Academic journal article Genders

Living the Hills Life: Lauren Conrad as Reality Star, Soap Opera Heroine, and Brand

Academic journal article Genders

Living the Hills Life: Lauren Conrad as Reality Star, Soap Opera Heroine, and Brand

Article excerpt

[1] Multiple accounts of reality television discuss its ability to make a celebrity out of anybody, to pluck an ordinary person out of obscurity and thrust her or him into the limelight. For the most part though, the celebrity that reality television provides for its endless parade of "cast members" is fleeting at best. Most reality TV performers fit neatly into Chris Rojek's concept of the celetoid--a form of celebrity whose lifespan in the public eye is brief and whose fame is, in the first place, constructed by the media. However, Lauren Conrad, star of MTV's Laguna Beach and The Hills, has become not a celetoid, but a star. (Throughout this essay we refer to Conrad as "Lauren" to reflect the manufactured intimacy with audiences that enlivens what we elaborate as her unique mode of reality stardom.) MTV has continuously televised Lauren's private life from 2004 onward, and her image and persona increasingly permeate multiple media markets. As of this writing, Lauren has her own clothing line, The Lauren Conrad Collection, a handbag line in conjunction with Linea Pelle, and a cosmetics campaign with Avon's Mark. She is constant fodder for celebrity gossip magazines, especially Us Weekly, as well as popular gossip blogs like perezhilton.com and TMZ.com. Cementing her status as heroine of the teen crowd, Lauren won Teen Choice Awards in 2006 and 2007 for "Favorite Female Reality/Variety Star." Germane to industrial trends in post-network broadcasting, the workings of contemporary celebrity culture, and the post-Fordist historical moment, Lauren signals a new mode of U.S. reality television stardom--a profoundly gendered solution to some of the economic limits of previous forms of reality television celebrity. Through its peculiar adherence to, and adaptation of, both cinematic aesthetics and soap opera conventions, MTV's The Hills has been able to adapt earlier modes of female stardom to the genre of reality programming. This melding of high and low cultural forms--of reality program and cinematic production value, of soap opera narrative and the glamorous life of Hollywood stars--engenders a paradoxical feminine form of celebrity. The Hills brings the power and value of traditional forms of female stardom into the aesthetically dismissed, "low" cultural landscape of reality television with significant economic benefits for MTV and its advertisers, as well as a broader network of lifestyle and cultural industries.

[2] The Hills uses soap conventions to foster viewer identification with Lauren, yet it also maintains a cinematic distance necessary for her to take on an exceptional quality. As The Hills constructs Lauren as a soap opera heroine, it simultaneously makes her a star and thus an image to aspire to for young women navigating U.S. consumer culture. Through branding Lauren's lifestyle, MTV provides the viewer who aspires to be Lauren or be like Lauren with never ending opportunities to consume as Lauren does. The articulation of Lauren's star image to a feminine fashion and consumer culture creates a prized form of female celebrity, whose value to MTV is immeasurable for its ability to marshal a young female consumer-audience. While critics commonly acknowledge what Graeme Turner describes as "the mass production of celebrity" via reality TV, MTV has retooled and refined the practice of celebrity mass production. The result is the emergence of Lauren as a reality star, whose status as soap heroine of "real life" in the Hollywood Hills makes her at once a compelling point of identification for young women and a potent new form of lifestyle brand.

[3] Lauren's life first hit the airwaves on September 28, 2004 when she starred in MTV's reality serial Laguna Beach, which chronicled the lives of teenagers in California's wealthy Orange County. Lauren (then also known as LC) narrated the show, and much of the plot focused on a love triangle between Lauren, her friend Stephen, and his on-and-off girlfriend Kristin. …

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