Quick reactions to the New York Time’s take on MTV’s Teen Mom

Last week the New York Times published an article about the effect of MTV’s reality shows 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 on combating teen pregnancy. While the article acknowledged that some have challenged the franchise for glamorizing teen pregnancy by turning these girls into celebrities, it overwhelmingly asserts that the shows have had a positive effect by drawing attention to the issue and providing a vehicle for discussion. Still, I’m not sure I’m ready to jump on the “Yay, Teen Mom is the best for sex ed!” bandwagon.

Here are some off-the-top-of-my-head reactions to the piece. I should also preface these by admitting that I am an avid viewer of these shows.

  1. It’s great that the shows are providing entry points for conversation for both parents and educators, but are the majority of viewers actually having those conversations?
  2. A friend of mine who is the mother of teenage girls noted a lack of empathy that some teens have for the girls on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. While some people (myself included) do react emotionally to the girls’ hard-luck stories, others have little pity or sympathy, often assuming that the girls were “stupid” or “careless” or “sluts” and look what happened.
  3. The show doesn’t actually provide sex ed information, just says “Teen pregnancy is 100% preventable, go to our website.” If the programs were truly meant to prevent pregnancy, wouldn’t they want to include real sex ed info as much as possible?
  4. The show does not do enough to address abuse, physical or emotional. While MTV did react to the physical abuse depicted in the first season of Teen Mom, they have not addressed different forms of emotional abuse that aren’t hard to pick out, including emotional abuse from boyfriends (like Adam in Teen Mom 2) and extremely unhealthy parent-child relationships.
  5. Dr. Drew is a manipulative creep and should not be involved. The New York Times calls him a “hand-holder,” but after watching one too many finale specials, his involvement makes me cringe. He consistently encourages the girls to try to make it work with the baby-daddies, even if they don’t want a romantic relationship with them, and even when the baby-daddies are deadbeats or abusive.  This is not the message that teen viewers should walk away with at the end of the season.
  6. While educators use 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 in classrooms with little or no opposition, the one-time special No Easy Decision, in which a girl chooses abortion, is not used in this manner. One teacher cites not wanting to “test the limits.”  While the No Easy Decision special was super well done – seriously, I loved it – it was only aired once at an odd time and clearly no one is using it to spark discussion. There is no question that as a franchise, these shows ignore abortion as much as possible in order to remain “neutral,” which really isn’t very neutral at all.

Next on Teen Mom: Amber punches Gary in the head

*********Please read my follow-up post about the full episode and MTV’s response to airing footage of domestic violence.*********

MTV, you’ve got some ‘splainin to do.

Last year, you showed a clip of Snookie (Jersey Shore) getting punched in the face by a guy in your “coming next week” clip. There was outrage. The scene was not shown again, and the episode was followed with information about violence and assault.

This week on Teen Mom, you showed a clip of Amber punching her baby’s father Gary in the head. She punched his head into a wall.

Where is the outrage?

So far, I have not seen anyone being upset or making waves about this. Where is the uproar that we saw when Snookie was punched?

We already saw Amber physically assault Gary in the first season of Teen Mom (video). We also learned (although we didn’t see it happen) about when Farrah’s mother attacked her and was arrested for domestic assault. These incidents created a bit of a stir, but nothing compared to the Snookie punch.

I would venture a guess to say that people got up in arms about the Snookie punch because it was a man hitting a woman. In the case of Teen Mom, it is a woman – a young woman – hitting a man.

Although it’s admittedly problematic to place value judgments on “kinds of violence,” I would argue that showing domestic violence on TV without any comment on it is much worse than showing a bar fight. The Snookie punch was the result of a drunken fight among strangers. Amber’s punch is evidence of ongoing, escalating, domestic violence – an issue that is frighteningly common, and about which many are ignorant.

Amber has custody of their daughter Leah. Gary, the victim of Amber’s abuse, has begun to vocalize that he does not feel it is safe to leave Leah with Amber after she kicks him out during a fight. In this week’s episode, after she screams in his face and threatens to punch him – her fist coming within an inch of his face – he does, in fact, take the baby with him.

This situation is fucking scary. Where are the PSAs? Where is the outrage?

When I did a Twitter search for “Teen Mom punch” the only results I got were other viewers saying they would like to punch Amber in the face, or that Gary should punch Amber in the face. There IS a need for domestic violence education, and MTV is once again, being irresponsible. This is a perfect opportunity to do some real, meaningful work around relationship violence awareness – one that I fear will be a missed opportunity.

The only reason MTV censored the Snookie punch and provided educational info after the episode aired, limited as it was, was because of pressure from public outrage. We need to put that pressure back on MTV to make it clear that the kind of domestic abuse and violence we are seeing on Teen Mom is NOT OKAY, and that it is irresponsible for the network to air it without providing educational information about violence.

Please help by spreading the word about this. Facebook it, Tweet it, get the big blogs like Jezebel and Feministing or news sites to cover it. Share this blog post or write your own.

This type of violence should not be aired on MTV without educational information to put it in context. Help spread the word – to MTV and everyone else – that domestic violence is wrong, even when the attacker is a woman.

*********Please read my follow-up post about the full episode and MTV’s response to airing footage of domestic violence.*********

Jersey Shore: Aliens with hair gel and tanning beds

Yes, I will admit it.  I have watched the season premiere of the Jersey Shore, not once, but twice.  And both times I went to bed with a stomach cramp from laughing so hard. If you have not yet experienced the magical abomination that is MTV’s The Jersey Shore, please visit MTV and get acquainted.

The Jersey Shore is a “Real World-esque” reality show in which 8 self-described “Guidos and Guidettes” live in a house on the Jersey Shore.  It is similar to previous reality tv shows, the kind that have usually have no cultural or entertainment value whatsoever because all they do is follow some boring people around with cameras.  But these people?  They are not boring.  Also, I don’t think they are people.

Watching the Jersey Shore is like watching aliens from outer space.  The author of this excellent article calls it an “anthropological field study.”  These Guidos and Guidettes have curious motivations that are only the more confusing because they resemble human motivations we know and understand, only warped and completely devoid of any irony that might explain them.  But we can see the irony even if they can’t, and that is what makes it so funny.

There were a few choice moments that made me want to vomit, like when Mike, aka “The Situation,” said: “As far as I know, everybody loves the Situation.  And if they don’t, I’m gonna make them love the Situation.”  Also, when a Guidette said, “If a girl’s a slut, she should be abused.” But does this mean I will condemn the show in a fit of fiery feminist anger?  No.  That’s not my style.

Before anyone gets up in arms about the anti-feminist content of the Jersey Shore, please remember that the show itself is not pushing an anti-feminist agenda.  Yes, every person on the show is sexist, but they are so off-the-reservation that no one in their right mind will walk away from this show wanting to emulate their behavior.  Like South Park, the Jersey Shore uses exaggerated stereotypes to make fun of stereotypes.   Certainly, the Jersey Shore could use some feminist outreach education.  These people are not from our planet, and clearly need some help adjusting.  But in the mean time, I will laugh very, very hard at their expense.