L.A. Candy: First It’s Sour, Then It’s… Sweet Little Lies

“Interesting,” said Madison, although really, it wasn’t interesting at all.—Sweet Little Lies

When we last left the loosely life-like literary creations of Lauren Conrad, they were deeply mired in controversy. Our heroine, Jane Roberts, had just slept with her boyfriend’s best friend and, once the tabloids had gotten hold of the photographic evidence of the affair, absconded to Mexico with her reality TV co-star, Madison Parker. Unbeknownst to Jane, however, it was Madison who had the photos taken and delivered to Gossip magazine in exchange for more publicity.

Does this sound interesting? Because really, it’s not interesting at all.

Any regular viewer of The Hills, the real-life inspiration for L.A, Candy and now Sweet Little Lies, knows that a surprising amount of the show consists of nothing happening.* People go to dinner, they go to clubs (usually Les Deux), and they go to work; and then they tell other people about what happened at dinner, at the clubs, and at work. The most interesting aspect of the show, really, is how the show itself affects the reality it captures. How does having your life put on TV affect that life?

*Seriously. A friend and I once actually timed a half-hour episode, and it came to around 16 minutes of actual dialogue. The rest of the show is just shots of buildings, landscape, and people walking through downtown Los Angeles.

In some respects, Conrad’s books are the perfect insight into this question, since Conrad is giving us the details about producers texting Jane instructions while she is on camera, arranging dates and jobs, and cleverly editing the show to create a better narrative. And yet so much of Sweet Little Lies feels like watching an episode of The Hills.

After Jane returns from Cabo, her best friend, the brilliant, cynical, and beautiful Scarlett, tries to tell her that it was Madison who sold the pictures to the tabloids. Jane, who has just spent the last week relying on Madison for emotional support, refuses to believe her. So Jane is caught between two friends, and she doesn’t know whom to trust. Sound familiar?

Then Jane tries to apologize to her boyfriend, Jesse. They get back together and, after a period of blissful reunion, Jesse returns to his misbehaving, playboy ways. He drinks too much, insults Jane, and at one point threatens to drive her off the road. So Jane is caught between her feelings for her boyfriend and her knowledge that he is no good. Sound familiar? 

Meanwhile, Madison befriends Jane, but only to get more screen time. Her goal is to ultimately sabotage Jane’s public image so that she can become the star of the show. Madison even tries to tear Jane away from her best friend Scarlett, even getting her to move out of Scarlett’s apartment and move in with her. So Jane’s new roommate seems nice, but she’s actually a back-stabbing, media-hungry publicity whore. Sound familiar?

It’s not that I begrudge Conrad writing about her own life—as they say, write what you know. You would even think that a viewer of The Hills might like the stories told in Conrad’s series, but there is one key difference: The Hills is a fake work of non-fiction about real people, while Sweet Little Lies is a real work of fiction about fake people. I have no interest in reading boring conversations between two fictional characters, but if that same conversation is taking place between two real people who are trying to pretend that they aren’t being filmed for an immensely popular television series…well, then I’m hooked.

At the end of my review of L.A. Candy, I pointed out that Conrad’s portrait of Jane, and presumably her self-image, is remarkably close to the image the show has of her, undercutting any “the show-Jane isn’t the real Jane,” message of the novel. At this point I’m willing to go even further: It actually seems like the show has conditioned the way Jane/Lauren thinks about everything. Every conversation in Sweet Little Lies, whether it occurs on or off-camera, feels like it has been edited down into 35-second segments; everybody, whether they are cast members or not, is unreasonably obsessed with what the tabloids have printed, are printing, or will print in the future; and every storyline has excessive layers of melodrama.

Part of me finds this intriguing, since I find how The Hills constructs the reality of its stars—both on and off the show—so interesting. But it’s also somewhat depressing. For one, it indicates that Lauren and the rest of The Hills cast really are as shallow and superficial as the show makes them seem (seriously, Lauren, you do not need to give us a complete catalog of every character’s wardrobe every single time you include them in a scene). It also shows just how important fame really is to these people, since how they are presented publicly dictates their behavior so much.

Worst of all, though, is what it indicates about the influence of The Hills and shows, or cultural phenomena, like it. It doesn’t seem like such a benign distraction, or an interesting example of how the media saturates our lives. If people are appreciating the fictionalization of the show, which is what Sweet Little Lies is, then they seem to be viewing the story as an actual representation of reality. It’s not that fans don’t know it’s artificial, but that they think the banal, bland stories it concocts and the flat, stupid dialogue it depicts actually represent real issues and the way real people talk. And that’s a little scary, because there’s nothing real or engaging about the plot or the characters of Conrad’s novel. There’s nothing sweet about these little lies.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. […] Aught Lang Syne « L.A. Candy: First It’s Sour, Then It’s… Sweet Little Lies […]

    Reply

  2. Posted by Lily on July 4, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    i loved the book! i couldnt put it down, i have watched only one season of the hills and it does mimick the show immensley. However, i think it gives the viewers an ideas of how the show worked behind the scenes as well as answering the question: How fake is The Hills?

    Reply

  3. […] l.a. candy: first it’s sour, then it’s… sweet little lies (npinopunintended.wordpress.com) […]

    Reply

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