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Television has plenty of reality shows featuring young women, but "MTV's Miss Seventeen" (Mondays, 10:30 p.m. ET) is allegedly different.
In what's essentially "America's Next Top Role Model," these are not the shallow girls of "Laguna Beach." These are young women competing under the watchful eye of Seventeen's editor-in-chief Atoosa Rubenstein for an internship and a scholarship.
Of course, the winner gets a modeling job and an appearance on the magazine's cover, too, which is the first hint of trouble. What do the qualifications for a scholarship have to do with the qualifications for modeling? And why do the opening credits decry "mean girls"? You can't have a scholarship if you're… "mean"? By whose definition?
The search for substance and character might be worthwhile if the show meant it, but it doesn't.
This week, Atoosa asked each girl a personal question and then had the other girls judge each answer as a "Real Answer," "Fake Answer," or "Beauty Pageant Answer." One girl was simply instructed to name the girl in the group she'd be least likely to be friends with. All this thinly disguised sniping relates to the scholarship… how, exactly?
Atoosa wasn't through egging on any cattiness she could drum up. Back at home, the girls found a message from her warning them that they seemed to be healing some of the personal wounds that her meddling had opened.
Appallingly, she cautioned them against befriending each other and finding it had cost them their competitive edge. Worse yet, she implied they should help her out by exposing each other's worst personal flaws.
So here we are again. Young women, encouraged to tear each other down for the cameras, but simultaneously told that no matter what the goal is, achieving it comes down to who's (1) nice and (2) pretty. Different? Hardly. More like the millionth verse, same as the first.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.