Thursday, January 8, 2009

MTV's Next

Dating is difficult. You have to constantly check your appearance, what you say and how your date reacts. You have to present your best possible self to someone else. It can be incredibly stressful, to the point that you might want to forgo dating all together. Dating is a subtle art.

Next does away with all of that, especially subtlety. It distills dating down the basest goal (not starting a relationship, but getting laid), then layers on a veneer of innuendo that surely is meant to fool all but the target demographic (15-30 year olds), and throws in a monetary angle to purport itself as a game show.

Each episode focuses on one person, the Contestant, who is going to choose from five people, the Daters, to ask out on a second date. The Contestant picks a few events representing their interests (from human bowling to an impromptu rodeo) that they and the Daters participate in. The episodes almost always conclude with a meal (usually with obviously forced small talk). It may seem unruly to have a six person date, and it would be, which is why the Contestant only continues the date with one of the Daters at a time. Whenever the Contestant wants to stop seeing a dater, they just have to shout "next!" and the next Dater comes out. The Nexted Dater doesn't leave empty handed though, they receive 1 dollar for every minute they have been on a date with the Contestant. At the end of the episode, the last Dater standing is given the option of going on a second date with the Contestant or taking the money, which they earned like the Nexted Daters.

Viewed superficially, Next is great trashy TV. It's a bunch of attractive twentysomethings making fools of themselves, it makes the viewer feel superior about their own intellect and morals. It's filler TV, if you've got 15 minutes till school, why not watch some Next? It has no storyline, no real purpose, it's just attractive people doing silly things on TV, what's not to love?

Viewed critically, Next doesn't seem so harmless. It reinforces the idea that dating isn't a serious thing, that all young people are of a one-track mind and that all the stereotypes you believe about a certain demographic are true. Young men are portrayed as solely interested in anatomy, both heterosexual and homosexual alike (In fairness, the show does deserve some credit for portraying homosexual individuals in the same manner it portrays their heterosexual counterparts). Young women are not portrayed as being as superficial as the men; however they fall from third-wave feminist tree, demonstrating that they want a man to take care of them (the college students apparently in school to get their MRS degree).

Taken seriously, Next exemplifies the worst aspects of new wave American courtship. It portrays Contestants and Daters as simplistic, stereotyped caricatures. It places an undo emphasis on external characteristics and can give the wrong impression about the youth of America. That being said, there is no reason to be overdramatic and hail Next as the first sign of the downfall of western civilization. I think it is meant to be viewed as an over the top, deeply simplified dating show, and seeing it as such, the show is perfectly harmless, mindless fun.

Tom Kozlowski

An episode for reference:

URL in case embedded videos fail:

No comments: