MTV Upsets Laguna Locals

By Esperanza Juarez

“I want my MTV.” That is, unless you’re a parent in the city of
Laguna Beach. Then maybe you don’t.

A recent Los Angeles Times article revealed that several parents
living in the coastal community are angry about the way they are
portrayed on MTV Network’s show “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange
County.”

City residents held an open forum with a panel of school board
candidates to discuss the perceived effects that the show has on
the city’s overall image. The controversy lies in that opponents of
the show feel MTV is portraying their city and local high school in
a negative light.

“We are probably one of the best-known high schools in the
country, and not for the right reasons,” said forum organizer David
Vanderveen.

Recent findings from the California Healthy Kids Survey
indicated that “Laguna Beach High School, where many of the
students on the series attend class, recently ranked No. 1 for
alcohol and drug abuse in Orange County.”

School board candidate Jeff Elghanayan went as far as to say,
“It seems obvious to me that this ranking is the direct result of
the image MTV has set for some of our kids.”

The concern of local residents is that viewers will form
stereotypical beliefs about Laguna Beach residents and the lives
they lead. Susie Hassen, a third-year communication studies student
was excited when she met acquaintances of the cast members. They
were upset because they believed the general consensus among people
who watched the show was that their “city is just about dumb
people.”

In an attempt to minimize the connection between the show and
Laguna Beach High School, MTV film crews have been banned from the
campus in attempt to eliminate any content on the show that either
contains footage of school activities or directly refers to the
high school by name.

The series gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of a handful
of privileged teens living in the southern California enclave.

“I watched the first season because it was fun to watch all the
drama,” said Sunaina Mangina, a second-year biotechnology student.
“Drama attracts people.”

The primary focus of the show has never been about students at
Laguna Beach High School. Instead, the show documents the lives of
the teenage cast who socialize, quarrel, shop and party in their
hometown.

“I wouldn’t like it if MTV was just showing the negative side
[of my city] because everything has its negatives and positives,”
said Mangina.

Not all Laguna Beach residents oppose MTV filming in their
city.

“Those of us who market the area love the publicity,” said
Charles Ahlers, President of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor
& Convention Bureau.

This is evident at the Web site for the Laguna Beach Visitors
Bureau which dedicates an entire section to listing “MTV Shot
Locations.” The Web site features restaurants and businesses with
details about which cast members shopped or dined there.

“The payoff to our county is lucrative. Probably more valuable
than the cash spent by visiting crews is the cachet they give us by
publicizing our county to travelers all over the world willing to
pay big bucks to see where Ryan kissed Marissa [as seen on the OC]
or where Jason cheated on Lauren [from MTV’s Laguna Beach],” said
Coast Magazine writer Tiffany Hawk.

Jim Conrad, whose daughters Lauren and Breanna have both starred
on the MTV show said, “We wanted them to show school activities and
present our kids in the best light. So without that [due to the
ban], what is left? Parties, going out,” said Conrad. “I would say
80 percent of people here couldn’t care less. They don’t watch the
show, they don’t like it or hate it. I’m no rah-rah cheerleader for
MTV, but it hasn’t ruined our town.”

Although some residents are finding it difficult to adjust to
the attention, albeit negative at times, there have also been
positive effects.

“Cities all over the place get exploited,” said Hassen. “At the
end of the day I understand their complaints, but I could never
bring myself to say poor Laguna Beach.”

Esperanza Juarez can be reached by e-mail at
arts@thepolypost.com or by phone at (909) 869-3744.

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