Published: July 2, 2008 By ,

(part of a series in Special Issue #48: GOING CHEAP? Female Celebrity in Reality, Tabloid and Scandal Genres – Edited by DIANE NEGRA and SU HOLMES)

[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’sLaguna 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 and 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. Laguna Beach set up Lauren as the nice girl (perpetuated through her voiceover narration) and Kristin as the bitch. The competition between the two girls got to be so fierce that U.S. teen clothing retailer Hollister sold t-shirts emblazoned with “Team LC” and Team Kristin,” making their feud the latest in a long line of female star wars (e.g. “Team Aniston” vs. “Team Jolie” in the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston divorce) which are at the crux of a post-feminist celebrity culture that delights in constructing catfights. When Lauren went off to college at the end of season one, Kristin became the narrator for season two, though Lauren still appeared on the show. Season one of Laguna Beach proved to be a modest hit for MTV, and the second season saw it become the second most successful show on MTV, behind The Real World (Hibberd, 30). Lauren turned out to be so popular that MTV produced The Hills as a spin-off focusing solely on her. As Brian Graden, president of entertainment for MTV Networks noted:

LC is a very compelling character to me and our audience as well…She very much wears her emotions on her face. Her reaction is apparent to things around her. In a reality series where you don’t control the lines, that’s a pretty important tool for telling a story (qtd. in Hibberd, 30).

The Hills has fewer regular characters than Laguna Beach, and primarily follows Lauren as she lives, works, and parties in Los Angeles.

[4] The Hills premiered on August 31, 2006 and quickly grew into a ratings success for MTV, garnering more viewers each season. The first season averaged 2.3 million viewers, the second season 2.5 million viewers (Smith, 10), and season three was even more popular.The Hills was the highest rated show for its time slot among viewers age 12-34 (” ‘The Hills’ Phenomenon”) with the season three premiere reaching approximately 3.7 million viewers: “of that number, women under the age of 18 made up 17 percent, and women between the ages of 18 and 34 were 49 percent” (Tran, 4). The season three finale reached an unprecedented 4.6 million viewers (“The Hills’ Phenomenon”). Capitalizing on Lauren’s expanding popularity, MTV agreed to be a financial partner in the Lauren Conrad Collection, Lauren’s fashion line. MTV is not the only entity to benefit from Lauren’s and The Hills‘ popularity, however. According to Women’s Wear Daily, “Since the MTV reality show ‘The Hills,’ based on Teen Vogue intern Lauren Conrad, returned in mid-January, newsstand sales for the Cond [sic] Nast teen title have increased by double digits over last year” (Smith, 10). Lauren has graced the covers of Us Weekly (15 Oct. 2007, 12 Nov. 2007, 14 Jan. 2008, 31 Mar. 2008, 19 May 2008), Seventeen (Oct. 2007 and Aug. 2006), CosmoGirl (Mar. 2007 and Sept. 2008), Teen Vogue (Aug. 2007 and June/July 2006),Shape (Jan. 2008), Rolling Stone (15 May 2008), and Entertainment Weekly (8 Aug. 2008). In addition to all of this exposure, MTV’s marketing machine works overtime to push products related to Lauren and The Hills, including two books (Passero and Efran, Perry), calendars, soundtracks, and the website, where viewers can purchase items featured on the program. In the context of this over-saturation of media coverage and product tie-ins, we seek to understand how and why Lauren has become such a popular star, soap opera heroine, and brand. We argue that Lauren’s stardom takes a particularly gendered form, one that brings together elements of the preeminent feminine genre, the soap opera, with the feminized gossip industry and consumer culture. This unique gendered articulation of reality TV celebrity allows MTV to capitalize on earlier forms of female stardom previously inaccessible within U.S. reality TV.

Ordinary Girl/Extraordinary Life: Lauren’s Reality Stardom

With these shows, the challenge is to show motivation through faces and eyes. It’s part of the reason Lauren was so attractive to us as a character…She was so expressive in her eyes and body language. When you are trying to tell a story without the exposition you have in a script, or the confessional interview of a documentary, someone like Lauren is very useful.—Laguna Beach and The Hills producer Tony DiSanto (qtd. in Taylor, R9)

[5] We argue that Lauren is perhaps the first U.S. reality star, and as such, the contours of her stardom deserve critical attention. Stardom, as a historical and social phenomenon, is linked to key developments in the institution of cinema. Richard deCordova explains: “The star emerged out of a marked expansion of the type of knowledge that could be produced about the player…With the emergence of the star, the question of the player’s existence outside his or her work in film became the primary focus of discourse” (98). According to deCordova, the invention of the star worked to engage consumers in on-going hermeneutic activity in regards to the “true” identity of the person behind and apart from the representations of characters, and thus constituted audiences as fans interested and invested in the “real” lives of screen actors. The star, as the object of on-going audience speculation and investigation, helped cement the profitability and viability of cinema, enabling the institution to reach further into the everyday lives of consumers. Stardom then is an economically motivated discourse fueled by audience interest in the private and real lives of stars, and as Shelley Stamp shows, beginning in the 1910s, “the audience” was increasingly conceived as female. Stamp argues that the popularity of silent serial heroines among female moviegoers engendered an intensified women’s fan culture, one that wed “openly libidinal attractions to male performers” to “a fascination for idealized [female] role models” (Stamp, 142-3).

[6] In addition to contributing to the process of commodifying cinema, stardom, as a discourse focused on the ways stars live, came to perform important ideological work by, as Richard Dyer argues, allowing the exceptional and charismatic qualities of the star to percolate while, at the same time, insisting on the normalcy and ordinariness of stars. Edgar Morin has theorized this co-mingling of the extraordinary and ordinary enabled by the star as a form of embourgeoisement: as a capitulation of the cinema to middle class sensibilities and imagination in the wake of the Depression. As stars shifted from embodying an ideal to appearing more typical, they became points of identification for audiences rather than transcendent “gods and goddesses” and thus contributed to the solidification and expansion of Western, bourgeois norms and values.

