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Lesbian Representation on MTV's NEXT

The “Next Miss Gay Girl? is…
MTV


Representations of GLBT persons are few and far between on prime time programming, especially those of queer women. An episode of MTV’s dating show NEXT recently revealed the misrepresentations and commodification of this minority prevalent in media today.

NEXT is a popular dating show on MTV. Five potential daters are loaded onto a crowded bus waiting for the opportunity to step off and vie for the approval of the main contestant. If the main dater does not like what they see, they have the power to verbally “NEXT,? or refuse, their admirer. The show relies on aesthetics, the confrontation between contestants, and sexual innuendo. Recently NEXT has started to air gay and lesbian episodes, and their approach to this programming fulfills many stereotypes and analyses prevalent of queer women in media today.

On the episode, The Next Miss Gay Girl Brie a nineteen year old, white, feminine woman is looking for a, “girl to play doctor with?. She talks about getting dirty with the boys, but wanting to jump in the hay stacks with the girls. Immediately, the viewer is introduced to a highly feminine and sexualized host, whose sexual inclinations feed the stereotypical desires of male members in the young audience. The use of the word gay in the title proves interesting as well. Most women with same-sex attractions do not identify as ‘gay,’ but rather as ‘lesbians’ or ‘dykes.’ The mere use of the word in the title suggests that the content in the show is out of line with the realities of lesbian culture. Also, the use of the word ‘girl’ connotes a submissive and sexually playful experience, when; in reality, the contestants are all women.

Many of the lesbians that we see in mainstream media today are highly feminine. The representation of butch lesbians is mostly marginalized to the Logo channel (an all gay network) and the L Word. Why is the media so hesitant to represent a broader view of lesbians; those that are masculine? Ann Ciasullo explores the representations of lesbians in the media in a relevant article, Making Her (In)visible: Cultural Representations of Lesbianism and the Lesbian Body in the 1990s. Questioning the invisibility of the butch in media she writes, “The femme, in other words, is representable not only because she is desirable but also because she is perceived as “inauthentic.?. This particular episode of MTV’s NEXT appears to be feeding viewers a comfortable ‘gay package:? one that is feminine and conforming to heteronormative views of the perfect woman. Ciasullo ponders why media networks tend to show feminine lesbians and what the implications are for the gay community:

Perhaps the configurations of single and coupled femmes work to undo the “lesbian? signifier and to de-lesbianize the subject for mainstream audiences…Without the signifier of the butch, the femme's lesbianism disappears, or, more accurately never appears in the first place. Is this, perhaps, another more important reason why “femme-looking? lesbians are the most represented in mainstream culture? Mainstream culture is thus giving with one hand and taking back with another: it makes room for positive representations of lesbianism, but the lesbian it chooses as “representative,? decoupled from the butch that would more clearly signify lesbianism for mainstream audiences, in effect becomes a nonlesbian…(Ciasullo 1990).

While there is an invisibility of butch women, especially lesbians in mainstream media, the gay dating show on NEXT did not target the lesbian community. The commercials airing during the show suggest that the series is targeting the 16-25 age bracket, both heterosexual men and women alike. Likely viewers are white and suburban, with enough money for extended cable and the leisure time to view the show. The commercials were mostly for beauty products and ‘reality show un-cut revealed’ best-of tapes, promising many scenes of sex and debauchery. Considering the projected audience, MTV undoubtedly set out to ‘give the people what they want.’ And, according to current social norms and expectations with particular regard to Ciasullo’s remarks, MTV gave their audience what they were comfortable viewing.

Of the five contestants that Brie is about to meet, four are highly feminine; one being a bit more masculine. Three of the daters are Caucasian, with the other two are women of color (perhaps of a southeast-Asian origin). As with all NEXT episodes, the daters must undergo an activity or challenge to prove their dedication and devotion to the main contestant. The challenge on this particular episode is a beauty pageant, entitled “Miss Gay Girl.? This is a very stereotypically patriarchal American tool of judgment to wean the perfect and proper woman. Ironically the first contestant in Brie’s contest was Lyla, a woman of color, who sang Yankee Doodle Dandy in broken English while wearing a sequined American Flag leotard. Brie immediately NEXTS her after her performance, based on ‘merit.’ The commentator of the show remarks that Lyla was rejected because she was a ‘skanky doodle.? She is belittled and demeaned.

