This is real, dear readers. Kate Gosselin, former star of Jon & Kate Plus 8, and more recent star of the “Celebrity Plastic Surgery Gone Wrong” section of your favorite tabloid, is partnering with Royal Caribbean to give vacationers the cruise experience of a lifetime! The cheapest cabin on this cruise is $3,000 and the priciest is $5,500. That doesn’t include the roundtrip airfare to the port of embarkation, 7 days worth of booze, and mandatory tips for the various staff who will be shoving complimentary ice cream sundaes in your face 24-hours a day. And you’ll need someone to watch your cat while you’re gone. That’s gonna cost you too. Especially when your cat finds out why you’ve abandoned her for 7 days and 7 nights (hint: pee in shoes).
It’s not that I doubt that there are people out there who would like to meet Kate Gosselin, or at least see her in person. If Kate Gosselin was coming to the Greenville Olive Garden, I would most definitely drive across town to see her. I’m a gawker by nature. I might even wait in a line to see her. Especially if there was the promise of endless breadsticks and salad afterwards.
What I doubt is that there are enough people to fill a cruise ship who have 1. the desire to meet Kate Gosselin and 2. several thousand dollars of disposable income. But clearly some vacant-eyed minion in Kate Gosselin’s employ must have gotten on the blower, done some canvassing, and found out that YES! there are in fact at least 3,000 people willing spend a lot of money to “learn a new craft” with Kate Gosselin somewhere in the Caribbean. Kate makes amazing crafts.
Who might these people be? I imagine these are people who have worked very hard to create a nice nest egg for themselves, one that they’ve been squirreling away for a big splurge. They are willing to spend this money on a worthwhile venture — something the whole family can enjoy. I imagine a mother of three young children, a woman who still believes that Kate Gosselin is her former self, a domestic super hero who manages to “do it all.” She does not see Kate Gosselin’s current self: a strung out fame addict making due with celebrity cruise ship gigs (which, if you didn’t already know, are the methadone of fame fixes, followed only by state fair appearances). I believe this target consumer is a generous, good-hearted woman. She thinks that Kate Gosselin got an unfair shake when her marriage to fell apart in front of the reality TV cameras and what was poor Kate to do but scramble for more TV gigs in order to make ends meet while her lazy, good-for-nothing ex-husband shopped for Ed Hardy T-shirts and had sex with young women who should know better? Lancaster county private schools don’t pay for themselves. And neither do unlimited sessions at The Sunshine Factory.
Yes, the ideal passenger on the Kate Gosselin cruise is a woman who doesn’t like to gossip, but enjoys reading gossip rags. When the cover of US Weekly proclaims “Angie is Pregnant!” she believes them and wishes the best for Angie. She owns several products featuring the “As Seen on TV” sticker. They have to work. Why would Ron Popeil lie?
This woman sees the Kate Gosselin cruise as a chance to play “fun family games with Kate and staff,” no doubt envisioning being tethered to Kate in the 3-legged race or possibly depositing an egg, ever-so-gingerly, onto Kate’s awaiting spoon. I imagine this mother has twins, just like Kate, or possibly triplets or quadruplets (but definitely not sextuplets because then this woman would also have her own show), and that’s why she identifies with Kate in the first place. She understands why Kate was so frazzled — why she barked at her children and needled her husband. She’s done that too. Having multiples is tough.
This woman might be a stay at home mom (but only temporarily, just until the twins are old enough for school) and the days are long. Some days she wonders why she keeps wiping crumbs off of the counter top after breakfast, knowing that they’ll reappear again, like magic, after lunch. She wonders why she bothers changing her clothes before loading the triplets into the minivan and heading to the grocery store. After all, she’ll be wearing her winter coat — no one will see the dribbles of coffee on her chest or the dried rice cereal clinging to the cuffs of her sleeves. But there’s always the chance. She brushes her hair, too, and puts on a little lipstick even when she knows she’ll be at home all day, just her and the quadruplets. Grooming’s important. Because you just never know who might show up at the door while you’re sitting there, not wearing any lipstick. She and Kate understand this.