[7] Female stars in particular have historically proven especially important to the economic life of film and television institutions. The development of Hollywood occurred in conjunction with the rise of fashion manufacturing and cosmetic industries, and also with the shift to consumer capitalism; women constituted the primary consumer agents and thus were of special import to marketers. According to Charles Eckert, as Hollywood sought out new means of profitability, female stars became highly effective vehicles for early forms of product placement and tie-ins, emerging as a potent economic force within the institution of cinema for their ability to promote particular products through their constructed stardom. Lauren Conrad, as a reality television star, must be considered as part of a long line of female stars whose value rests primarily on their ability to act as a relay between desired female audiences, a host of lifestyle industries, and particular arms of the culture industry itself. Indeed, the products Lauren endorses are the same “feminine” products her predecessors pushed: clothing, accessories, and cosmetics.

[8] As John Langer and others have pointed out, television— as a more explicitly commercialized and domestic medium— has historically emphasized the “ordinariness” of its stars, capitalizing not from the cinematic distance encouraged by modes of theatrical spectatorship but from the intimacy and regularity of relationships fostered between television “personalities” and their home-based viewers. Embedded in the rhythms of everyday life and contingent on commercial sponsorship, television developed modes of female stardom that relied on less rigid distinctions between the ordinary/extraordinary aspects of star images, blurring these lines to adjust to the industrial conditions of television which demanded an ability to promote an expanded and diversified array of products and goods that well exceeded the more high-end commodities cinema had proven so successful at marketing. During the 1950s television honed its techniques for moving products through the apparatuses of stardom; this was exemplified most strongly in the commodification practices enveloping Lucille Ball. As Susan Murray notes: “Television stars were explicitly connected to a variety of products both within their program text and outside of it, while film stars were most commonly used implicitly to sell clothes, makeup, and other products placed within their films without directly addressing spectators and engaging in overt salesmanship” (Murray, 146). While the film industry tried to hide the mechanisms behind the glamorous and illusory world of film stars, fearing that the appearance of mass commodification would upset the star image, the industrial structure and more commercialized “lowly” status of television as a domestic medium both demanded and sanctioned more blatant forms of marketing and promotion through stars.

[9] Lauren Conrad, however, is not a film or television star, but a reality television star, firmly embedded within the industrial conditions that circumscribe U.S. post-network television production and which have given rise to the era of reality TV. In this context, “quality” shows thrive alongside cheaper-to-produce reality programs, as the television industry seeks out new means of viability in a converged, niche market media economy. In its previous contemporary manifestation, marked by docu-soaps (The Real World), gamedocs (Big Brother, Survivor), and talent competitions (American Idol), U.S. reality television had not been able to capitalize from its casts of ordinary contestants as stars, relying heavily on what Rojek describes as the celetoid form of celebrity. Turner has taken up Rojek’s concept of the celetoid to understand the “accelerated life cycle” of reality TV celebrity and the economic benefits of the celetoid to the television industry (Turner, 156). As Turner argues, celebrity is accruing new meanings and values as corporations seek to manage the risks and uncertainties associated with doing business in the post-network television era. Specifically, television has benefited from an endless and more readily controllable pool of free labor provided by “ordinary” people seeking celebrity on reality programs. Reality TV took television’s earlier decision to highlight the “ordinariness” of its stars to the extreme, evacuating “extraordinariness” from its representational landscape in favor of what is often referred to as the “democratization” of fame, and making a total and literal commitment to the ordinariness of television celebrity. Here celebrity is a de-gendered phenomenon, as men and women alike are invited to be exploited by the “mass production of celebrity.” However, Lauren’s rise and prominence on MTV is anything but mercurial, suggesting that the “accelerated life cycle” of reality TV and the “ordinary,” “democratic,” gender-neutral forms of celebrity it provides for are not a condition made necessary by the genre itself. With Lauren, MTV has pioneered a gendered mode of reality celebrity that heralds back to earlier versions of both film and television female stardom, while simultaneously and paradoxically forwarding the commitment to ordinariness that has proven so important to reality television.

[10] In her analysis of Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP), Deborah Jermyn suggests that there is an “increasingly complex relationship between television and stardom” (Jermyn, 70). While many critics have tried to draw hard distinctions between the star apparatuses of network television and Hollywood, Jermyn sees the emergence of cinematic stardom discourses coming to inform the post-network broadcast system in important ways. Jermyn is interested in how today’s celebrity culture and television production system give rise to figures like SJP who have much in common with traditional film stars. SJP’s construction in popular media texts, especially celebrity gossip magazines, mirrors that of earlier stars, hinging on what deCordova described as a hermeneutic mode of reception constituted by a desire on the part of audiences to know not only Carrie Bradshaw (the stylish, single, shoe-obsessed, relationship-challenged heroine of Sex and the City) but also the real SJP (wife of Matthew Broderick, mother, and real life fashionista). What’s more, SJP—a fashion icon and style guru—has been tapped to endorse a wide array of products through advertising campaigns that center on the fantasies her stardom underwrites. Sex and the City’s status as “quality” TV authorizes the meshing of film and television modes of female stardom embodied by SJP—a meshing intensified with the success of the film version of Sex and the City. HBO’s subscription model allows it to brand its programs and stars as “not TV” thus separating its products from advertisement-ridden television and the “personalities” that populate mass media airwaves. The commodification processes that enliven and permeate Sex and the City correspond more neatly to filmic discourses, highlighting glamorous lifestyle products both onscreen and in the ancillary texts that circulate around its female stars, especially SJP. Lauren’s reality television stardom however suggests a more complicated story about the relationships between television and film stardom, as Lauren’s celebrity status emerges on the opposite end of the U.S. post-network television landscape, from within the sullied genre of reality TV.

