The Hills Are Alive. But Just Barely.

I can’t believe I haven’t yet had time to talk to you about the return of The Hills.

I’m sure you’ve been concerned about what’s happening on the show now that Lauren Conrad has gone off to pick trash up off the beach, write YA novels, and design clothes for Kohl’s.

I have been too. Friends, I’ve been worried.

When I first got in touch with my love for The Hills, I went back and got caught up on the show that spawned it: Laguna Beach. That’s when I first met Kristen Cavallari. In that show, Lauren quickly became one of the moral and narrative centers of the show. When she left, Kristen took over and pretty much killed it.

I fear the same fate for The Hills now.

The producers have tried to swap out Lauren for Kristen, but it’s a bad swap. Lauren played the show like an everywoman who experienced great privilege but never seemed to rely on it or need it. She was like us, only rich, and she still (seemed to?) worked her ass off in kinda crappy jobs (hello, intern at Teen Vogue much?). She was surrounded by craziness in the forms of trainwreck Heidi, vaguely-autistic Audrina, cracked-out Stephanie, megaloSpencer, feisty manbitch Brody, and coldtongued Lo. Lauren was always the nice person, trying to do the right thing, without putting up with needless lies or bullshit. Which mean that she was pretty busy.

Kristen is a whirlpool of the crudest form of selfishness. She’s like a Lauren Conrad knock-off: she looks a lot like her, but carrying her around on your arm would just make you look cheap and stupid. She’s mean, spiteful, quick to anger, vile, “a maneater” (thank god we resurrected that term), and an all-around horrible person.

When you put a truly horrible person into a sea of pretty unfortunate people, what do you get? Suddenly, a lot of tepid co-stars. Even the crazy people are sort of getting together over coffee to say, “Wow. That girl is actually crazy.” When crazy points a finger, you walk in the other direction, okay? That’s a life lesson.

So now we will spend 24 episodes watching Kristen Cavallari slowly tear down The Hills stone by stone, street by street, testicle by testicle. It’s really unfortunate. Just after two episodes, I was already wishing that, instead of bringing Kristen in, they’d given a starring slot to Lo Bosworth.

Lo, also of Laguna provenance, seems to have taken up the mantle of Lauren’s normalcy. She’s nice to everyone–even Kristen sometimes–and she’s gained a comparable level of grace under fire that Lauren always had (tear-soaked raccoon mascara incident notwithstanding). I like Lo now. I like that she’s gotten her shit together. I like that she doesn’t have stupid boy drama.

I’m also liking Stephanie. Yes! I’m serious. She can be crazy, but she’s a crazy who means well. She just often fails at it.

And that’s one to grow on.

Why We Can’t Help But Love Lauren Conrad

It’s Lauren Conrad’s last season on The Hills, they’re saying, and it seems to me a good opportunity to self-examine why I can’t seem to feel anything but love for her.

She’s pretty much everything we should hate: fabulously rich, dubiously famous, amazingly beautiful, and accepting hand-over-first the extraordinary opportunities presented to her. But despite the outward appearance and definitions, she’s also exceptionally down to earth, hard working, and sane.

Lauren Conrad and her stints on Laguna Beach and The Hills represent a few typical American fantasies. First, the obvious: that we have all the resources we need to live a lifestyle of decadence and leisure. It’s true; she does. She eats out at the hottest LA restaurants, goes out to bars and clubs regularly, and has a flattering luxurious wardrobe. She jets off to Cabo–becase, why not? Or plans an impromptu trip to Hawaii with the girls because hey, girls need to get away sometimes too.

But her narrative arc on The Hills is really a rags-to-riches story turned upside down. If all our material needs were met and all we had to focus on were giving our lives meaning, what would we turn to? Work and love, the only things missing. Lauren’s career Cinderella story found her working a highly-coveted internship at Teen Vogue, where she will forever be known as “the girl who didn’t go to Paris” when she could because she wanted to live with her alcoholic deadbeat boyfriend instead (but she went to Paris the next year, so don’t worry). She scored a hot job at fashion PR firm People’s Revolution with Kelly Cutrone, one of the best reality TV personalities ever. She works hard, she makes tons of mistakes, she learns from her mistakes, and she keeps working toward her dream.

