The great thing about Slate’s Troy Patterson is that he communicates both the towering awfulness of reality television and its vapid pleasures — often all at the same time. For example:
Meanwhile, Lauren and Whitney jetted to Paris. Their internships at Teen Vogue required attendance at a debutante ball. Said Lauren of the City of Light, “It’s so pretty here,” which counts as an incisive comment, the dramatis personae of The Hills not really being verbal creatures. They communicate in a language of dropped jaws, desperate gapes, nonbelieving double takes, and plastic reaction shots. They don’t need dialogue. They have faces! Thus, my favorite among the girls is not button-nosed queen bee Lauren, but Whitney, on account of the hints of Modigliani around her doe eyes.
I can’t say I watch much reality TV. About two or three minutes at a time is usually all I can stomach, unless I’m sick, in which case I already feel like the show would’ve made me. But my sense, all the same, is that his summation of the show’s goals, or lack thereof, is just about perfect:
The Hills—flat as fact, intentionally pointless—presents distinct problems of critical practice. The questions it means to inspire include “Is Heidi’s behavior toward Spencer consistent with her earlier statements?” and “Is Lauren hot?” We are supposed to discuss these people as we would our own friends. They’re just like us, and, for that, they are stars.
The only thing I might quibble with is the word “stars.” They’re not stars; they’re simulacra of stars. They are the remnants of stardom in what is approaching a post-star age. Oh sure, we’ve still got George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but stars—those truly otherworldly creatures of LA sun and Manhattan skyscrapers — are going dark. Instead, we’ve got fragments of stars, miniature celebs on reality TV, writing blogs, chronicling their exploits in gossip columns and vanity fashion lines and bi-yearly glossy features. As might be expected, there are far more of them — anyone and everyone truly has a chance now. But with the exception of the occasional Britney-sized supernova, their reach tends to be limited, their star-light less bright