She’s sympathetic to Kate and her Botox and her hair extensions and her tummy tucks. She wouldn’t mind getting a tummy tuck herself. Who wouldn’t? She plans to tell Kate all of this at that “private BBQ on deck with Kate and a fabulous band.” She’s thinking that “private” sounds nice. Maybe she and Kate will share their birth stories. Hers is a real doozy — 40 hours, no epidural. Not even a valium. She practiced her visualization and guided imagery ahead of time, thinking of her uterus as a flower slowly opening, just as her Bradley method teacher instructed. Not many women can do that. Maybe they’ll stand together at the railing, this target consumer and Kate, looking out at the ocean, quoting Titanic (“I’m king of the world!”). “Yes,” she thinks, “this could be the family’s summer vacation. Pricey, yes. But we can swing it.” And won’t it be nice to get a “A commemorative personalized gift from Kate” (one per family)? The gift will be personal because Kate understands her, just as she understands Kate.
I understand this woman, too, because part of her is me. And I think this woman deserves better. She deserves to use that $5,000 nest egg on something real and tangible — not a staged photograph with a curt former reality TV star. But she enters her credit card information. She understands the ticket is non-refundable. She’s going to meet Kate Gosselin. It’s worth it.
As I sat down to watch the premiere of the sixth and final season of The Hills, MTV’s faux reality battle-ax, I was mentally preparing my snarky blog post. The Hills has always existed at one move away from reality, becoming more and more detached with each season. As I argued in my recap of the season 5 finale, at this point only Audrina still thinks the show is “real.” But about 5 minutes into the season 6 premiere I realized that my snark meter–which usually provides a continuous stream of snarky comments as I watch programs like The Hills and The City–was totally silent. I found that I was watching The Hills, really watching it, and that I was completely engaged by the narrative and the characters.
But why? Why has a show that has always been the simulacrum of reality suddenly become real again (notice that I didn’t put the word real in quotation marks)? Who do we have to thank? Two words, my friends: Heidi’s boobs.
The episode opens with Lo and Stephanie, fresh out of her second (yes second!) stint in rehab, meeting at one of those outdoor lunch spots that seem to have been built solely for the purposes of these staged conversations. But this conversation (dare I say it?), feels…almost…real. Stephanie tells Lo that she has just finished up an AA meeting and then sighs, “I can’t believe I’m doing this all over again.” She looks genuinely frustrated with herself. “I’m only 23 and I’ve been to jail twice? I mean, that’s not normal.” This exchange marks one of the first moments when the world outside The Hills–the world of the paparazzi and Lauren’s clothing line and Heidi’s musical career, the world that the show’s cameras like to pretend does not exist–is entering back into The Hills narrative.
After Lo invites Stephanie to Miami with the rest of the Scooby gang to watch the Super Bowl (a great vacation idea for a recovering alcoholic, no?), Stephanie mentions that she hasn’t seen Spencer or Heidi in months. Lo then tells Stephanie “There’s been some…talk about Heidi. And…a new face.” Lo then lists all of Heidi’s surgeries (which have been exhaustively detailed in the tabs as well as the mainstream press these last few months), ending on “butt job.” “Butt job?” Stephanie asks, clearly puzzled, “Like liposuction?” “No,” replies Lo, making squeezing gestures with her hands “Like a bigger…like a bigger butt. Like a little junk in the trunk.” Stephanie still looks baffled: “But how do you, how do you add?” “I don’t know,” Lo responds, shaking her hand. And then we cut to credits.
I can’t describe how this cold open made me feel–not only was the show directly acknowledging the media spectacle that it truly is, but the show’s cast actually seemed to be having fun with it. This does not happen in the world of The Hills. I waited for the TV screen to collapse into itself. But it didn’t.
But this scene was nothing compared to the scenes featuring Heidi. When we first see Heidi, she is being filmed from behind, as she packs her suitcase to prepare for a trip home to see her family in Colorado. Spencer is talking to her from the livingroom, begging her not to go in her fragile post-surgery condition. What is great about this scene–even clever–is how the camera will not give us a view of Heidi’s much-discussed Frankenstein face or even her comically large breasts. We only see her wrists and legs. It is a tantalizing omission.