[11] Like SJP Lauren serves as the voice-over narrator for a show that revolves around relationships between four females living glamorous working lives while struggling at love. Lauren is also on-going fodder for celebrity magazines, and like her predecessor, has her own fashion line. However, whereas SJP’s stardom upholds and illustrates previous modes of film stardom that are contingent upon albeit slippery distinctions between a real person, the characters or roles performed, and a constructed star image, Lauren’s reality television stardom is realized in the near total collapse of these distinctions. If stardom is “an image of the way stars live” that presents invested audiences with a “generalized lifestyle” through which to interpret the real identity of the star (Dyer, 35), Lauren signals a more immanent structure of stardom, where the gap between the role performed by and the real life of the star is completely elided at the level of representation itself. Lauren plays herself; the representations of Lauren on The Hills are the image of the way she lives. Within this structure of reality stardom, hermeneutic activity on the part of audiences and Lauren’s fans is still facilitated and invited; however, this audience work feeds directly back into the show itself. Gossip magazines preview and anticipate Lauren’s upcoming feuds, break-ups, hook-ups, and other happenings to be aired later on the show, firmly circumscribing audience interest in the star within the context ofThe Hills. While some revel in finding and publicizing evidence thatThe Hills is indeed scripted and fake (a practice not at all unique toThe Hills), Lauren’s “real” identity is rarely if ever in question. Unlike her cast mates, whose true motivations are continuously interrogated by the gossip industry and fans, Lauren’s presence in and on The Hillsis for the most part taken for granted and naturalized. While her cast mates are treated more like celetoids (ordinary people desiring celebrification), Lauren is represented as a unified self, whose intentions and commitments, both professionally and personally, remain transparent, sincere, and consistent. (While there are undoubtedly plenty of “savvy” viewers who take pleasure in deriding Lauren and her lifestyle, we argue that such readings are authorized more generally by the “snarky,” post-feminist culture of celebrity gossip but not by The Hills itself.)

[12] While the elision of distinction between persona and real life realized by Lauren’s reality stardom bears a homologous structure to the “ordinary” celebrity of other reality formats, The Hills leaves intact and thrives off Lauren’s extraordinariness, a feat which we will showThe Hills achieves through soap opera conventions and cinematic aesthetics. However, Lauren’s extraordinary status is paradoxically produced by a representational insistence on her ordinariness, that is, by refusing to allude to Lauren’s actual reality stardom within the discourse of The Hills. (Activities such as photo shoots for magazines, press interviews, and run-ins with paparazzi are not represented.) Lauren’s life on The Hills is presented instead as a “good girl” (as opposed to the “bitch”) working hard to make it in the fashion industry, while struggling at love and negotiating close friendships. While gossip magazines often feature photos of Lauren on red carpets or at fashion shows alongside other Hollywood stars and celebrities, the majority of the coverage focuses on events unfolding on The Hills. Shot on location across Los Angeles, with the paparazzi just outside the frame, the reality format works as a built-in, though imperfect, policing mechanism, ensuring that the actual processes underwriting Lauren’s reality stardom remain subservient to her working girl persona presented on The HillsIn this way Lauren’s reality stardom works as an ideological justification for the exploitative celetoid-dominated system of reality TV—elevating her above this system, while eliding the very practices that make her elevation possible.

 A woman looking at another woman in a yellow dress

Figure 1

[13] Mingling the extraordinary (Lauren’s glamorous Hollywood lifestyle and star quality) with the ordinary (her “real” entry level work in the fashion industry and the “feminized” melodrama represented on the show), Lauren’s paradoxical reality stardom enables a kind of working girl’s fantasy germane to the gendered cultural imaginary of post-Fordism. The Hills taps into the promises of post-industrial work life and contemporary consumer culture, where labor in the creative, cultural, and lifestyle industries is an increasingly viable and inviting option for young middle class women. However, as Angela McRobbie has argued, the invitation of women into contemporary workplaces entails a post-feminist sexual contract, where women must leave feminism behind and instead agree to imagine their life possibilities in terms of highly individualized choices. In this post-feminist context, patriarchy is largely displaced by fashion, as women navigate more diffused and unnamed forms of hegemonic masculinity through cultivating appropriate “feminine” selves (see also Fairclough in this issue) through dress and self-presentation that temper the threat of their growing economic capacity and presence in the workplace. While makeover shows like What Not to Wear provide technical and practical instruction to middle and working class women already in the workplace, The Hills works less directly, more as an orienting device for young women, presenting both the fashion world and work in the creative industries in fantasy form, thus signaling a distinctly post-Fordist, post-feminist form of embourgeoisement.

[14] Imperatively, this fantasy hinges on Lauren’s paradoxical female stardom that The Hills meticulously constructs through viewer identification with and idealization of Lauren as a soap opera heroine. Scholars of reality TV have long noted similarities between reality programs and soap opera, but the specific format of the docu-soap has proven less successful in the U.S. context. MTV is unique in its development of the format, from The Real World to its most recent version of Laguna Beach, Newport Harbor; however, The Hillsrepresents a significant and economically successful break with key aspects of the docu-soap with its branding of Lauren Conrad as a reality star. In order to better understand the production of Lauren’s paradoxical female stardom and the unprecedented success of The Hills which underwrites it, we ask: How specifically are the conventions of stardom articulated to reality TV by a docu-soap that looks more like a film than a documentary, and feels more like a soap opera than reality?

Identifying with and Idealizing Lauren: Making a Soap Opera Heroine

I don’t really think I’m as much a role model as kind of like someone who’s easy to relate to because I think that I’m kind of a normal girl. And I just—a lot of people go through the same exact things that I go through….Everyone’s had one of their friends kiss a guy they like and I think that everyone’s had, you know, a bad boyfriend….I think that a lot of things I do are relatable. –Lauren Conrad (The Hills season two DVD interview)

[15] In an attempt to begin to answer this question, it’s important to understand the specific ways in which Lauren is produced as a star. The representational strategies adopted by The Hills engender Lauren’s paradoxical female celebrity by fusing cinematic aesthetics and soap opera conventions into a reality format. Here the feminine “structure of feeling” of televisual melodrama described by Ien Ang combines with the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle typical of traditional female film star discourses. Constructed as an ordinary girl in the context of an extraordinary “real” life, The Hills invites viewers to relate to Lauren as a soap opera heroine while simultaneously encouraging them to see her as exceptional, an image to be aspired to. Chronicling Lauren’s emotional struggles against the backdrop of trendy clubs, alluring work settings, and stylized apartments, The Hillsrearticulates the soap opera to the world of young Hollywood for a female prime-time audience imagined to be highly invested in both celebrity culture and the high-end products associated with the Hollywood lifestyle.