The next dater to walk off the bus and into Brie’s sight is Gabriella, a full-figured Caucasian woman. Brie immediately NEXTS Gabriela, retorting that ‘she looks like she’s eaten too many cheeseburgers.? Negative stereotypes of race, gender, and body have already been confronted in the episode and it has just begun.

The more masculine looking contestant is up next. Sujey is also immediately NEXTED, this time on the basis of her lip piercing. Brie, however, proves hypocritical picking the next contestant with the same piercing. One is left to wonder whether the piercing was the turn-off after all. Sujey returns with, “Most girls have holes, and she must be straight?. The next and last contestant to come off the bus is Nicole, an 18 year old white, feminine woman who is put into formal wear and feminized even more with makeup. There is an exchange of a small kiss and they hold hands as she walks her to the stage for Nicole to walk and show her princess wave. She is called beautiful and nice and then they sit down and “get to know one another?.

The questions that follow are questions about Nicole’s past relationships and gayness. The first being “Have you had any ex-girlfriends?? the response “Of course?. Second, “Did you guys ever sleep with one another?? the response “yes?. Brie is then asked some questions about her relationships and practices and she answers that she has never has any girlfriends or ever been with a woman and that she prefers not to have any girlfriends. Then she is asked if she is completely full on lesbian, and Brie answers that she goes with guys too, is bi-sexual. After thirty-two minutes Brie asks Nicole on a second date. Nicole’s response is, “I don’t think you’re into girls as much as I’d like you to be, so I’m going to take the money and run?. She boards the bus as tells everyone that Brie asked her on a second date but she seemed a little “straight’ so she took the cash. The ending seen is Brie all dressed up in Pageant apparel saying, “I’ve realized that miss gay girl of 06 is me?.

This last sequence brings up a common question in the GLBT community: ‘how gay are you?? Brie identifies as bisexual, but her lack of experience and exclusive commitment to females is criticized. Queer theory suggests a fluidity of sexuality, that everyone is somewhere on a continuum between gay and straight. Queer tenets, however, were not taken into account in the rebuke of Brie by the contestants. She was not deemed ‘gay’ enough for their time. Although Brie does fit into what the mainstream media chooses to represent, she doesn’t fit into what the lesbian women on the bus they ‘can handle.? Feminine lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to be represented in media due to a multitude of reasons, including their less-threatening appearance and purpose. Does this mean, however, that their same-sex attractions are questioned and delegitimized more than the intentions of butches’? While there’s something to be said about the lack of ‘butch representation’ in mainstream media and the feminization of women for comfortability, there also needs to be an analysis of the lesbian community and their binary views of masculine and feminine.


Sources:
Ann M. Ciasullo, “Making Her (In)visible: Cultural Representations of Lesbianism and the Lesbian Body in the 1990s.? Feminist Studies. Vol 27. Issue 3 (2001): p.577.

Comments

yep! its true if you decide to be like that then you should and if people don't like it well then its to bad and we become like come like this naturally and poeple shouldn't bring us down like this.

Hey!
So, I know this is random, but I was actually on MTV's next when I was nineteen (few years back now)... I'm pretty butch (i didn't wear makeup, had short hair, play rugby) and when the casting director picked me, he said, in part, that he wanted to try and make the show more well rounded and representative of the lgbt community. Though I don't think the approach took off in the long run, my show had a bi-hairdresser, a bi-porn star, a gay-stripper, a totally gay-biker chick, and me (an aspiring rabbi at the time!!!). It definitely didn't feel as disingenuous and staged as many of the episodes... Maybe it was a once off thing, but our show wasn't about being faux-gay, it was a intersection of 5 crazy, diverse, lgbt kids riding around in mtv's bus! Plus, none of us made out for the camera and I still get calls, three years out, saying that they're replaying my episode!!! :)
Anyway, I don't think every episode puts "gays to shame"- your article was interesting and I dig your passion. Certainly there are a lot of crap episodes out there!!!!
Hit me up if you want to discuss!

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GWSS 1001 - Gender, Power, and Everday Life: Lesbian Representation on MTV's NEXT is a sensible subject, trate with more attention.