These shows were created by and for the MTV generation. And with all these bleached-blonde people looking alike, the name tags come in handy.The third season of “The Hills” is now in full swing, but developments over the summer — covered in tabloids and Internet blogs — made the premiere of this show highly anticipated. Conrad and Montag, whose friendship was strained at the end of season two, are now apparently enemies. Rumors of a sex tape of Conrad and her ex-boyfriend Jason Wahler proliferated in Hollywood circles. Except when they’re fighting in trendy bars, Montag and Conrad do not appear onscreen together, giving the show two separate story arcs and keeping audiences on their toes. “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills” are not dealing with reality. They are, instead, a vision of hyper-reality. They are the way our lives should be. Their jobs are glamorous and merely interrupt their lives of parties and dating. Where does all their money come from for eating at expensive L.A. eateries? Do these girls go to school? Does Spencer have a job? This is the life we all want — no need to ask such trivial questions to demolish our fantasies. So what are these shows? They are reimagined soap operas that claim to be true. They have actually managed to reinvent not only reality entertainment but also the meaning of television by somehow making the most uninteresting things fascinating.What makes these shows so fascinating is how they revel in moments of banality; pregnant pauses and awkward looks punctuate each scene. Instead of a polished show from NBC, where such instances find themselves on the cutting-room floor, MTV is intent on displaying the ditziness of the characters. Unlike other reality shows, this show has no intention of appearing like “The Real World” or “Big Brother,” with secret cameras and grainy footage. “The Hills” seeks to look like a polished drama that could be seen on the primetime schedule of any major network.“Laguna Beach” has ended its three-season run, but “The Hills” is stronger than ever in its third season. A new spin-off has emerged focusing on the exploits of another group of pretty bleached-blondes in Newport Beach, a city just south of Laguna Beach. With the break-out status of Conrad (who is launching a clothing line), Kristin Cavallari (who is now an actress) and Montag (who has just released a single with fiance Pratt rapping in the background), we can rest assured that this form of reality is here to stay. Well, at least until MTV reinvents reality one more time.

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