The Hills (MTV,2006-2010) was an American semi-scripted reality programme that followed the ‘real lives’ of Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag, Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port; four white, upper-middle class friends that live and work in the glamorous culture industry of Los Angeles.
This new breed of reality television concerns itself with aesthetics over verisimilitude- our post-The Hills popular television landscape (Keeping up with the Kardashians, Made in Chelsea, My Super Sweet Sixteen, The Only way is Essex) has taken a break with the ‘real’ and substituted this with high production values that are almost cinematic in scope. The Hills set the standard for a formally interesting and pleasurable television aesthetic that proliferates today on our screens. This luxurious cinematic form repackages modes of product placement as a means to sell desirable goods and services. In her Essay; ‘Reality TV as Advertaimment’, popular Comunication, 2′ June Deery begins with:
“Reality TV, so far the dominant new genre of the twenty-first century, illustrates as it intensifies various forms of commodification found in contemporary society. People, experiences, ‘reality’, and even the medium of television itself are constantly being marketed in a genre whose absorption of direct and indirect forms of advertising is currently spearheading a conflation of advertising and entertainment” (June Deery, 2004, http://cmsw.mit.edu/mit3/papers/deery.pdf)
The Hills and it’s predecessors provide the means for an individual to construct their own image personae of branded self
Lisa Taylor, in her analysis of The Hills in ‘I’m a girl, I should be a princess’: Gender, Class Entitlement and Denial in The Hills’ expands further, suggesting that ‘The Hills is a narrative about self-branding, which, in an age of what Giddens (1991) calls the reflexive project of the self, is a key phenomenon. A distinct form of labour in post-Fordist capitalist culture, self-branding draws on the narrative and visual code of the media and cultural industries to accumulate profit across a range of locations, from the corporate workplace to online social networking sites such as Facebook.com.’(Lisa Taylor, 2011, Reality Television and Class- edited by Helen Wood and Beverly Skeggs, pg120)
‘So that while the girls on The Hills live out their real lives for the MTV cameras,’being’ is a form of labour in a chain of value accumulation for the cast, the MTV producers and the network'(Taylor,2011)
The Hills explores the dilemmas of ordinary life with the use of appropriation of soap opera conventions and moments of melodrama, within a class milieu of privilege. These ‘real-characters’ live The Hills narrative against a background of self entitlement, being so privileged that glamorous resources become mundane and unnoticeable to the cast. Just as their celebrity personae in the real world (press interviews and magazine exclusives) are absolutely denied within the narrative structure of the series. No references are made to where the resources for their wealth originates to afford these lifestyles. So whilst middle class materiality is supported in the reality programmes aesthetic; it is continually effaced as a category. The attempt to level-down these upper middle-class women by highlighting how ordinary their dilemmas are and by avoiding an explanation to their wealth acts to construct their on screen lives as universal, as if such selves are available to all in a classless society.
Video links to The Hills: http://youtu.be/dGHaHoRtmhQ