The Hills: real-ity TV?

Sorry if I’m a bit behind in passing on this story, but apparently The Hills–MTV’s spinoff of Laguna Beach that follows rich young adults as they live (and work?) in LA’s Hollywood hills–has been facing a lot of controversy recently about whether or not it is really “reality” television. I know I know, it’d be a huge shocker to anyone who has ever watched Lauren’s glamorous life or observed Heidi and Spencer’s ridiculous relationship to find out it they were acting, but those are the rumors. Anyway, check out this interview from Best Week Ever with a guy who went on a date with Lauren in an episode earlier this season (it’s the guy she took to Brody’s beach house party); he was incredibly honest in the interview (about Lauren, Brody, and the show in general), it’s really interesting stuff. Lauren has never specifically responded to the interview (that I know of), but she did comment on the rumors that The Hills is scripted in Us Magazine (there is even a viewer poll on the question, “Do you think the show is real or fake?”).

A lot of people watch shows like The Hills and its MTV counterpart Real World (the original reality show) and they’re not all teenagers. I watch both shows every week and so do several other people I know who are older than the shows characters, yet I think I watch them from a different perspective than most. To say I don’t view them as entertainment would be a lie, but I also watch them as a cultural or societal study; seeking to discover how the shows connect with viewers in real ways, as if watching an episode of The Hills has the ability to meet a person’s needs on some level or help them make sense of life and has a potentially scary way of shaping how we make meaning. If I am truthful, I cannot claim that watching these shows is always part of my social/cultural “experiment,” but I do like to think of it as homework for the masters degree I am currently pursuing in the areas of “Theology & Pop-Culture.” It’s from a theological perspective that I attempt to observe culture, and when considering shows like The Hills I am lead to ask several difficult questions, like, Why do we watch these shows? What is so fascinating about Lauren and her friend’s lives that we care so much if they are real or scripted? Are we jealous of how they’re living? Is it perhaps just some strange way for us to “experience” what it would be like to be young, rich and beautiful living in Hollywood? Why do I watch The Hills every week (with my roommate) and get so wrapped up in the story lines (e.g., why do I get so frustrated by Spencer?). These are all interesting questions and I’m not sure I have any answers, but shows like The Hills are very popular right now and even though it probably won’t be a show for very much longer, I’m sure it will be replaced by something else that will appeal to people in the same ways (MTV seems to know what it is that we are looking for and they give us just enough of it to keep us coming back for more every week).

For anyone who is interested, MTV is airing a two-hour special this Sunday (December 8 at 5:00pm central) called “Lauren Looks Back,” following Lauren from her high school days in Laguna as “LC” to her fashion career in Los Angeles today. My DVR is already set.

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