Character Hierarchy in The Hills

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In a relationship based show with a cast as large as the one in The Hills, it is important to have some kind of denotation as to who the “main characters” are. The Hills does this by the subtitles it uses to introduce people when they appear on screen for the first time in an episode or scene. Take, for example, the following two screen shots from Episode 511, “It’s on Bitch.”

It is interesting that the producers would chose to say that Spencer was Heidi’s husband, not that Heidi was Spencer’s Wife, or that they were married to each other. As both Spencer and Heidi are well known from the show, why have any subtitle at all? However, by doing this, the producers show a certain hierarchy within the cast of characters. Heidi is the main character, not Spencer. This then shapes how the audience reacts to the events later in the episode. At the very end, for example, when Spencer tells Heidi that he has already give the down payment for a house that Heidi does not like, it is seen as a loss for Heidi, not a victory for Spencer.

This method of subtitling also alerts the audience to who’s side they should be on, especially when they decide how they should feel about certain characters they have only recently met. Take the following scene from Brody’s apartment before going to Heidi and Spencer’s welcome back party:

Brody is described as Kristin’s ex-boyfriend, not as Jayde’s boyfriend. This makes us feel angry at Jayde as, with the subtitle, we are lead to believe that Kristin still has some say, or claim, over Brody. Then, as Jayde is described as Brody’s Girlfriend, we are made to be prejudice against her in favor of Kristin.

I think that this method has a few uses. Firstly, it demonstrates to the audience who the main characters of the show are. Secondly, it drives the drama of the show by laying claim to some characters as belonging to others. Thirdly, it shows that this show is based on and around women. The only character that has a male in the subtitle is Spencer’s sister, but I do not think that this is done to drive drama. Unfortunately, all three of these things all point to the spectacle of young, rich, beautiful women being nasty and horrible to each other, and although it is based around women, I do not think it does anything to further equality, etc.

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One Response to “Character Hierarchy in The Hills”

  1. phamgela Says:

    I noted that as well, especially when the males characters would be labeled as “so and so’s ex”, when that seemed like such an arbitrary way to describe someone.

    I think you are right in saying that with the producers being in control of perspective, we’re being manipulated as audiences.

    I have another theory, which is that everyone on this show looks so freakishly similar and the plot is so inane and complex that these cues help the audience differentiate one douche bag from another. By saying that’s “audrina’s ex” instead of “kirsten’s boyfriend”, we don’t have to think too hard about who dated who, we know that that’s drama in the making right there.

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