Soap operas have long been a supporting leg for the table of society; they provide common ground for discussion, offer up countrywide watercooler gossip and dangle before us the idea that somewhere within our barren, empty lives there is drama.
I’ve known more than one person who would, every night, start with Neighbours and then work through Hollyoaks, Home and Away, Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders in a straight flush of working class escapism. These people based their lives around those of others who didn’t exist. They spent their time absorbed in a fictional reality, whilst their very real one ebbed away.
When reality television became the genre du jour these people immersed themselves in that too – absorbing more and more cathode rays in the pursuit of gossip and speculation. Endlessly watching, discussing, watching, discussing, watching, discussing and all the while unaware that their days revolved around reacting to the stylised actions of others.
Which, in case you were wondering where this was all going, is a bit like sitting through half an hour of MTV’s reality soap opera ‘The Hills‘.
I wasn’t aware of this show until I stumbled upon this afternoon so a bit of Googled backstory may help the equally uninitiated – it’s a ‘docusoap’ about the lives of a bunch of rich and beautiful white people living in Beverly Hills, a spin off from another show about the same bunch of rich and beautiful white people living by the beach. I can’t quite work out who these people are or why they deserve their own TV show, but I’m guessing the fact they’re rich, beautiful and white has something to do with it.
Despite having no discernible talents, charisma or purpose we follow their every move as they are afforded the sort of connections and opportunities most people can only dream of, and we get to watch as they piss them away in a scat-orgy of mindless self indulgence and childish arguments. They work in exclusive nightspots, in high fashion, in entertainment and get to mingle with movie stars and industry giants whilst riding in private jets and squandering the income of your average household in one champagne-sodden long weekend. They are a Bret Easton Ellis novel come real.
First things first: this is not a reality show. If this is an honest portrayal of life then I have a gateway to Xanadu in my bathroom. It’s shot with the logistical complexity of a Robert Altman film – multiple camera angles no matter how impromptu the moment, exquisite lighting setups for each deeply-wrung conversation and editing so judicious it makes the Apprentice look like the work of DA Pennebaker. It’s also shot like a Michael Mann film – so cinematic in its portrayal of another indentikit LA bar that you wonder how they can have a normal conversation with a crew of 36 no less than 10ft away.
Each cast member is virtually indistinguishable from not only the others, but from themselves as well. With all the emotional complexity of a blueberry muffin they bitch about minute aspects of each other’s behaviour, overreact to the most basic of situations and prove themselves beyond all but the most simple human interaction. This is a world where a two minute conversation with an ex-boyfriend can lead to a screaming argument, where modelling for the editor of Teen Vogue is the most impressive thing ever and where the word ‘like’ features more than all other words combined.
I don’t see the point of this show. Soap operas offer consolation for the viewer, aligning themselves in sympathy whilst drama is supposed to offer blissful escape. But this programme does neither. The characters are so vacuous and pathetic that they’re not even worth scorn and their lives are so empty and repetitive that they make the supposed glamour of Beverly Hills seem dull. They don’t come across as special, or impressive, or even worth knowing – they’re not good guys or bad guys, they’re just people, boring ones at that, living the same life as the viewer – watching, discussing, watching, discussing – albeit in a different place.
Maybe, though, that’s the point – TV used to present excitement and escape as admirable pursuits, but that stopped us watching. Now it offers boredom and repetitive behaviour patterns; makes gossip and self importance important enough to be on TV and the audience will copy, they’ll ask less questions and do fewer things. Soon TV will be like an Escher painting, a self-eating circle snake of navel-gazing and nadir-worship.
Think I’m overreacting? Consider this – for the entire length of the show there was a piece of text in the corner of the screen advertising a new show on MTV that night, Totally Calum Best, in which the mentally-challenged fucktard attempts to go without sex for 50 days. I don’t want to sound like the old man in the corner, but if The Hills isn’t the beginning of the end of civilisation, then that certainly fucking is.