The Hills: Remember When?

I was pleasantly surprised when I turned on the television this morning and discovered that an all day marathon of The Hills was on MTV. It wasn’t an episode from this mostly crappy sixth season (hello Heidi 3.0). Instead I was treated to an early episode of season 1, when Lauren (who was still LC at that point) had just moved to L.A. and everything seemed glorious. Lauren began her career as an intern for Vogue magazine,  made her way through the L.A. club scene, had unfortunate relationship after unfortunate relationship, and a phenomenon was born.

I sat mesmerized. I had forgotten that at one point The Hills was a good, entertaining reality show. I never once believed that The Hills was “real” (this behind the scenes look at the show proves it) but that didn’t stop me from becoming completely engrossed by this show.

I grew up along with The Hills. Laguna Beach, the show that first introduced us to Lauren Conrad, Kristen Cavallari, Lo Bosworth, and yes, even Heidi Montag, first aired when I was still in high school. The Hills began when I started college. For people my age (those who care about the lives of twenty-somethings living in L.A.) The Hills is a defining television show – of the reality genre, of quick rises to celebrity, and of the of becoming tabloid fixation.

Of late, I’ve watched The Hills less and less. The media hype surrounding the show became bigger than the show itself and I stopped caring.

But what is strange is that I am actually going to miss The Hills once the final episode airs on Tuesday. It had its fair share of water cooler moments. When Lauren chose love instead of an internship in Paris, the “you know what you did” yelling match between Heidi and Lauren, Spencer’s beard, one of Lady Gaga’s first television appearances – it all happened on The Hills.

Back to The Real World

Guilty pleasure alert! The trailer for MTV’s The Real World has hit the airways. The twenty-forth season will be set in a post-Katrina New Orleans. However judging by the trailer, this is not a main priority (at least in the promotional material) for the cast. The upcoming season looks as trashy, repulsive, and addictive as ever. But after last season’s rather dull stint in Washington D.C. that might be a good thing.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you recall, the ninth season of The Real World was also set in New Orleans. I’m starting to think that they are running out of cities to film for this show.

I’ll be tuning in. How about you?

16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom: MTV’s groundbreaking reality programs

teen mom 2In the United States, approximately 1/3 of all teenage girls will get pregnant. This is the highest teen pregnancy rate among developed countries—and the teen pregnancy rate in the US is rising. While these sobering facts are not recent news, something of late has made teenage pregnancy story-worthy in popular culture: it seems that movies and television shows featuring expecting teens are now everywhere.

In 2007, the Oscar-nominated movie Juno was both a critical sensation and a highly scrutinized film. That same year, then 16-year-old tween celebrity Jamie Lynn Spears announced her pregnancy, initiating concerns from parent groups that teenage pregnancy was being glorified by celebrity culture and the media. More recently, television shows such asSecret Life of the American Teenager have attempted to “de-Juno-fy” the issue of teenage pregnancy by reminding audiences that pregnancy has consequences and you can’t simply find adoptive parents in The Penny Saver. But no series can effectively address the issue of teen pregnancy because it is not real (shocking, I know). In fact, no programs have had more impact in addressing teenage pregnancy than the MTV documentary series,16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, which both premiered in 2009.

It is hard to imagine that MTV, the network best known for hot-tub loving twenty-somethings living in the “real world,” bisexual dating games, and the ridiculous antics of guidos and guidettes at the Jersey Shore, is also the home of pregnant teenagers and teenage mothers struggling to get by. Yet these two shows are some of the network’s most watched new programming; Teen Mom had the highest rated premiere episode for the network in over a year.

The first season of 16 and Pregnant follows six girls, ranging from ages 16 to 18, from different socio-economic backgrounds and with different family situations, all expecting. The cameras follow them during the last months of their pregnancy, through labor and delivery, and through their child’s first months. Each girl has big dreams for their futures and how having a baby will affect their goals. But most quickly learn the harsh reality of having a child at 16. In the episode that follows 16-year-old Whitney, she talks about dropping out of high school and being too embarassed to leave her house to take a GED class. Her boyfriend loses his minimum-wage job, her family’s home is sold by the landlord and her baby is born with a chronic liver disease. Whitney’s story is not unique. Each episode features family arguments, out-of-work fathers, completely absent fathers and girls coming to terms with motherhood. Every episode ends with the girl commenting in a video diary about her experience as a teen mother. Most often they admit they aren’t mature enough for the responsibility.

Teen Mom follows four of these same six girls through their first year of motherhood. Their relationships crumble under the pressure of parenthood as they struggle to find jobs and complete their educations. Even Catelynn, a high school senior who gave her daughter up for adoption and does not face the daily trials of teenage parenthood, struggles with her decision every day. Granted, these shows are edited to tell complex stories in under an hour, but it is abundantly clear that these shows do not sugarcoat anything.

Yet 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, as with any documentary-reality series, teeter on the edge of educational and entertainment. It is easy to sit back and judge these girls for the decisions they make, especially if you have never been there yourself. As with any reality show, we watch because we are taken aback by the very fact that these people and these stories exist. But what do these shows say to an actual teen audience?

The second season of 16 and Pregnant premiered on Tuesday, Feb. 16 and MTV has already announced plans for a third season. The more girls featured on 16 and Pregnant (in season two there will be ten girls featured) and then Teen Mom, the more concerns need to be raised about these shows. Will 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom follow the trend, and like Juno, Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin, trivialize teen pregnancy?

For now, I don’t know the answer, but I am still tuning in each week.

Published: Mount Holyoke News
February 18, 2010

Reprinted with permission

Octomom: Coming to a TV Near You

In the wake of Jon and Kate’s impending divorce, I guess TV execs have decided we need a new family to exploit.

Nadya Suleman “Octomom” has reportedly signed an agreement which would allow her 14 children to star in a reality show. Each of her children will earn $250 a day and the show is to begin filming on Sept. 1.

So would you tune in?
Also, if you haven’t seen this clip from CBS News about Octomom: The Musical, you’re missing out.

Jon & Kate Plus 8 Premieres

Last night the fifth season of Jon & Kate Plus 8 premiered on TLC. Lately the Gosselins and their clearly disintegrating relationship has become a tabloid sensation. The premiere episode was intense. Here is a clip.

I’m a fan of the early seasons of Jon & Kate Plus 8. But if this is how the rest of series goes, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to watch. I’m not comfortable watching this troubled marriage completely fall apart.