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The perverse incentives behind MTV’s Teen Mom

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I am turning anti-Teen Mom/16 & Pregnant, the wildly successful (and highly entertaining) MTV franchises that follow the exploits of teen moms, and soon-to-be-teen-moms, respectively. While I love watching these shows, I’m starting to feel sort of dirty supporting them with my viewership, because I think they’re creating perverse and dangerous incentives for teenagers. Although the stated message of both shows is that getting pregnant while you’re in high school is extremely difficult and thrusts you into adulthood before you’re ready, effectively ending your blissful childhood, the practical message of the show is: get pregnant and get paid (and famous)!

The reality behind Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant is that, while MTV claims the shows are meant to educate us on the dangers of teen pregnancy, the real reason they’re aired is because they are lucrative for the network.  MTV has an incentive to groom its pregnant teens so that they stay on for several seasons, and we can follow their exploits from month to month, year to year, thus increasing viewer loyalty to the franchise. I know that I feel invested in the original crop of teen moms – Farrah, Amber, Maci and Catelyn. I mean, aren’t we all curious about whether Amber’s going to get a giant tat of her next baby (yup, she’s pregnant again) to match the tasteful one she recently got of her firstborn Leah?  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1339894/Teen-Moms-Amber-Portwood-tattoos-daughter-Leahs-lifesize-face-waist.html And don’t we all want to stay abreast (ahem) of Farrah’s latest aesthetic enhancements? (Gross).

Since MTV wants these girls to stay on for more seasons of Teen Mom (supplemented by frequent “specials,” which are always earnest fireside chats with Dr. Drew about the ups and downs of parenting), it’s going to pay them and probably provide other perks to ensure their continued presence on the network. Although the reported salary for each Teen Mom participant is somewhere around $60,000 to $65,000 per season (no small sum, especially considering that these people are in high school – that’s quite an allowance), Amber recently revealed that her yearly salary is $280,000! http://amygrindhouse.com/amber-portwood-salary.html That’s right, $280,000. That is almost TWICE what I make per year and I am a Harvard-educated lawyer. Think about that for a sec….  Um, isn’t there something kind of effed up about that? This show is telling teenagers (who are notoriously stupid, by the way) that a good way to strike it rich is to get knocked up.  So if you’re a 16-year-old named, say, Kaeylee who doesn’t have a whole lot else going for you, maybe being preggers doesn’t suddenly seem like such a bad option.

On top of the cold, hard cash that MTV is handing over to these babies havin’ babies is the instant fame and media attention that comes with the gig. The teen moms are often featured on the cover of gossip mags, and not just the trashy ones (hi, Life & Style). I mean, even the revered People has gotten in on the Teen Mom bonanza: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20449708,00.html This is serious, guys.

In response to scrutiny over these very concerns, MTV claims that the show “increases awareness” about the issue of teen pregnancy and is thus doing a public service. I’m willing to concede that the show probably does raise awareness and likely has prevented some pregnancies. But it has probably spawned other pregnancies, and has definitely created some really weird incentives for teens who just might be stupid enough to get pregnant on purpose.

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Prime Creep Mode

I’ve learned a lot about love from Jersey Shore.  For example, you don’t EVER make fun of your significant other’s toe. That’s a personal issue and it is NOT cool. Second, if your boyfriend didn’t care about you, he’d be out on the boardwalk creeping on some other creature, okay? Third, two people who love each other can occasionally call one another “f***ing disgusting,” “lame as f***” and/or a “stumpy bastard.”  It’s called honesty. Try it some time.

Actually, I am seriously considering putting some of these Jersey Shore pearls of wisdom into practice in my own relationship, in the hopes that my boyfriend and I can be as blissfully happy as Ronnie and Sammie (see below).

Oh, Ronnie and Sammi. Theirs is a tragic love story, made all the more tragic by Ronnie’s hair. Sometimes I feel like Aeschylus was a writing consultant on this show. I keep waiting for Mike to stab Ronnie to death, Sammi to murder Ronnie’s mother (how dare she tell Sammi to “fluff up quick”), and Pauly D to throw himself onto the burning funeral pyre. But maybe they’ll just take shots, do some laundry, and things will be cool.