[16] The Hills uses soap opera conventions in order to achieve identification with Lauren; however, the resulting identification is quite different from that which the soap itself fosters. With its large cast and multiple storylines, which are dropped one day and picked up later in the week, the daytime soap opera relies on multiple identifications; in order to be invested in a daytime soap, the viewer must be able to align herself with more than a single character. Similarly, while the cast of the prime-time soap is much smaller than that of the daytime soap, most prime-time soaps have ensemble casts, where the viewer is not urged to identify with a single character. What’s more, Lauren does not clearly resemble the stock character types common on the soap opera—she is no villainess (though The Hills certainly has a villainess in Heidi), yet she is not the angelic mother figure, either. Lauren’s character is sympathetic, yet not overly so—she is not without flaws—aligning her more with soap heroines like Hope or Carrie Brady on Days of Our Lives or Laura Spencer on General Hospital. However, Lauren occupies a more privileged narrative position than these other soap opera heroines. With only three supporting characters—who appear to barely live lives outside of the way they affect and interact with Lauren— The Hills does not neatly fit into either the prime-time or daytime soap models. Instead it adapts key soap opera conventions to emotionally connect the viewer with Lauren’s “real life” melodrama. Melding the spectacle of the Hollywood lifestyle connected with film stars with a deep investment in Lauren’s struggles at love and work, The Hills constructs Lauren’s reality stardom in large part through inviting intense forms of identification with Lauren.

[17] Most Hills episodes revolve around one personal problem or set of related problems that Lauren discusses with several of her friends. As in soap operas, conversation is the crux of The Hills, but here conversation most always revolves to varying degrees around Lauren in the service of elaborating her point of view. As Tania Modleski notes, “on soap operas, action is less important than reaction andinteraction” (Modleski, 68). The Hills makes Lauren’s reactions to difficult personal situations and her interactions with friends and rivals much more important than any narrative “event.” In fact, the events in the show last a fraction of the time that Lauren spends reacting to them and discussing them with her friends. In “You Have Chosen,” an episode from the second season, Lauren discusses her deteriorating relationship with her best friend Heidi (due to Lauren’s concerns about Heidi’s boyfriend Spencer) in all but one scene in which she appears, and in every scene in which she is absent, other people discuss her problems. The structure of the episode makes the conversations repetitive, yet also relays the common structure of gossip. Later in the episode, Lauren and Brody talk about Heidi and Spencer, and as soon as Lauren leaves, Spencer and Brody talk about her. Spencer then calls Heidi to talk about Lauren. The episode culminates in Lauren and Heidi confronting one another about all the issues they have been talking to other people about. While the variety of perspectives this structure offers might seem to allow for what Christine Geraghty refers to as decentered identification—that is, the diffusion of viewer identification with a variety of soap characters—Lauren is at once the main discussant (she talks to Heidi, Spencer, Whitney, Audrina, and Brody) and the main topic of discussion (Heidi, Spencer, and Brody discuss her). When Lauren is not discussing she is being discussed. Furthermore, when others discuss Lauren, her views of them are overwhelmingly confirmed—Spencer indeed does want Heidi to cut Lauren out of her life, and we see firsthand that he has a roving eye. Even when Lauren is not discussing her problems, The Hillslegitimates her point of view, strongly urging viewers to identify with her and her alone.

[18] The Hills solidifies Lauren’s narrative centrality by using voiceover to further align the viewer with Lauren, giving her access to Lauren’s thoughts. Kaja Silverman shows the rarity of the female voiceover, and notes, “[the autobiographical and self-revealing voice-over] turns the body ‘inside out,’ displaying what is ‘inaccessible to the image, what exceeds the visible'” (Silverman, 52). Through her voiceovers, Lauren explicitly shapes the narrative and provides a frame through which the viewer is to understand conflicts and events. As she did in the first season of Laguna Beach, Lauren narrates The Hills through an introductory voiceover at the beginning of each episode, a technique that harks back to radio soap operas, though as Robert C. Allen points out, the radio narrators were all male. Describing the narrator’s function, Allen argues, “the narrator’s power exceeded that of any single character, however. He controlled the flow of the story; his voice described the world in which all characters appeared; he knew and related the thoughts of characters and conditioned the reader’s reception of those thoughts” (Allen, 161). Indeed, even when Lauren and Heidi are no longer on speaking terms, Lauren still tells the viewer exactly what is going on in Heidi’s life and how Heidi feels about her work and her relationships. Although we do not see Heidi and Lauren spending any time together in season three (outside of a few contentious “coincidental” confrontations), through her voiceover Lauren appears omniscient. Allen argues that with the move to television and the multiplication of characters, the soap opera became more of an “open” text, without specific anchoring in a single voice.The Hills has many fewer characters than television soap operas do, aligning it more closely with the radio soap opera, and thus heightening the authority ascribed to Lauren’s voice. Only four women populate the opening credits of The Hills as regular characters, though there are several recurring characters who come and go. The limited number of characters on The Hills combined with Lauren’s enunciative control over the diegesis works to solidify identification— encouraging the viewer to align herself with Lauren’s point of view. As Louise Spence argues, “part of the process of watching soap operas is making friends with characters. In fact, we may feel that we know a character in a soap opera better than we know some of our own friends or colleagues” (Spence, 189). With extended access to Lauren over several years and via multiple media, coupled with her narrative centrality, viewers may indeed feel as though they know her very well. However, while The Hills goes to great lengths to nurture identification and intimacy with Lauren, it also insists on her exceptional status, which is central to her construction as a reality star.

