Monday, April 21, 2014

The Epitome of Teen Mom-ness


Reality TV shows.  Some people believe (or want to believe) that they are portraying accurate characteristics of any given community within society.  The part that stands for the whole.  I think that they represent the stigmas and beliefs surrounding a community’s “reality,” either forming or further manipulating and reinforcing viewers’ stereotypes.  They put people, or groups of people, into a box and throw a label on it that they (the producers) and, unfortunately, we (society) have deemed acceptable. 

Take MTV’s Teen Mom 2, for example. Does Jenelle Evans, one “participant,” if you will, truthfully represent the teen mom community?  Is this the reality of being a teen mom?  Are all teen moms, like Jenelle, completely unable to handle it?  Do they all have past or present drug addictions and abusive relationships?  Do the grandparents always end up raising the child? 

 The overwhelmingly negative representations of teen moms on this show fit the mold shaped by reality TV according to the The New Republic article "Reality in America":
"The quality of reality that reality television emphasizes and exaggerates exists only in the negative.  It is anything that is not physically perfect, not carefully presented, not stylistically flawless, not shiningly successful--anything that is not packaged in the form of an ideal." 

This would imply, then, that teen moms are always inherently flawed.  After watching a  show with a message like this, the answer to the questions above certainly feels like a big "yup." Basically, the moral of TM2: “Don’t have sex – you will get pregnant and die.”  Yup, that totally sums up the teen mom experience across the board.    


The show doesn’t even seem to be about the specific child, teen mom, or her experience parenting.  The discourse, instead, seems to revolve around the discussion of abortion, teen parenting, and unprotected sex as good or bad.  It’s propaganda.  And it’s troubling. 
Recently, Rihanna used a clip from Teen Mom 2 to successfully market her upcoming tour (see video below).  In it, Jenelle Evans is more concerned about her legal issues affecting her going to the Ke$ha concert than affecting her relationship with her son. 

Even more disturbing than Jenelle’s irresponsible words and actions are the horrifying comments made by viewers.  Below the video, comments somehow (as always) progressed into the age-old abortion debate, because Teen Mom is totally valid evidence to use in support of either side of the pro-choice/pro-life dispute.  I definitely refer to the moms seen on this show to back up my opinion on abortion – it makes for a sound argument.  I’m kidding, but the fact that people actually do that is not a joke. Some people were appalled with Jenelle’s negligence and poor parenting, and said that an abortion would have “been better than a worthless mom.”  To counter such arguments, others claimed that “abortion is evil.”  One angry commenter even said to another, “Your mom should have had an abortion.”
So what do we make of this?  We have these grossly misrepresentative shows, like Teen Mom 2, that lead viewers to strongly believe one way or another about a community.  It is frightening to think that some people take the examples shown on reality TV and apply them (perhaps unknowingly) to every single person or group that fits that title, in this case, “teen mom.” Since Jenelle did drugs, 16-year-old Sally Jones (*not a real person) who got pregnant back in high school did too.  The viewers are almost scarier than the participants of the show – they become participants of the show by feeding in to these misrepresentations of girls, of women, of moms. What is “teen mom-ness” and how can we ethically create a mold that fits everyone in this category? And last, but not least, if we are to assume that these characters are indeed true teen moms (even if some of us understand that they aren’t representative of that whole community), then why hasn’t anyone intervened, taken these children away, and discontinued the show for the safety and wellbeing of these vulnerable members of society? 

 
Sources: favim.com (Mean Girls image), teenmomjunkies.com (Teen Mom 2 image), YouTube (video)

 

1 comment:

  1. This cuts to the core of one of the dilemmas I face as a poststructuralist activist: how do I reckon my theoretical claims about the representationalism-- the performativity-- of reality tv with my ethical commitments to analyzing and ending oppression? I think I come through this by rethinking the definition of "reality"; though it is utterly constructed and performative and represented and televised, this IS the real in which we live and breathe and suffer and die. No answers to your questions here, but I really like how the post provokes us to find the intersections between theory and practice.

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