Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reality TV Analysis: The Hills

I watched The Hills to complete my analysis. The show takes place across Los Angeles, and mostly in Beverly Hells, hence the name. There is a group of friends that weave together by several degrees (her boyfriend, her best friend, her boyfriend's sister, his ex-girlfriend's brother, etc.) and they all manage to have some life altering dilemma every episode no matter how miniscule the problems is.

The show airs on MTV on Mondays at 10:00 P.M. I suppose the purpose is to entertain the viewers, although I fail to see the appeal. I think the idea also behind the show is to bring the show's stars into the limelight and then in turn use them as puppets to promote various things for MTV.

As I attempted to determine who the intended audience is for the show I examined what commercials were being aired along throughout the episode. At the very beginning there was one for a luxury car that showed off all of its fancy gadgets. Then, there were two Sonic commercials and one for some sort of smart pen that records what it hears as you write. I watched this episode online and I wondering if these commercials were therefore not the same ones aired on TV. Regardless, the intended audience is definitely younger teens and high school kids who can easily wrap themselves up in the fabricated dramas of the shows characters.

In this episode one of the main characters (Heidi) receives pressure from her boyfriend to kick her sister out of their apartment because the boyfriend says the sister is a mooch and so Heidi agrees to kick her sister out who then goes to stay with Lauren (main character on show). This occurs within the first 4 minutes and clearly demonstrates the patriarchal environment on the show. The relationship between Heidi and her boyfriend (Spencer) is indicative of the importance that the show's priorities, which places dating above familial ties, and of course the man gets the final say. Further, when Heidi tries to voice her opinion Spencer doesn't even hear her out, she shuts her down and goes so far as to pin all the blame on her while he is clearly the root for the entire problem.

In another scene Audrina is with her boyfriend who she clearly thinks too much of because as he man handles her physically and talks down to her as if she's 7 (granted she does come off like a total flake). Obviously, the show is promulgating false conceptions of relations between a man and a woman because Audrina is completely submissive to Justin (the boyfriend). This all become very clear when Audrina's sister asks why she still sticks with Justin even when he goes missing for whole weeks at a time without returning phone calls. Audrina just kind of turns the other cheek and acts like it's not a big deal because he's her "#1." This is a prime example of Audrina's lack of agency to even think for herself. Within the show we can see how her positionality has stripped her of it. She works so hard to conform to the society's ideals on beauty and femininity.

This is troubling because as Jean Kilbourne notes in her article from Women's Lives, "today our children are not brought up by parents, they are brought up by the mass media." She also discusses how teenagers are sensitive to many things as they develop their values, roles, and self-concepts. Thus, shows like the Hills do nothing but instill deleterious ideas into young people's minds. On a similar topic, Kilbourne talks about how girls spend enormous amounts of time attempting to achieve something that is not attainable. The women on The Hills are prime examples of something that is unattainable by the majority of girls and women. The characters on the show are so tanned, waxed, and air-brushed that they are barely people.

There is another scene in which Audrina and Justin are at dinner and he gives her a present. She opens it and it's a shirt that he has bought her and he informs her that she isn't to wear a bra with it. At this point I am no longer surprised at anything coming out of their mouths but this is just yet another example of the women's lack of agency while the men of the show set the tone of the whole show without even being main characters.

In the intro to the section of women's sexuality in Women's Lives Kirk and Okazawa-Rey talk about the double standard that exists for women as they must be docile and submissive to men yet still viable sexual objects for men. There was a scene in this episode where Lauren and Audrina go out for a drink and as they are talking they say how they always attract trouble and they kind of giggle at themselves. But then, they also discuss how Audrina isn't sure if she wants to go to Mexico to "get away" with her boyfriend. She is worried it's too soon and would "look bad." This scene is a prime example of this double standard that women live everyday.

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