[19] The Hills moves away from the docu-soap conventions exemplified by The Real World through eliminating the documentary codes which docu-soaps use to connote the real and instead pursues a more cinematic aesthetic. The program does away with handheld camerawork, harsh lighting, and direct address (or “confessional”) moments, in favor of steady, even framing, flattering soft lighting, and a perfectly intact fourth wall. Hisham Abed, director of photography forThe Hills, details the technical decisions the production crew made in order to facilitate a cinematic look. In addition to a widescreen aspect ratio, the cameras used for shooting the show were selected with attractive lighting in mind: “we can go from bright day exteriors to low-light shooting with the same camera, and the SDX900 really pulls through all the detail and dynamic range” (qtd. in “Creating the Cinematic Look,” 8). While most reality television programs rely on a less polished look to maintain an air of immediacy and “reality,” The Hills is less concerned with claims on the real than it is with producing a female star whose celebrity can be mobilized for the MTV Hillsbrand and its advertisers. The cinematic look of The Hills elevates Lauren and her lifestyle above reality TV celetoids, making her into the star of what often appears to be a fictionalized narrative of her own life.

 A tearful woman leaning to left

Figure 2

[20] While the cinematic aesthetic of The Hills spectacularizes Lauren’s everyday life, the reliance on close-ups maintains a familiarity with her at the same time, thus sustaining audience identification. Close-ups provide the viewer with unmitigated access to Lauren’s emotions and thoughts—as Tony DiSanto, executive producer of The Hills notes, Lauren has a particularly expressive face. The close-ups of Lauren exemplify what David Thorburn describes as the hallmark of television melodrama. He claims, “television’s matchless respect for the idiosyncratic expressiveness of the ordinary human face and its unique hospitality to the confining spaces of our ordinary world are virtues exploited repeatedly in all the better melodramas” (Thorburn, 546). Thorburn suggests that the smaller scale of the television lends itself to a closer examination of facial expressions than film, “where an amplitude of things and spaces offers competition for the eye’s attention” (540). In the season two episode “With Friends Like These…” Lauren has an emotional breakdown, rendered in a series of close-ups of her arguing with Heidi and getting progressively more upset. The close-ups display Lauren fighting tears then crying, her lip quivering, and a vein in her forehead protruding. Finally, Lauren turns her head and gazes offscreen, closes her eyes and just as a tear rolls down from the corner of her eye, the camera cuts to an exterior shot of her apartment complex’s swimming pool and the credits appear. While the close-ups bring the viewer into Lauren’s emotional world, she can only stay for so long before the camera pulls away from Lauren, preserving a significant amount of mystery around her. Every episode of The Hills ends in this manner—an emotional climax followed by a cut away to exterior or aerial shots. This convention contributes to a critical distance between the viewer and Lauren. The Hills does not allow the viewer to get too close to Lauren, thus maintaining the necessary distance to keep Lauren as an extraordinary figure. In order to produce Lauren as a star, The Hills cannot risk making her too familiar to the viewer, who must both aspire to be Lauren and recognize that she never can beLauren. The Hills underscores this impossibility through attention to Lauren’s flawless appearance, her (visually and narratively obvious but never explicitly stated) wealth, and her early career success.

[21] The temporality of The Hills in conjunction with celebrity gossip magazines and blogs furthers the emotional intensity of the viewer’s involvement with Lauren, while simultaneously promoting her star status. Magazines and blogs detail Lauren’s personal life weeks or months before we see the same events occur on the show; thus, the invested viewer has knowledge while watching The Hills that Lauren does not, and must watch Lauren suffer. As Lynne Joyrich claims, “it is this relative powerlessness that drives melodrama’s viewers to tears; we cry from the lack of coincidence dramatized on the screen, a lack we are unable to change—the gap between our knowledge and that of the characters, between what should happen and what actually does, between the ‘rightness’ of a union and its delay” (Joyrich, 60-61). For example, in the third season of The Hills, Lauren reconnects with her ex-boyfriend Jason over three episodes, airing on September 10, 17, and 24. However, gossip site broke the news of Jason’s engagement on August 28 (“Jason Wahler—Engaged!”) and a story appeared in Us Weekly‘s September 17 issue (Guarente, 70-71). Due to this temporal lag, the viewer watches Lauren become reinvested in Jason, to the point of her wondering about the nature of their relationship. In “Second Chances,” Lauren tells the viewer in voiceover, “for once, my career and my personal life were under control. Why is it that just when you get things together, you hear from the one person who can pull it all apart?” which leads into the beginning of the episode. Lauren arrives at work and immediately reveals this “person’s” identity, telling Whitney that Jason called her the night before. Later in the episode, Audrina reads Lauren a question fromThe Book of Questions: Love and Sex, asking her “how many times have you fallen in love and allowed yourself to just be swept away?” and Lauren holds up one finger. As Audrina asks the question, female singer-songwriter A Fine Frenzy comes into the soundtrack to underscore the gravity of Lauren’s thoughts. The lyrics “I think of you / whenever life gets me down” play as Audrina confirms that Lauren is referring to Jason. The anticipation of Lauren’s heartbreak intensifies the narrative pathos—the viewer watches Lauren agonize over her ambiguous relationship with Jason, yet the viewer is powerless to save Lauren any pain. This temporal gap between gossip reporting and broadcast is similar to that produced by soap opera spoilers that the soap opera press often report. John Fiske explains that the temporal gap allows the viewer to relish the characters’ reactions—the viewer is not so much concerned with what will happen, but with how the character will handle it. Charlotte Brunsdon suggests that soap operas come close to “heroine television,” where “It is the ‘trying to cope’ which is crucial” (Brunsdon, 54). However, The Hills‘s high profile in celebrity gossip magazines also underscores Lauren’s exceptional status, as the events of her “ordinary” life are positioned alongside those of other stars. Audience hermeneutic activity regarding Lauren corresponds to the modes of reception surrounding other Hollywood VIPs except here the pleasures associated with gossip and delving in the private lives of stars are channeled back into the narrative context and melodramatic structure of The Hills.