This makes her a singularity among the rest of her friends in LA, which is the second fantasy Americans hold for themselves: that we are the sane harbor in a sea of totally fucked up people around us.

Two words: Heidi Montag. Nice girl, but whoa. She gots problems. Well, problem: Spencer Pratt. Lauren’s pal Whitney was pretty down to earth–but then again, we never saw Whitney’s life beyond Teen Vogue and People’s Revolution. On The Hills, she existed solely as Lauren’s sounding board and sage advice giver. Audrina, also a nice girl, can’t seem to stop falling for the wrong guy, and can’t say shit when she has a mouthful. Pile on Brody Jenner, with his penchant for douchbaggery, getting thrown in jail for fighting, and chickenhawking young ladies and you’ve got quite a mix. Oh, and Stephanie Pratt, who, like a mosquito, knows exactly what to buzz in people’s ears.

As she mixes with everyone, Lauren is our touchstone, generally unflappable, her eyes bulging out at the antics around her the same way ours were. She flatly confronts the lunacy around her to the people she has issues with, and she avoids gossiping beyond the harmless or inane. She’s also a great friend, always there when people need her–even Heidi sometimes.

Ah, Lauren…what will I watch when you’re gone? Here’s to hoping you’ll follow Whitney to Diane von Furstenberg in NYC, where you can bitchslap the smarm off Olivia’s face and take your rightful place: on my television and in my fashion fantasies.

Alexander Chee posted this on Facebook: a capitalist response to the #amazonfail debacle.

Yes, taking gay books—or any books—off the rankings list seriously limits how many will sell, but isn’t it up to the bookseller to decide what the market wants, what it will sell and how it will sell it? (More behind the link.)

While I do feel like it’s every retailers prerogative to stock what they want, I wonder when those stock choices become silencing rather than just market-driven. Of course the market for gay-themed publications is small. But is it unnecessary?

If capitalism is dependent upon utility, why do we have products like Snuggie?

And is it possible that in light of all the recent controversy about the gays’ rights to equality, we’ve become a tad sensitive to having our access to seemingly accessible things unceremoniously revoked?

Perhaps the books being pulled isn’t the issue, Sara Nelson. Perhaps it’s the fact that:

1. The author who inquired was told his books featured adult content, wherein “adult content” includes positive mention of homosexuality.

2. Heterosexual books with graphic sex and violence were not pulled nor marked “adult” (and despite your admonition, this is more than an ironic element of the situation; it’s hateful).

3. Books promising to cure homosexual lifestyles–which surely must include the same adult content identified in issue 1–were not pulled, mysteriously enough.

Are we wrong for reading this as Amazon putting forth a political agenda? And should we not feel outraged at being disinvited from the bookselling party, when once we all sat equally at the table?

French New Wave Cinema, Meet Top Chef

I was catching up with my old lover TiVo last night, having been occupied every night for the past week and a half (by the end of this busy stretch, I’ll have had daily & nightly obligations for a solid two weeks).

Top priorities: America’s Next Top Model and Top Chef.

Top Chef‘s episode of two weeks ago, the one where they cater the dinner for the nonprofit, was especially timely in light of the work happening here on this blog this week. Aside from the fundraising aspect, I want to draw your attention to the post-elimination aspect of the episode, where the formerly-chummy contestants break down into a full-on shouting match that nearly becomes a lesbianism-fueled brawl (perhaps she needs “Pocket Shiva,” the calming doll device for lesbians, as recently seen on The Big Gay Sketch Comedy Show).

What you’ll noticed about this argument, and many reality-tv arguments, is the use of Godard’s jump cutting technique, where, to paraphrase the words of the NYT article referenced yesterday, Godard kept only the shots he liked and cut out anything he didn’t like. The jarring result is inspired and brilliant, and was then an entirely new approach to editing.

Now, it keeps the viewer from being bored and allows contestants to appear to be awfully articulate when arguing–or, at least, it preserves for us only their most serious examples of jackassery.

And really—isn’t that what television’s for?