Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Paris Changes Everything"

My daughter, 21, just called from the States. We were discussing bargain vintage-shopping at Goodwill, her work at a contemporary art center, the price of antiques, her Art History exam, what we've been up to since we last saw each other a few weeks ago. The usual mother-daughter transatlantic chit-chat, provided oh-so-cheaply, by Skype.

Then she tossed out the following. "Have you ever heard of The Hills? It's a supposed reality TV show on MTV." [ed note: needless to say, I'm 100% ignorant in that TV-viewing arena] "The latest episode takes place in Paris. It was so lame! Of course, I'm embarrassed to admit that I was even watching it, because the show is so vapid. But this segment was called 'Paris Changes Everything,' so I had to check it out. This was incredible. The girls, who supposedly work for Teen Vogue, have a driver the whole time and don't even have jet-lag. It was so staged! They didn't do anything typically French: they're in Paris to cover a debutante ball at Le Crillon. You don't see much of Paris. What clichés they do show of the city are accurately portrayed, but it's so superficial."

This from a young woman who spent the summer she was 16 wandering the streets of Paris in a heat wave taking an impressive series of 35mm black-and-white photos with her Minolta. She's studied here and visited here. She's been filmed here for a documentary. She might be the first to agree that, indeed, Paris Changes Everything. But not anything like The Hills.

So of course I had to check out this Valley-Girl show on line. Fortunately I'd already eaten dinner so I didn't have to worry about losing my appetite. I clicked onto the web link for the latest episode and I admit that I sat through thirty painful minutes of this palaver. Has Paris really devolved to this, in contemporary American popular culture? Where the major drama for aspiring young Americans -- Lauren and Whitney -- in this fair city are

1) when will the Colette boutique open so I can pick up the shoes?

2) how can I get the stains out of my Alberta Ferretti dress?


3) triumph at the boutique -- Alberta Ferretti is replacing the dress!

As far as I can see, Paris Changes Nothing for these idiotic actress-girls, except that they keep chanting "Oh-My-God? It's Sooooo Pretty?" The episode was a tour de force of product placement and clichés. The Crillon debutante ball, though I know it does really exist, seemed to be populated with Hollywood's pseudo-version of what French debutantes are like. I will admit right here that in the past I loved the Paris scenes in Sex and the City and the Devil Wears Prada. But is this MTV extrapolation the nouveau trend -- now to relegate Paris to being merely a lightweight, frivolous bimbo destination in American eyes? Gawd, I hope not. Think of the consequences.

One of the final Parisian scenes in The Hills (and be forewarned if you actually dare to watch this -- it's interspersed with more vapidity from Colorado) is Lauren's final trek around the city in a ball gown, on a motorcycle, with a handsome young Frenchman who calls her "Darling," blows kisses and winks goodbye to her. Hmm. Reality TV?

Okay, well, I can call this evening my The Hills diet, because it sure made me lose my appetite for a while.


Unknown said...

I can imagine your distaste for this dribble, Polly. I have not seen nor would I want to.

I'm no expert, just another Paris lover, but my experience has been that the clichés of the Paris of American pop culture may no longer exist, or perhaps they simply rarely exist. Some, I suspect, never did exist.

Such nonsense trivializes a layered and complex city that defies stereotype and cliché.

And now I will step down from my soap box.

Thank you, Polly.

Ksam said...

oh man, i just watched it - and i want that hour of my life back!!!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

"Like, oh my god, you mean the real Paris is, like, a real city with history and stuff? And like when I saw the Eiffel Tower I thought, I CANNOT believe it, I am in a movie!"

Haven't decided if I'm actually going to glance at the show or not -- so tempting from your description -- but my faux Valley Girl imitation that so amuses my French husband may need some new material.

From Micki Maynard: said...

I also visited Paris when I was sixteen (my parents sent me to stay with my pen friend's family.) I learned to ride the Metro, smoke Gitanes, and drink in a cafe. I also learned that not everyone or everywhere had air conditioning, or took a shower every morning, and what to do at an airport when your connecting flight is delayed. Oh, and that high school French is a lot different than the real thing.

It was a life-changing experience. Can these Teen Vogue girls say the same?

lengli said...

I have tried to watch "The Hills" on occasion out of fear that I was losing grip on pop culture, but the domestic episodes are far too much to bear even without throwing cultural insensitivity into the mix.

MTV has long misrepresented Paris, however. In "The Real World: Paris", the cast members barely left the house and even had the audacity to complain that they wished there were a Wal-Mart somewhere. The channel's years of social awareness are long gone.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Wow. I don't think I can bear to even Google search "Real World: Paris." The Hills did me in already!

Maybe we should encourage as many year (or semester) abroad programs as we can, don't you think? More global cultural awareness.

Any country will do! I have a penchant for France, of course...

Susan said...

I am a new reader of your blog, I have enjoyed reading it very much.

I'm learning the French language in college and plan to visit Paris with my 16yr old daughter this June. She is NOT like the girls portrayed in this show. (I just watched it).

These girls/actresses were awful, the show was awful.

What's even sadder to me is that this is how MTV depicts the youth of the United States. Talk about cultural ignorance. Not all of us agree with this drivel.


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