[22] As in fictional soap operas, The Hills focuses primarily on Lauren’s personal life and the way it permeates her work life—as Allen explains, most soap operas only feature occupations that allow for constant conversation about personal life. Work life figures centrally in the discourse of The Hills, both as an occasion for the extended “conversation” at the heart of the narrative and as a way to accentuate Lauren’s exceptional quality while paradoxically insisting on her ordinariness. When Lauren is at work, her work time mostly consists of telling her friend and co-worker Whitney all about her personal problems. Each of the four women on The Hills works in the culture industries—Lauren and Whitney at Teen Vogue and fashion PR firm People’s Revolution, Audrina first at Quixote Studios (a facility primarily used for photo shoots) then at Epic Records, and Heidi at Bolthouse Productions, an event planning firm. Their jobs allow for maximum conversation time—especially with Lauren and Whitney working out of the same tiny office at Teen Vogue. Although their tasks are often menial (answering phones, addressing invitations, steaming clothes, taking inventory), all of the women on The Hills hold jobs that the average viewer of the show could aspire to—and the jobs have a glamorous air about them. Lauren may be an (ostensibly) unpaid intern, but she flies to New York and Paris on assignments forTeen Vogue. Heidi may have to fetch lunch for her boss, but she is in charge of the guest lists for some of the most celebrity-filled clubs in Los Angeles. Audrina may sit at a desk answering phones, but she works with popular recording artists like Sean Kingston. These women hold entry-level positions, making them relatable to the viewer; however, their jobs also revolve around living a glamorous Hollywood lifestyle of which most viewers of the program can only dream. In this way the representations of work life not only buttress The Hills‘ soap opera narrative but also work to temper some of the paradoxes surrounding Lauren’s reality stardom, resolving a bit of the tension between Lauren’s ordinary working girl persona and her alluring Hollywood lifestyle. These representations of work life take on increasing significance in the post-Fordist context, glossing over the risks and insecurities associated with post-industrial labor in the creative industries and presenting the contemporary work situation in highly feminized fantasy form.

[23] While the focus on work life mitigates some of the contradictions embedded in Lauren’s paradoxical celebrity status, the consistent deployment of popular music by The Hills also helps to engender Lauren as both a soap opera heroine and reality star, underscoring Lauren’s “real” emotions while simultaneously spectacularizing a melodramatic “structure of feeling.” Like the soap opera, The Hillsutilizes music to intensify the emotion of a scene; as Jeremy Butler explains in his dissection of soap opera conventions, “music, more than any other element of mise-en-scène, is responsible for setting the mood and marking intense emotions” (Butler, 66). The Hills also uses music to provide meaning for sequences where Lauren’s emotions might not otherwise be clear. At the end of the episode “An Unexpected Call” from season one, Lauren returns to her apartment to find a message on her answering machine from her ex-boyfriend Jason. The camera studies her shocked expression in close-up as she listens. As the message ends the camera pulls back to frame Lauren in medium long shot, then cuts to another close-up as pop singer Pink’s “Long Way to Happy” softly enters the soundtrack. Lauren exits the frame and the camera tilts down and zooms in on the phone as the music increases in volume. The camera then cuts to an exterior shot of a building, and Lauren walks into the frame and away from the camera as a title appears to label the location as the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing, where Lauren is a student. Shortly thereafter the sequence enters Lauren’s classroom, as she fidgets and distractedly stares out the window. The music is mixed louder than the classroom dialogue, suggesting that Lauren cannot concentrate on school and is instead thinking about Jason. As Allen explains, “the soap opera’s nondiegetic musical score supports the narrative: smoothing transitions, covering ellipses, and helping to reduce indeterminacy in a particular scene by encouraging one reading over another” (Allen, 68). Here lyrics carefully underscore what the viewer is led to believe Lauren is contemplating in this scene: “it’s gonna take a long time to love / it’s gonna take a lot to hold on / it’s gonna be a long way to happy, yeah / left in the pieces that you broke me into.” As Lauren turns her head to look out the window, the camera cuts to an insert close-up of her answering machine, then an extreme close-up of its screen showing one new message. In order to reinscribe this image as Lauren’s ostensible thought, the camera cuts back to a medium long shot from outside Lauren’s school building, capturing her looking out the window.

[24] This is the final sequence of the episode, and after this last shot of Lauren, the camera cuts to an extreme long shot of the building, and tilts up so we can no longer see the window out of which Lauren looks. This shot dissolves into an establishing shot of the Los Angeles skyline and soon fades to black, leaving the viewer to contemplate Lauren’s romantic dilemma for the rest of the week. As this scored sequence makes Lauren’s emotions real for the viewer, it also produces a music video of sorts for Pink’s song (ironically, MTV is often scolded for no longer playing music videos)—providing Lauren’s narrative of heartbreak as a way to emotionally connect the viewer to the song in the hopes that she will download it from MTV’s website or buy the CD on This articulation of Lauren’s emotional life, the enchanting world signified by the L.A. skyline, and Pink’s pop song reveals the synergies between melodrama, reality television, and new marketing ventures pioneered by The HillsInstead of jockeying for music video plays on MTV, record companies can now lobby to have their artists’ songs included in episodes of The Hills, complete with onscreen instructions for viewers to purchase music on Cultivating an affective association between the music and important, exciting, or emotional moments in Lauren’s life softens the overt marketing and develops a new form of promotional vehicle for popular musicians associated with MTV, suggesting that the construction of Lauren as soap heroine of The Hills paves the way for more intense practices of commodification through female stars.

