Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Teenage Motherhood Primer

In June of 2009, MTV networks debuted 16 and Pregnant, a show that documents the daily struggles faced by American teenagers who find themselves unexpectedly “in a family way.” The show became a runaway success, its network ratings only being eclipsed by the always cerebral Jersey Shore. The success of the series prompted the network to continue following four central characters in a spinoff series known as Teen Mom.
Amber "Rainmaker" Portwood
Amongst the featured mothers was a delicate maternal flower named Amber Portwood, who is currently facing multiple counts of felony domestic assault and child neglect charges. It was also recently revealed that teenage pregnancy is a rather lucrative business, since she disclosed to the court that MTV compensated her $280,000 a year in exchange for allowing cameras to document her “journey.”
This has enraged many Americans who feel that the show glorifies teen pregnancy and will inevitably lead to an increase in the phenomenon. Supporters of the program point to the “gritty reality” of a struggling single mother being an effective deterrent for underage motherhood.

While it is impossible to know exactly what the show’s social impact will be, I must say that it is somewhat disconcerting that a high school dropout with a disdain for prophylactics can surpass the average yearly salary of a neurosurgeon. I can only imagine the conversations transpiring in high school guidance offices all across the country after this gets out:
    “Well Suzie, what are your plans for the future?”

    “Well Mrs. Jones, I was originally leaning toward a career in genetics or oncology research but given the high cost of living and skyrocketing price of healthcare it appears my best option would be to have unprotected sex with my boyfriend in the parking lot of a Wendy’s, conceive a child that I am emotionally unprepared to nurture, and then drop out of school in order to pursue a lucrative television contract with Viacom.”

    “Oh. Well if you change your mind I think you are a shoe-in for that competitive long division scholarship we talked about.”

I doubt that Teenage Mom portrays the challenging reality of underage motherhood any more accurately than The Real World portrays what it is like to be a twenty-something and unemployed in a large American city. (I always wondered how realistic it was to live in an elaborate condominium rent-free while facing no decisions more agonizing than deciding which club to intoxicate myself in. I will have to ask Paris Hilton if we ever meet...) 
While I find fertile young Portwood’s compensation a bit excessive, I am even more outraged that MTV has become known for financing rather depressing social experiments instead of music. What happened to the MTV of my youth? The MTV that introduced me to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Dr. Dre, Dave Matthews Band, and Rage Against the Machine. The MTV that produced the groundbreaking Unplugged series that inspired Eric Clapton to rework Layla and blow the collective minds of music fans everywhere. The MTV where Kurt Loader was the first on the scene when Oasis broke up again or a member of the Wu-Tang Clan violated his parole.

I suppose it was inevitable that MTV would have to evolve, I just remain unconvinced that providing six-figure salaries to violent teenage mothers is better than seeing the Beastie Boys Sabotage video in heavy rotation.

Get Some

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