When Heidi arrives at her home in Crested Butte, CO, the camera continues to play coy. However, we are offered a series of close ups of framed family photos from around her mother’s house: Heidi as a young girl, Heidi with her siblings, etc. Looking at these photographs we are reminded of the Heidi from earlier seasons–a beautiful, fresh-faced girl. Seeing these photos now provokes…I can’t even believe I’m about to write this…nostalgia.
Then Heidi sits down on the couch with her mother, Darlene, and we get our first look at Heidi’s face–tight, swollen and chiseled all at the same time. The best term I can use to describe it is “uncanny”–something which is simultaneously familiar and foreign. A not-Heidi. Her mother nails it on head when she tells her daughter, moments before she breaks down in tears, “It’s very weird, it’s very awkward, I’m sorry…” Darlene recovers a bit and asks Heidi what exactly she had done. Heidi describes her browlift and Darlene asks “Is that permanent? They’re not going to come down a little bit?’ Darlene looks dejected when Heidi informs her that the look is permanent.
Darlene then switches her tone, becoming indignant, even angry, with her daughter: “I just feel like when you left home [for L.A.] you had more confidence and more self-esteem than anyone person I’d ever met.” Heidi begins to talk about how she always felt self-conscious about her chest size but Darlene isn’t buying it:
Darlene “It sounds to me like you want to look like Barbie”
Heidi: [brightening]: “I do wanna look like Barbie.”
Darlene: “Why would you want to look like Barbie? To everybody else that saw you, you were Heidi. No one in the world could have looked like Heidi Montag.”
Heidi “Are you telling me I don’t look good?”
Heidi then breaks down and begins crying real tears (at least she can still do that).
My snark meter was tempted to make some joke–like “Right, no HUMAN could have looked like Heidi Montag”–but I quickly told that snark meter to shut up because I got what Darlene was saying.Her mother’s words–that no one could have looked like Heidi, the Heidi we were just looking at in those family photos–are heart breaking. Heidi sacrificed her individuality–her Heidiness–for some twisted ideal of beauty that only plastic surgery addicts seem to understand.
Later in the episode Heidi goes out to dinner with her family. Her sister, Holly, asks “Don’t you think it’s so weird though? That you were always so outgoing and confident? I was envious of the confidence you had. I don’t know what happened.” When Heidi explains that she started to feel insecure, the following conversation takes place:
Darlene: “I would like to see the choice made to deal with the insecurity on a psychological level.”
Heidi: “And that’s great for you. And you live in the mountains–you don’t live where I live.”
Darlene: “Does that make a difference?”
Heidi: “Of course it does.”
Darlene: “So should you not live in that area?”
Heidi: “I don’t want to get into this.”
This may be the most compelling, the most real conversation I’ve heard yet on The Hills. This young girl, once beautiful and confident, learned to hate herself and her body, after only a few years of living in Los Angeles. Heidi, as she exists now, is almost monstrous. She has become a Heidi-monster. But it’s too late to go back. Heidi begins to weep at the table as she attempts to chew her dinner with a swollen jaw. Her family watches the Heidi-monster in amazement.
This is amazing melodrama, people. Amazing.
Further adding to the emotional complexity of the scene is the fact that the family ia surrounded by The Hills cameras–the very cameras that have followed Heidi around for the last 4 years, scrutinizing her face and body, pointing out her (non-existent) flaws. These cameras are responsible for the Heidi-monster that weeps on the couch and at the dinner table and now they continue to watch her, passively recording the spectacle of her demise. They created her and now they mock her. It’s all so cruel. If I were Darlene I would stand up, grab a wine glass from the dinner table, and smash the camera lens. After all, these cameras stole her daughter. She should be livid.
I have never before been moved by The Hills. I’ve always viewed it as a piece of pop culture fluff, as a way to discuss how reality television has ceased to record reality. But this particular episode, with its pathos and its melodrama, reminded me about what good reality TV–and good melodrama–can do. Dare I say it, friends? The Hills, at least for one episode, is real.