Several months back now, I read an article on one of the celebrity gossip sites—I think it was Pop Eater—that detailed an alarming alleged phenomenon. I use the word “alleged” because the article never came out and gave concrete sources, but rather cited anonymous ones who made the harrowing claim that teenage girls were intentionally trying to get pregnant so that they could appear on shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.
It’s worth mentioning that I abhor virtually all reality shows. Furthermore, I resent that our pop culture sky is now populated with vulgar and dimwitted stars like (picking randomly) the Situation. If you ask me, the legion of vapid who have become famous in spite of possessing little to no extraordinary talent is a sad thing, indeed. So, though I knew very little about 16 and Pregnant, I assumed that something similar must have been happening with it which compelled many young ladies to do whatever it took to get their 15 minutes.
I wrote about it eons ago on StrollerDerby. Always one to cut to the chase, I began my post with “Shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom make me sick.” Accordingly, I was extremely interested to read why Lauren Dolgen created the show to begin with, which I was able to do thanks to a guest post she wrote on CNN.
Dolgen relays the story of flipping through a magazine a few years back only to stumble on one of the lead stories of the day: Jamie Lynn Spear’s pregnancy. More compelling to Dolgen, still, were the 750,000 other teenage girls the story referenced who were also pregnant. Putting two and two together, Dolgen realized that this issue was affecting MTV’s very audience. Accordingly, she felt compelled to do something about it.
“I felt like we had to address it. I wanted to help give these teenagers a voice, and to share their stories without passing judgment in a way that could start a real dialogue about the issue.”
In what read like an open letter to her critics, Dolgen points out that MTV has been linked with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy from the onset of 16 and Pregnant, as the network wanted to make certain that they were handling the “nuanced” themes within the show in a responsible manner. Dolgen also dismisses the notion of so called copycats getting pregnant in hopes of getting on TV.
Some critics say these shows glamorize teen pregnancy. Some have even suggested that by airing these programs MTV inspires copycat behavior. Forgive the analogy, but this is like claiming people are becoming obese for a chance at fame on a reality weight-loss show…We believe that our audience is smart enough to view “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” as the shows were intended — as cautionary tales about the consequences of unprotected sex, and the reality of becoming a parent too early.
I think Dolgen hits on an important point there—namely is the audience smart enough to view these shows as intended? Or perhaps an even more important question: are these shows as straight up as Dolgen claims, or are there other elements at play here which help suck in the average viewer?
According to Wikipedia, the New York Times described 16 and Pregnant as “a documentary-style series about real-life Junos who are not scoring in the 99th percentile on the verbal portion of their SATs… Despite its showcasing of the grim, hard work of single mothering, 16 and Pregnant seems calculated, above all, to incite viewers of The Hills to working-class voyeurism, given how many clichés of lower-income Middle American life are exploited.”
The reason I point that out? It’s simple. On the one hand, I don’t doubt that Dolgen and crew are doing everything they can to treat the important subject matter of the shows as responsibly as possible. But on the other, last I checked, MTV wasn’t PBS. Numbers do, indeed, count. Which is why I think it’s a given that the show does, as the New York Times suggested, resort to certain calculated tactics to engage their audience. Taking that a step further, I’m also of the belief that these tactics could render more impressionable members of the viewing audience smitten with the “stars” of the show, as well as the lifestyle they perceive comes along with the media spotlight. Could that inspire copycat behavior?
Sure it could. Especially among those members of the audience who aren’t smart enough to view the show as intended.
So does that mean that I’m still as anti these shows as I was in my initial post? Probably not. I’ve softened a bit on the matter after learning that statistics support that teen pregnancy is on the decline. Plus, I’m with Dolgen 100% when she says “Whether you like these shows or not, they have sparked a long-overdue national discussion on this issue.”
So for those reasons, I believe that the show is probably doing more good than harm.
But just don’t tell me that it doesn’t glamorize teen pregnancy to some. Because whether they intend it to or not, it does. And please also don’t tall me that its purpose is strictly beneficial because I’m not buying that, either. Jamie Lynn Spears’ case got attention because she was famous. And she proved that teen pregnancy could become a pop culture thing—one which could move magazines like the very one Dolgen was reading all those years ago when 16 and Pregnant first popped into her head.
And if that hadn’t been the case, do you really think that MTV would have tackled the issue?