Back to Sammi and Ronnie. Their relationship is characterized by bouts of cuddling interspersed with fights about nothing, followed by table flipping and/or sullen, solo grilling by Ronnie.  I guess I shouldn’t say the fights are about nothing. That’s not fair. For example, in the last episode, Ronnie made a playful reference to Sammi’s “Fred Flintstone toe,” and then, obviously, everything went to hell because he had totally crossed the line. He should have known not to attack Sammi as a person like that. As Sammi explained, “it’s the worst thing [he] could possibly do.”

After Ronnie tried to convince Sammi that he cared, to no avail, Ronnie gave up and, inevitably, went into “pure creep mode” to go find some creatures on the boardwalk. Hey, he was left without options. But, once Ronnie got to Karma, he realized that he couldn’t do it. He went back to Sammi and begged for her forgiveness, saying, “I do regret what I did.” Sammi was a big enough person to forgive him.

Things soon fell apart again, though, when Ronnie and Sammi got into a confrontation the next night with some guy on the boardwalk who was harassing them about being from New York. Ronnie tried to defend Sammi’s honor, but she insisted on “Italianizing” the situation, which I think means antagonizing someone in a Long Island accent. Sammi kept engaging with the other guy and his girlfriend, while Ronnie tried to defuse the situation, and eventually Ronnie shoved her to get her to shut her mouth. Reasonable. Then Ronnie got in a pretty intense looking fight with the other guy (“Come at me, bro!”) while Sammi walked away.

After Ronnie kicked the living crap out of the other guy, Sammi then tried to weasel back into Ronnie’s good graces, and for a few brief moments, I thought Ronnie was going to come to his senses and break it off with her. Somehow, though, the world turned topsy-turvy again and the episode ended with Ronnie begging for Sammi’s forgiveness while she sobbed and told him that he had “traumatized” her.  The episode closed with moody alt-rock and this observation from Ronnie: “I have the best girl in Seaside, and I don’t wanna mess this up.”

Huh. I think a quote from Henry Louis Mencken is appropriate here: “Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.” Good luck, Ronnie.


I miss Memaw.

Happy Friday. Since I spent the day at work (and got off at 9 pm, yick), I don’t have the immense energy required to give Jersey Shore the full treatment it deserves, so I’m going to kick this thing off with a little discussion of MTV’s Teen Mom.

I am a newcomer to Teen Mom, but I watched every episode of 16 and Pregnant with rapt attention. For one thing, I find the entire concept of teen pregnancy somewhat baffling this day and age. I mean, I get it, kids think they’re invincible and whatever. But what kid today doesn’t know the basics about about birth control? I just don’t buy the argument that teen girls can’t get their hands on reliable contraception — hello, Planned Parenthood is everywhere.  I just don’t get it.

Another fascinating thing about 16 and Pregnant was the wide variety of responses among the girls to the inconvient and scary situation of finding oneself pregnant at 16. One of the teen moms, Catelynn, made the difficult decision to give her child up for adoption rather than trying to raise her in a home where Catelynn’s own mother was abusing drugs. Catelynn and her boyfriend seem wise beyond their tender years for making such a difficult but unselfish decision. On the other end of the spectrum was Farrah, a cheerleader/”model” who made life a living hell for her long-suffering parents, while seeming rather unconcerned with her impending motherhood and continuing to go on dates while preggers. Ick.

Now, on Teen Mom, we get to see how these girls are handling motherhood. It’s a real emotional rollercoaster. Not for the teen moms, so much, but more for me.  I mean, when I see Maci struggling to make her no-good boyfriend Ryan give a crap that he has a child, I feel frustrated. When I watch Amber and Gary sharing a romantic, scented-candlelit meal of Crackerbarrel meatloaf in a cheap hotel room, I feel sad. When I watch Tyler and Catelynn struggle with their decision to give their child up for adoption, I feel compassion. And when I see Farrah go on dates with older foreign dudes while her parents babysit her child, I want to slap a b***h. I’m not a violent person, but I challenge anyone to watch the clip below and not want to smack Farrah upside the head:

Also, I kinda wonder what happened to the other girls who were on 16 and Pregnant but didn’t make it to Teen Mom, like poor Whitney and whatshisface, who both seemed so sincere and earnest and kinda slow. To be honest, I mainly miss Whitney’s ponytail-wearing grandma, Memaw. She was super mean, but she was mean because she cared.

