Forget Arizona. We're going to boycott The Hills this season, because it's managed to go from mildly amusing horrorshow to something far more sinister. It's a dark and ugly show, with no redeeming value. Don't watch it.
OK, yes, this is the last season. So trying to close the barn door now might be a bit of an empty gesture. But it's still important to take a stand, even if you're joining a bunch of people who've already been standing there for years.
The Hills is horrid. Absolutely one of the worst things produced in the past ten years. Sure there are shows like Pretty Wild, which are ostensibly worse and about worse people, but the impact is sort of dulled by its context. It's on E!, a network that's taken about as seriously as Michael Lohan's Twitter account. These are not programs that anyone pays attention to unless they are bored or stoned, dimly fascinated by the idea that anyone watches them seriously. But no one actually does, is the thing.
But with MTV we are dealing with something different — a more polished look, a demographic that is looking for something more than entertainment. For every generation that gets older and declares that MTV isn't what it used to be (it isn't, dammit!), there's another new one swooping in to take its place, unaware that anything existed before. So they buy into MTV's strange, binary brand of lifestyle hawking. There's the We Are One fare like True Life and Made — regular folks going through various tribulations and trials — and then there's stuff like The Hills, cinematic, packaged rubbish about people that barely exist. These two things — the dark light, the light dark — share the same brand, air one after the other. And kids watch them both and some, we must assume, take both as gospel truth.
It's no new argument to say that kids are going to get some pretty bad ideas from a show like The Hills. "Oh God," we think, as we watch Kristin or Lauren or Whoever The Fuck Else drone on in that practiced, neo-Valley Girl drawl. "Real people are going to start talking like this." And real people will start shuffling around in flip-flops with huge handbags dangling from their elbows, iced coffees held lazily in one hand, with cellphones and keys. Real people will start thinking of all boys as immutable pricks — you either deal with it or you don't — and all social situations as an excuse, a stage even, for Drama, for Events, for a chance to talk about general topics like Guys and Relationships and Friends, rather than things of the moment. The girls on the show are terribly annoying and eerily possessed of some pretty cold, corporate values. The girls who watch the show emulate that as best they can, more limited resources considered, and come off looking like sad and embarrassing knock-offs of something already sad and embarrassing. Their cool, hip aunts went after the Sex and the City dream life, and they have followed Lauren and her brood. Aspirationalism is nothing new, but now with these shows it is more commodified, more consistently indulged. These are whole shows deliberately manufactured to be about lives we want, rather than lives that interest us in some way.
There's nothing terribly new in that sentiment, it's been true since way back in the Laguna Beach days. But last night what really struck us, sort of thudded in the heart like lead, is that the girls with their faces pressed to the glass, furiously taking notes, aren't the only kids that got hurt here. The people on the show are now just as much victims as anyone else. Look at horrible Heidi and messy Kristin. On last night's final season premiere, there was Kristin dealing with a maybe drug problem and Heidi dealing with, well... all of this. Did these people sign contracts, willingly step in front of the cameras and perform as asked? Yes, of course. They're not free from blame in their own ruining, far from it, but let's just think for a second about what MTV has done here, especially in the case of Montag.
When The Hills premiered, in May of 2006, Heidi Montag was 19 years old. Which could very well mean that she signed her first MTV contract at 18. The network snared this kid, this real genuine kid, into their glossy trap and then just let her hang herself, over and over again, claiming some sort of documentarian remove when asked if they'd intervene. They simply couldn't do it, couldn't even acknowledge the swirling Oort cloud of Us Weekly frenzy that surrounded the cast, because then it wouldn't be real. Only of course they do intervene, all the time, when it is convenient for them. It's pretty much common knowledge at this point that the show is staged to within an inch of its life — nearly every look, conversation, relationship is false. So the audience at home is never quite sure what to believe. "Oh look how awful Heidi acts on this show, let's be cruel to her. It doesn't matter, it's just a made-up show!" Which, sure, may have seemed, or been, true at some point. But now, with all of these surgeries, this willful and terrifying mangling of her body, Heidi has emerged as a deeply troubled and emotionally damaged lost soul, one who childishly offered herself up to a reality camera crew and watched, feeling helpless to do anything but not fight the riptide, as they stripped her bare, took everything off her, mocked her for taking what they'd offered her, edited her however they wanted, threw her family into the mix and tore them apart too.
And then in a final act of desperation, the old innocent Heidi finally kicking out the chair, Montag got something like ten plastic surgeries at once, changing her entire face and body to something immovable and unrecognizable. She became some sort of version of Heidi as she imagined the show defined her — pretty, booby Heidi with her shallow, fake husband — and MTV saw it, they saw it, and said "OK, let's roll cameras!" anyway. So we watched last night as she went home to Crested Butte (that name, that name) and her family tried to mask their horror, until it was finally too much. Until the presence of the cameras was so looming and demanding that her parents felt they had to try to sputter out words and just ended up hurting her feelings. Heidi tried to chew, she tried to cry, but she couldn't. So she just sat there, her eyes wild with the recognition that she can never go back, and you realized that MTV ruined this kid's life. They gave her a platform to indulge her greatest insecurities, to stoke her deepest unhealthy desires, and they encouraged it and filmed it and sent it out to world while saying Ha Ha.
Heidi isn't any different than the girls watching at home, just worse off. She was watching the show, watching herself, and seeing something distant and faraway. And she wanted it, wanted desperately for it to be real. So she's just chasing her tail forever, while MTV films and makes bundles in cellphone advertisements. They pried open that hole in Heidi's heart, and they basically put that shit in her face. At least they certainly funded it.
And Kristin Cavallari, she of the maybe coke problem, was only seventeen when she first popped up on Laguna, so she certainly never had a chance. Is there a problem innate in some young adults these days that makes them crave cheap and easy fame, regardless of the consequence? Yes. But they probably wouldn't have such a strong yen for it if it wasn't being constantly dangled in front of them, this stupid cynical lie, packaged so slickly.
The Hills used to be kind of a good time — you could make fun of it, dissect the outfits, laugh at the sweeping music and landscape shots. But now... ugh. It's skidded into the realm of grotesque dance macabre. There might not be much to be done about Heidi now. She may be too in the thrall of the terrible fame monster. This might be her life. And that is a genuinely sad thing, for which we may be partly responsible. But we can at least, from here on out, stand on the principle that we won't give them anymore ratings, we won't do them the benefit of making fun of them, we won't keep on with the indulging.
So please join us in saying no to this awful, awful thing. Trust us when we say that we know it was silly to have ever watched in the first place. But it's gone past silly now. Something has tilted sideways and darkened. This is grim territory we are entering and rather than abandon all hope, we'd prefer to turn around and walk back up to higher ground.