Friday, July 21, 2006

Annoying Boy of the Week: Jason from MTV's "The Hills"

The Hills centers on Lauren, one of the main cast members from past seasons of LB. The credited cast is limited to four women, and the swirl of LA lights and spangly dresses juxtaposed with the interiors of the teen vogue offices (where Lauren interns) and FIDM (where Lauren goes to school) in the show's intro give one the sense that The Hills is a sort of west coast, post MTM, post-SATC saga of four young women. Lauren, while spoiled, seems like a pretty nice person, and the three other women on the show are also pretty likeable. Despite her prissy upbringing, Lauren appears to be a very hard worker and seems genuinely motivated to get her life on track. She also seems like a pretty good friend. Too bad her boyfriend is a monster.

Jason Wahler (aka "Jay-Wall") never talks to Lauren. When he does, he says fucked up shit like "I want you to never talk" or "You keep making mistake after mistake" even though all Lauren ever does is forgive him and buy him expensive gifts like golf clubs and dog tags. His attitude towards her is hardly loving or affectionate or even -- dare I say it -- sexual; he literally treats her like property -- forbidding her to talk to other men, even if it's for her job. He pouts and scowls when Lauren tells him she was sad when he decided to spend his birthday doing lines and partying with high school skanks instead of cuddling with her. His reaction to her articulation of any feeling other than submission is either volatile or sulky. He threatens to break up with her on New Year's Eve because Lauren answered her phone (it was another guy calling), even thought the event happened days before new year's. On Lauren's birthday, he rents a room at the Standard, but then sulks when Lauren wants to hang out in the room instead of going out. I'm sorry, but why the hell would you get a hotel room if you didn't want to take bubble baths together or feed each other strawberries or, I don't know, have sex without your roommates being around. I can only guess that Jason wanted to go out because he needed some blow. Either that, or he doesn't really like Lauren. My hunch is that it is probably both.

I read on a message board somewhere that Jason is bipolar, so that could explain the moodiness. But moody or not -- he treats Lauren like shit and should be held accountable. I also read that he's been in and out of rehab for coke and alcohol, that he never finished high school, and that he used to hit ex-girlfriend Alex M (also from LB season 2). On LB we saw him treat ex-gf Jessica like dirt, then we saw him kiss Jessica in front of Lauren even though he had already started dating Lauren. He's a total ass, and I have no idea why Lauren even got back together with him. One of our friends has speculated that he must be, er, well endowed if you know what I mean. But he's so abusive and so volatile that I'm always half-expecting the crew to drop their cameras and stage some sort of intervention.

The Hills makes me wonder what the current climate of reality tv ethics is really like. When Ruthie, one of the cast members of Real World Hawaii, developed a drinking problem, she was asked to leave the show and get help. On this season of the Real World, there are three women. One of them has been raped, and another one of them physically abused. The one whose boyfriend used to hit her is also suffering from an eating disorder. On The Hills, we see Lauren subjected to Jason's manipulative and erratic behavior episode after episode. Though each conflict is later reflected on as a "silly fight" or Jason just "being a guy," it's hard not to imagine what the long term effects might be. It's sorta like watching someone cut down a tree with a kitchen knife.

This does not seem okay to me, but is it weird that I'm surprised? The irony of living in a such a highly litigious culture has had me thinking that -- despite all the potential for exploitation -- execs and producers of reality shows would not only be wary of endangering their subjects, but would be unable to stand by by idly should a dangerous interpersonal situation develop. But lately I've begun to suspect this notion of mine is incredibly naive. I mean, if producers are not going to step in when people are hitting and punching each other, they're not going to do jack shit about someone's misogynistic and emotionally abusive boyfriend.

So is this evidence that MTV's version of reality totally sucks? Or does it simply confirm that the whole genre of "reality tv" is just plain voyeuristic and unethical and sick? And what about those of us watching?

My sense is that Lauren and Jason's relationship is particularly bad, but I'm worried that the reactionary climate of gender relations depicted on this show (and so many others) is actually more typical that I could ever guess. I find the fact that this behavior is perceived to be normal by Lauren and her friends terribly troubling, and I worry that the show's main audience -- young women -- might also perceive it to be okay.


EHL said...

I'm with you on this one, FF. I keep watching The HIlls but am repeatedly horrified, not only by Jason's behavior, but by the "happy ending" resolutions each week, in which Lauren happily falls into Jason's arms, they make up, etc. I suppose I'm hoping that this is building to something--like Lauren dumping the guy or a soap opera-like transformation on Jason's part, in which he recognizes his awful behavior and earnestly seeks to change. Like you, I'm worried that this is the picture of a romantic relationship young women today hold. Frankly, it's freaking me out.

porkmuffin said...

amen, or awomen, to this post. my fear about MTV reality programs is that, in general, they only serve to bolster infantile behavior as "normal", and work to wear down the self esteem of young girls. it seems like this new show "Why Can't I Be You?" might be an exception, and for the most part "Made" is also an exception.

zp said...

I'm not sure if this bears on Jason and Lauren or not. It very well might.

I've got a challenge of sorts for Fluffy Dollars and this means the both of you:

What about American Apparel???!!!

I feel like a labor and gender class for undergrads could spend the whole semester researching and debating this.

So where do we start?

zp said...

oh, and nation.

Jenny said...

You know what's weird? I haven't even watched this show yet. But it sounds like Jason is back to his old tricks. He's just a fool. A total, complete fool.

But hearing you talk about it makes me nostalgic for that night we all stayed up watching season 1 at your place. Plus bonus footage. All I can remember is Kurt busting on everyone--except Lo. Lo could do no wrong. Have you guys tracked her down in her SB digs yet?