Living The Hill$ Life: Branding Lauren’s “Reality”

I work harder than most 21-year olds. I’ve got a clothing line, an accessory line. I’m the spokesperson for a cosmetics company. I go to school and I have a social life.– Lauren Conrad (qtd. in Huff, 86)

[25] Indeed, Lauren works very hard, but The Hills carefully conceals her most economically productive labor—that of being a highly commodified female star. Although Lauren has become progressively more famous over the course of The Hills, the program never alludes to her fame. The viewer never sees her doing cover shoots for magazines, attending red carpet events, giving interviews, or being followed by paparazzi, perhaps for fear of a backlash against her reality stardom. (This is in striking contrast to earlier MTV reality shows Newlyweds and The Osbournes, both of which focused on fading stars whose fame took off after the first season of their respective shows aired. Subsequent seasons focused on newfound fame, with each program ending with their stars in states of overexposure.) Constructing Lauren as the soap opera heroine of her spectacular “real life,” The Hills begets a paradoxical mode of female celebrity that carefully holds in tension the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of earlier forms of film and television female stardom through a pioneering and tightly controlled reality format marketed towards young women. As we’ve shown, through watching Lauren work, play, live and love across L.A., The Hills invites viewers to both identify with and idealize Lauren as the star of her own real life fairy tale. However, the tensions permeating the construction of Lauren’s reality stardom signal more than a unique aesthetic achievement by the lowly genre of reality TV: through these tensions Lauren’s life on The Hillsbecomes an immeasurable source of value not only for MTV, but also for a host of lifestyle and cultural industries associated with the program. As a female reality star, Lauren emerges as both a potent lifestyle brand and a new form of cultural intermediary; thus Lauren works even harder than she herself admits.

[26] Mid-season three, an MTV promo asked: “L.A. is an expensive place when you have expensive taste. How much money do they spend to live in the Hills?” “Living the Hill$ Life”— a re-broadcast of early season three episodes this time with running pop-up commentary detailing the costs of clothes, accessories, and cars ofHills cast members—answered this question. Each re-broadcast episode begins by instructing viewers via a pop-up message to “Look out for price tags during the show to find out what it takes to live the Hill$ life.” “Prada shirt $368.” “Diesel denim vest $158.40.” “Dolce Vita Mary Jane pumps $139.95.” “Want Lauren’s look? Head over to” With an implicit nod to the paradoxical nature of Lauren’s reality stardom, the show also included some hints on how to get a specific look for less, featuring cheaper yet similar items available at mass market stores including Target, JC Penney, and Macy’s. It’s easy to conceptualize “Living the Hill$ Life” as “advertainment” in its most unapologetic form. As June Deery notes, in response to new tensions placed on relationships between advertisers and broadcasters in the wake of media convergence and new technologies, producers are once again relying on “branded content” that conflates entertainment with advertising. With its flexible and mass customizable formats, coupled with a claim on the real, reality TV has emerged as a genre of television exceptionally well-suited for new experiments in product placement and corporate sponsorship. However, seeing The Hills and its related texts as simply a form of reality television “advertainment” obfuscates the specific branding practices performed by the show, especially those that hinge on Lauren’s status as a soap heroine and reality star in a converged media context. Lauren’s paradoxical female celebrity and its unique purchase on its female audience authorize the blatant forms of commodification at work in “Living the Hill$ Life.”

[27] Lauren’s reality stardom and the success of The Hills are situated in a new media, post-network landscape where the television program extends across multi media platforms seeking to constitute a highly invested, interactive niche audience. According to Joseph Turow, what is commonly referred to as lifestyle branding arises from processes of increased market segmentation, where “the new portraits of society that advertisers and media personnel invoke involve the blending of income, generation, marital status, and gender into a soup of geo-graphical and psychological profiles they call ‘lifestyles'” (Turow, 3). Lifestyle brands rely less on demographically imagined audiences— characterized by shared gender, race, or income— and are instead engendered to speak to the identities, experiences, and values of particular lifestyle groups. This year MTV Networks (MTVN) (the parent company of MTV and a host of other cable networks owned by Viacom) altered its sales approach, adopting more explicit lifestyle branding strategies. The company divided its television products into three distinct silos: an MTV/VH1 cluster targeted at young adults and teens; a Family and Kids cluster that includes Nickelodeon brands; and a third Entertainment cluster directed at adult males encompassing Comedy Central, Spike TV, CMT, and TV Land. According to Anthony Crupi of MediaWeek, “Rather than relying solely on a shopworn demo approach, MTVN will now bolster its sales process with a methodology based on measured behaviors and psychographics” (Crupi, 5). In imagining its television programming in terms of distinct clusters of lifestyle brands, MTVN hoped to make itself a more attractive and profitable venue for advertisers whose products can be more readily and precisely articulated to particular lifestyle groups.

[28] Lifestyle branding practices are made possible by developments in database and monitoring technologies that allow marketers to gather more specific data on consumer behavior. Mark Andrejevic provides a more nuanced vision of reality television’s political economy than Deery, examining how the medium is able to pioneer new marketing strategies based on enhanced consumer observation in the converged media context. According to Andrejevic, reality TV is unique in its uncanny ability to convert the promise of interactivity and participation heralded by new media into what he calls “productive surveillance,” or “the work of being watched.” In the case of The Hills, the generation of “productive surveillance” requires new forms of interactivity, as voting rituals and participant surveillance, so key to talent competitions such as American Idol and gamedocs like Big Brother, are not as relevant to the particular format of the docu-soap turned soap opera. In the past year MTVN has attempted to bolster its on-line presence by introducing virtual worlds based on MTV brands. The Virtual Hills invites fans of the show to participate in a virtual and simulated version of The Hills reality by creating an avatar who interacts with other fans, as well as Hillscharacters, in a sort of 3-D chat room. MTVN was the first to apply the avatar-based social networking model— pioneered by the likes of Sims Online, Second Life and— to a reality TV brand. Richard Siklos comments on the promise of MTV’s virtual worlds:

One of the appeals of virtual worlds for MTV is the possibility that advertising can spill over into the real one. Visitors might buy a digital outfit for parties using currency they earned watching an infomercial or checking out a new product for an MTV advertiser. Then, they might decide that they would like to buy the same outfit for their offline selves, and, with a few clicks of the mouse and some real dollars, have one shipped to their home (C1).