I miss you, Memaw.

Yello!

Hi everyone! Welcome to my new reality TV blog. I am super excited to be sharing my TV musings with you all.

Tonight’s a big night for me on the reality TV front: there’s a new Jersey Shore AND a new Real Housewives of Orange County on, at the SAME TIME. Thank God my DVR is there to prevent me from having to make the painful Sophie’s choice between the two. Crisis averted.

Since there will be a lot to write about after tonight,  I thought I’d use my first post to give you all an idea of the kind of shows I watch and love, so you’ll know what to look forward to here. In no particular order, here are just a few of my current favorites:
  1. The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love: a spectacle of human neediness, fame-whoring, and vapidity that manages to combine, improbably, awkwardness, cattiness, and romantic cliche. I don’t normally watch the Bachelor (the last full season I watched was 8 years ago, when I was 19 and watched such things in a big group of girls) but I’ve already been sucked in by this season, which involves a “commercial airline pilot”/actor named Jake who seems at once sincere, socially awkward, and dimwitted. But he’s hot, so it works. And, needless to say, the women are all awful, heinous human beings.
  2. The Real Housewives franchise: Orange County, Atlanta, New York, New Jersey: I watch ’em all. I can’t decide which cast is my favorite – they’re all so unique and wonderful in their own way. It’s kinda hard to beat the Italian, big-haired, fake-boobed, teetering-on-the-brink-of-psychosis vibe that the wives of New Jersey had, though.  Two words: table flipping.
  3. Jersey Shore: Indescribable (much like “The Situation”). “‘The Situation’ is indescribable. You can’t describe ‘The Situation.’ ” — Michael, “The Situation,” describing the situation, Episode 1. Please see http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/the-jersey-shore-handbook/?scp=2&sq=jersey%20shore&st=cs
  4. Oprah: Come on, it’s Oprah. You have to watch her. And we only have her for another year and a half, so no excuses.
  5. Parental Control: one of many ingenious MTV shows that mashes up teens, sex, and parents. MTV describes the show this way: “In each episode, concerned parents will be setting-up their precious son or daughter on two handpicked blind dates. And now, Mom and Dad will be meeting with the potential suitors at the MTV offices, where the boys and girls will do ANYTHING to impress them. If Mom and Dad have their way, one of these hot new daters will charm their kid into dumping their old boyfriends or girlfriends. And if this isn’t hard enough for the current flame to deal with, they’ll be watching every moment of these sexy and outrageous dates with the very parents who want them gone.” Trust me, it’s awesome. And, it’s completely scripted and staged, which somehow makes it more entertaining, not less.
  6. Teen Mom: This is a spin-off from the earlier, successful MTV show “16 and Pregnant,” the title of which speaks for itself. You can also probably guess what Teen Mom is about. The trials and travails of teenage mothers makes for great, if not depressing, TV.  One particularly intriguing/vile character is Farrah, a cheerleader who had a baby who she has unceremoniously dumped upon her parents so that she can be free to go out and date creepy, older foreign dudes — you know, so she can just be a “normal teen.”
  7. Secret Lives of Women: this show has first-person accounts from women from all walks of life — but mostly from bizarre walks of life. Each episode has a different, salacious theme, including husband beaters, women of erotica, mail-order brides, polygamists, cultists, child brides, and mothers of murderers. It’s very educational.
  8. The Millionaire Matchmaker: Patti Stanger, professional matchmaker and semi-professional nutjob, sets up millionaires with gold-diggers. Sparks fly.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the veritable smorgasbord of reality TV shows on the air now.  There’s a lot out there, guys. Get excited.

I’ll catch you on the flippy-flip.