Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It Comes in a Pretty Box

Love triangles, elaborate prom invites that seem to require a set designer, stretch hummers, the insipid repetition of the phrase "what happens in Cabo, stays in Cabo," and a very very bad Broadway audition are among the highlights of Season One of Laguna Beach. Others include malapropisms and wacky-tobacky teenage logic (i.e. Girl 1: "If you and Stephen got married, your babies would be so cute." Girl 2: "I know, 'cause Stephen's all tan"), a totally non-sensical "non-profit" called AYA (active young america) that is little more than a puffed-up booking agency focused on giving "exposure" to friends who play at open mic nights or model in fashion shows ( where believe it or not, one of the organizers of AYA announces to an audience of all white and wealthy southern california types that "this is a movement like women's liberation and civil rights." We're still trying to figure out what "this" is.), and parents who are not only ineffectual, but content to encourage their children's mediocrity (a dad who encourages his daughter to "shoot for all C's"). Really, it is a strange and fascinating world, devoid of any real content or details, where any human interaction that involves emotion is termed "drama," and where the slack and hackneyed story lines are nimbly threaded together by beautiful shots of sunsets over the pacific and elegant palm trees gently swaying in the ocean breeze.

It's hard to say how much of Laguna Beach (and the current crop of other shows about rich people, i.e. My Super Sweet Sixteen, Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive) is meant to be critique. Part of what makes these shows compelling is the fact that they elicit such surprise and disgust that people could behave so atrociously. Really, it's hard to believe that some people are so un-self conscious that they would demand a laundry service in the midst of the Wyoming wilds, or bully classmates, or simply wallow in a "so-pleased with myself" glee. And it's hard not to wonder how these people feel when they see the shows, and -- in the case of LB -- it's hard not to wonder what their parents think when they see their kids pole dancing and doing shots and treating one another with so little respect (the gender relations are especially troubling).

There are moments in
LB that certainly seem to approach critique. For example, the juxtaposing of two girls receiving their graduation gifts -- one receives a car and the other receives a bible. You'd think that such a juxtaposition would be effective because of the contrast between the two, and yet the gifts seem eerily similar. The girl who receives the Bible -- a preacher's daughter -- is narcissistic and disconnected from reality, perhaps because she considers herself "saved" or "blessed," or perhaps because her father's church -- the crystal cathedral -- appears to be one of missing buildings from OZ.

Despite rampant skepticism re: the description of the mysteriously addictive Laguna Beach as a "reality show," a little dip into the "bonus footage" on the Season One DVD reveals that these kids are all too real and all too awful. Trust us: the show makes them look much better and much more interesting than they actually are. We could barely get through the candid interviews without wanting to eat our shoes. Just as a skillful photographer can make even the least photogenic person look vaguely attractive in a photograph, so can MTV render a group of painfully boring and offensive kids with "character" and "personality." And that ain't saying much. In fact, it's probably safe to say that the most interesting thing about these kids is that they are very well groomed. The show is all surfaces. Fascinating -- right?


Jenny said...

Hey, you know, you didn't mention Christina so much in your post. Did you have any strong feelings about her at all? :-)

I agree that the show seems to balance on the edge of critique/glorification. My guess is that the show works better when you can both condemn and sympathize with the characters. I can barely stomach the stupid "will you go to the formal with me?" charades, but at the same time I secretly sympathize with some of their "drama." Being a drama queen myself, I am guilty of overblowing certain situations in my life to make things interesting. Also, I catch myself making some pretty superficial judgements of the characters. If you remember my reactions this weekend, my problem with Talon was not immediately that he was a jackass, but that he wasn't attractive. Overlooking his severe character flaws, I was like, "Why do they all like him? He's not even cute."

Oh yeah, and it must SUCK to be the one who gets the bible instead of a car.

mzn said...

Hey, we've only just begun to watch reruns of LB on the TiVo and they seem to be late-2nd season eps. But now we have the first season on order and your descriptions of the show are making me very excited to watch from the start. The characters are soooo boring and I find it very hard to keep track of who's who, they're all so much alike. And yet I want to watch and get caught up.

I also wanted to say how much I liked having a neat little link to this post on the sidebar so that I didn't have to go searching for it. Nice!