Shows like ‘The Hills’ gave us false expectations of how the working world works
I was absolutely obsessed with MTV reality show The Hills growing up. The fact that I was spending my early teenage years watching impossibly-gorgeous LA girls and guys dramatising their non-problems was a good indicator that I would still be watching and loving trashy TV in my twenties. And while the drama and moments that cemented themselves in millennial pop culture (“I wanna forgive you…and I wanna forget you” – Iconic) were a brilliant addition, I was secretly watching for another reason. The careers.
L.C, Heidi, Whitney and Audrina had picture-perfect lives in a multitude of ways, but they had the best jobs. The first season saw both Lauren and Heidi attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in LA, with unbelievable jobs on the side; Lauren interned at Teen Vogue and Heidi worked at events management company Bolthouse. As the seasons rolled on, the girls landed jobs at PR giant People’s Revolution, iconic designer Diane Von Furstenburg and Epic Records. I was a teenager who pored over Vogue and Elle and I watched with bated breath at Lauren and Whitney working Fashion Week events and Audrina working with new bands for her label. I sat in absolute disgust when Lauren chose to spend the summer with Jason at the beach house instead of working in Paris for 3 months. She became the ‘girl who didn’t go to Paris’ and she and Jason broke up. Shocker.
But even as a naive teenager, I could tell that this was all a bit off. Of course, the obvious fact that the show was semi-scripted and all of the dramas were embellished only became apparent to me later on (it was only the start of reality TV, give me some credit). But another was obvious to me from the very beginning; there is no way that these girls would ever get these jobs in real life. And if they did, there is no way they’d be leading that lifestyle on an unpaid internship.
Lauren Conrad, though a perfectly nice and competent girl, would have been swallowed up by the competition in the fashion industry. I distinctly remember an episode where ‘super-intern’ Emily Weiss (yes, the now-founder of Glossier) came to L.A and upstaged our girls in every way possible. It was framed in such a way that we saw Emily as a control-freak perfectionist, but actually, Emily was just doing her job properly. She is what every intern at a publication like Teen Vogue would have behaved like. This is what the working world, especially in such a competitive industry, was really like, but viewers of The Hills were misled into thinking it was easier than that.
The girls spent their evenings and weekends at L.A’s hottest clubs and restaurants, drinking champagne and planning their Chanel-clad outfits for the next day. The reality of life for the unpaid intern is packet noodles and a re-run of Ru Paul’s Drag Race on a Saturday night. Intern culture is a massive problem in itself and the fact that we are constantly told that we should be happy to work for free is outrageous. I can’t help but think that our acceptance of unpaid work as a given for our careers to take off is thanks, in part, to shows like the Hills telling us that it wasn’t a big deal.
I will defend my love of trashy TV to the day I die, and The Hills was, and probably still is, my favourite of the bunch. But it’s important to recognise that these shows are fantasy. While The Hills helped me foster my love of fashion and publishing, now that I actually work in that area, I can tell you that it gave me zero good advice on how to achieve it.