THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS: I’m man enough to admit when I don’t get something, and MTV’s The Hills is a television phenomenon that escapes my comprehension like Bugs Bunny giving Elmer Fudd the slip – I’m so flabbergasted by its pretensions to being “reality television” in spite of the obviously staged situations that I can’t really see past that to whatever appeal Lauren, Heidi, Spencer and their coddled coterie have for audiences.

I’m also a balding, middle-aged man who watches the Military Channel to relax, so I’m guessing I’m not the target audience, either.

Thankfully, I have people like Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune to explain this riddle to me, which is nice, because I have this horrible feeling that if I asked one of the show’s fans, they’d call a cop on me for being an old perv. As well they should.

Ryan works from the (correct) assumption that we’ve split into tiny slivers of demography that, thanks to the atomized nature of society and culture, are extremely defensive about their tastes and preferences. So when she calls The Hills “the postmillennial Friends,” she immediately qualifies it by asking Friends fans – now thirtysomethings whose lives likely no longer resemble the comic aimlessness that the show sold so well – to “not get all huffy.”

“Friends painted a picture of post college life that was impossibly rosy and cozy,” Ryan writes, “and yet viewers loved it because it was an aspirational fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to live with one’s friends across the hall, sufficient money and endless free time for coffeehouse gossip sessions?”

The effortlessness of life as lived by the wealthy kids on The Hills is notable, especially compared to the hardscrabble fight for status among the Manhattan protosocialites on Gossip Girl, The Hills’ closet rival in both subject and prospective audience. “And that’s just one reason that The Hills irritates people older than 35,” says Ryan. “Adults know life is harder and messier and much more expensive than the manicured dream that “The Hills” presents. And it makes some of us aging Gen Xers - a group that made a fetish of authenticity (touché!) - mad that this gossamer froth is labeled ‘reality.’”

What probably makes us Gen X greybeards even more livid about The Hills is that “the kids” get its nonchalant blurring of the reality/fiction boundaries, and we don’t. There’s also the way that “the drama continues in the gossip rags and online once the season is over?” as Ryan points out. “It’s the perfect program for post-millennial multimedia domination, because the carefully constructed ‘show’ that is Lauren’s life never really ends.” The kids have got something really new, and suddenly the generation that likes to think it invented the internet feels like a grandparent who can’t open an e-mail, and that sucks big time.

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