Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I take back all those mean things I said about The Hills

I take back all those mean things I said about The Hills. It's the best freakin' show on television. I'll do you one better -- Spencer, as in Heidi and Spencer, is the most compelling character on TV in quite some time.

Here's the key to understanding Spencer: he's a guy who hates himself so much, he's literally trying to commit "suicide by girlfriend" (much like the better known suicide by cop) on national TV. Apparently he's filled with self loathing but lacks the will to do himself in. So instead he finds the most vapid, humiliating, empty shell of a girlfriend that he can and pledges his love to her. If you are watching the show hoping to see a the plight of a normal guy in search of a healthy relationship -- you're gonna be disappointed -- like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football held by Lucy, or me watching the Lakers, hoping Phil Jackson will actually coach.

Instead, Spencer goes out of his way to be humiliated on purpose. Most shows he doesn't even remember his girlfriend's name -- calling her Heidi sometimes and Holly other times. And he doesn't care -- the goal is humiliation and anything he can do to mess up (cheating openly, goading, eye rolling) just brings the flood of scorn that he so desires. It's fascinating to watch him happily bathe in humiliation and contempt like they were bubbles in a Calgon commercial. In many ways, Spencer is the modern retelling of The Story of O -- but the sexes have been reversed and now it's the male masochist who holds our attention as the depths of his debasement show no limits. As such he becomes a character as compelling as any devised by Beckett, a piece of performance art that makes a powerful social commentary on the state of the modern American male -- willing to sacrifice all pride in order to be seen with a gal who embodies all that is wrong with modern American culture. What started out as a lens to view culture, has become so extreme and so polarized that it is now the mirror reflecting back at us, taunting the viewer, privately exposing our own humiliation as we can't stop looking at the trainwreck that is us.

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