The Virtual Hills is a branding strategy and interactive interface that fits nicely with the MTV/VH1 cluster’s target audiences of young adults and teens who are increasingly inventing, sharing, and promoting themselves on-line via social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. is another attempt on the part of MTVN at consumer monitoring and lifestyle branding. On this interactive website,Hills viewers can not only purchase the products featured on the show but also peruse an immense sea of clothes, accessories, music, and even cars by episode, character, and/or brand.

[29] However, these interactive sites developed around The Hills take on new significance when considered in relationship to Lauren’s reality stardom. Lauren’s status as soap heroine and reality star potentially makes these lifestyle branding strategies more effective; for without the productive tension between viewer identification with Lauren and idealization of her lifestyle, the Virtual Hills or “Living the Hill$ Life” make less sense. These industrial strategies play off Lauren’s paradoxical female celebrity and its currency with young female audiences, shrewdly merging the more overt forms of sales(wo)manship Murray elaborates in connection with Lucille Ball with processes of commodification associated with cinema through the synergistic and interactive capabilities of media convergence. As a “friend” who happens to be a fashion expert, Lauren becomes a highly accessible and attractive model consumer for her audiences who are navigating the post-industrial labor market and negotiating the post-feminist sexual contract. While some scholars such as Henry Jenkins have found democratic potential for interactive fans in the “affective economics” practiced by contemporary media industries, The Hillssignals a highly gendered, tightly controlled venture that channels carefully cultivated affective involvement with a female star into endless opportunities to participate in her further commodification while promoting the gendered rules of engagement germane to the post-Fordist workplace. In this way, the embourgeoisement signaled by The Hills is not only achieved at the level of representation and ideology but also by the interactive practices of media reception invited by the program and its construction of Lauren as reality star. Viewers may meet Lauren in The Virtual Hills or buy the headband she wore on her last coffee date with Jason, but they will never really live the Hill$ life as Lauren does.

[30] The Virtual Hills and not only signal innovations in the lifestyle branding of reality television but also intimate how the show’s unique reality format and construction of Lauren as star contribute to the branding of the Hollywood lifestyle itself. More specifically, we argue that Lauren’s representation on The Hillsenables an intensified form of lifestyle branding, where what is branded is not a particular service, product, corporation, program, or experience, but a more generalized lifestyle. Turow explains that for advertising industry professionals engaged in practices of lifestyle branding the “goal is to imagine the product in a social environment that reflects the intended audience and its values” (Turow, 15).The Hills makes this relationship between product, social environment, and intended audience more immanent; it places products directly in a naturalized social environment (The Hills) while cementing an alignment of values between the product and target market (young women) through viewer identification with Lauren. The Hills then is not simply a lifestyle brand of reality television selling Prada bags alongside Pepsi products to young women aspiring to The Hillslifestyle; at the same time, The Hills represents a branded lifestyle. The products that populate The Hills featured on or in The Virtual Hills are not simply discreet entities articulated to or “placed” in a reality television platform to create “branded content;” they appear as firmly embedded within and already belonging to the generalized, glamorous lifestyle represented by the show.

[31] This more general branded lifestyle is anchored by Lauren’s paradoxical reality stardom, but achieved by the representational landscape and reality format of The Hills, which follows the entire cast through the young Hollywood scene. Lauren, Whitney, Audrina, and Heidi all work in cultural industries; they appear as part of the labor force that supports Hollywood, and their jobs often afford them access to exclusive events and parties usually not open to other reality TV celetoids. What’s more, The Hills regularly features scenes in trendy clubs and restaurants. For example, throughout season three the cast frequented hotspots developed by the Dolce Group (a company that owns night clubs and restaurants catering to “industry” people and supported by a slew of celebrity investors including Ashton Kutcher, who also had a show on MTV) among them Ketchup, Les Deux, and Bella. A sure bet for paparazzi as well as amateur star-chasers, these sites are also featured regularly in celebrity gossip magazines. There is a direct, circuitous, synergistic relationship between The Hills‘ reality format and the gossip industry that enables this branding of lifestyle. Lauren then is at once a star, a brand, and a new form of cultural intermediary; her status as reality star of the branded Hills lifestyle with an affectively invested female audience uniquely positions her to help manage and mediate the increasingly risky relationship between consumption and production for an expansive set of media, cultural, and lifestyle industries that hope to profit via their association with the Hollywood lifestyle. In this way, The Hills is situated to generate forms of immaterial value that not only feed back into the coffers of specific corporations (most notably, MTVN and its advertisers) but also work to buttress a more loosely organized set of lifestyle and cultural industries that owe their survival and existence to Hollywood’s celebrity culture which The Hills brands through Lauren’s reality stardom.

[32] As a female reality star, Lauren is never off the clock. Teen Vogue intern, MTV employee, perpetual fashion model, clothing designer, celebrity endorser, soap heroine of real life, girlfriend on The Hills, a virtual friend to thousands on-line— Lauren’s life is rendered constantly productive of value not only for her own personal brand and MTV’s Hills brand, but also for a wide variety of industries that are articulated to her world. Just as Lauren’s reality stardom works to support this branded lifestyle, the branded lifestyle also functions to reinforce Lauren’s reality stardom. While many scholars have offered more optimistic accounts of reality TV celebrity and the democratic potentials of the post-network television era, The Hills exposes some of the limits of these interpretations. Lauren’s paradoxical reality stardom signals heightened forms of exploitation of both female stars and their audiences by media industries in the era of reality TV. Tapping into the pleasures of celebrity gossip, the structure of feeling of melodrama, the promises of post-industrial work life, anxieties about self-presentation in the post-feminist context, and the participatory dimensions of convergence culture, The Hills has pioneered a highly gendered and profoundly paradoxical form of celebrity, transcending the limits of the celetoid system and opening up new horizons for commodifying female stars and their fans.

Acknowledgements. We thank Laurie Ouellette for her wisdom and support throughout the writing of this essay; the audience at the 2008 Console-ing Passions conference, where we presented an earlier version of this essay; and Diane Negra and Su Holmes for their generous and invaluable insights on later drafts.

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