Posts Tagged ‘Secret Life of the American Teenager’
A couple weeks ago I received a great email from a reader that posed many thoughtful questions. I want to start by addressing one of them here.
This reader brought up the fact that in one of my posts about Glee I stated tht I wasn’t sure if I would continue to watch the show if it weren’t for the musical numbers because of the amount of sexism, ableism, racism, etc. apparent in the show. So, when does the sexism of the show outweigh the positive or entertaining aspects of the show? How much sexism is too much?
Because of the society that we live in, there is at least some sexism (and other -isms) in all tv shows. And I watch a lot of television, so I “put up with” a lot of sexism. So why do I continue to watch all these shows even though there is apparent sexism in them?
First of all, I am interested in how pop culture reflects the values of society. So even though I enjoy these shows, I am always critiquing them — analyzing what they are saying about society.
But we still have to come to terms with the fact that I enjoy these shows — they are entertaining to me — despite the fact that they promote values that I disagree with. Of course there are some aspects of certain shows that promote feminism, but they are certainly in the minority and still have sexist aspects to them as well.
For example, Secret Life of the American Teenager goes back and forth between healthy and unhealthy attitudes towards teen (and adult, sometimes) sexuality. There is the teen who in one episode thinks that the fact that she had sex with her boyfriend whom she loves killed her father, then has a conversation about masterbation with her mother in another episode. And Bones can have a great portrayal of bisexuality in Angela and then can portray stereotypes in heterosexual male-female reationships (Bones and Booth). And there are some many other examples that I could go into.
But there are still many shows that I enjoy that have very few positive feminist aspects (How I Met Your Mother, Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.). When does the sexist factor outweigh the entertainment factor?
Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I think it depends on each person and each show. There are certainly a lot of shows that I don’t watch. And that might be becuase their sexism and oppressive norms outweight the entertainment…or that the premise of the show just doesn’t interest me. But I don’t really think there is a set line that can be used as a template for all shows.
I know this isn’t really an answer to the question. But I can speak to my personal preference in continuing ot watch shows.
First of all, I have a tendancy to get invested in characters and storylines. Shows that are good at storytelling tend to keep my interest. Also, characters that I can either identify with in some way or see as an escape from my life can keep me interested in the show. For example, I use Gossip Girl as an escape from my life because the lives of the characters are so different from mine…but I can still see some of my personality traits in some of the characters. If the show can’t keep me interested in the storyline and invested in the characters, then the sexism will start to outweigh the entertainment factor for me.
So…how much sexism is too much in television? I don’t know. It has to be considered with the storyline and characters of the show…at least for me. I might have a higher tolerance for shows that have apparent sexism than other people. But, like I said, even if the storyline and characters are enough to keep me interested in the show, I am still always critiquing and analyzing what the show is saying about society and the sexism, racism, ableism, etc. that is in the show.
As much as I think the show Secret Life of the American Teenager does a horrible job at depicting the realities of teen pregnancy, it actually does do some good things.
In last night’s episode, they actually talked about how it’s ok to talk about and discuss your period — it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I was shocked. Normally pop culture tries to tell us that mentruation is dirty and should be a private matter. You should not discuss your period with anyone, least of all your boyfriend. But in last night’s episode, it was Grace’s boyfriend, Jack, that told her that she should not be ashamed of her period. Grace was trying to find a way to tell Jack she got just got her period — my monthly visitor is here, aunt flo is here, it’s that time of the month, etc. She went through about 10 of these euphemisms when Jack finally said “your vagina sounds busy, I better come back later.” I actually thought that was hilarious. He went on to tell her that if they were in a long-term relationship and in love, and have seen each other naked, then there is no reason why she should feel embarrassed about having her period. Way to go!
Despite earlier in the season when Grace thought her father’s death was punishment for having sex with Jack, I think Grace and Jack actually have a fairly healthy relationship. They talk openly about having or not having sex, they respect each other’s wishes, they support each other’s decisions, etc. I think their relationship is a great depiction of a healthy relationship, especially when put up against some of the other teenage (and adult) relationships on the show, mainly Ricky and Adrian and Ben and Amy.
I was pretty impressed that a teen show on ABC Family actually talked about how it’s ok to openly discuss your period, with a man no less. Because it is ok. Periods are nothing to be ashamed of, they are a part of nature. And I’m glad that this show actually portrays some form of a healthy relationship. But the show doesn’t really do what I think it was originally meant to do — portray the realities of teen pregnancy.
Has anyone else seen Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family? I first got hooked on this show last summer while working at a camp. The teenage girls would sit in the lounge and watch this, so I started watching it with them.
In case you are unfamiliar, here is the basic plot. Amy is a 15 year old girl who gets pregnant at band camp (yes, that one time at band camp). She’s surprised she’s pregnant because she didn’t even know she was having sex until after it happened (abstinence-only at work?). She’s not interested in dating the father, Ricky, and instead starts dating good guy Ben (who wants to marry her). Ricky is involved (as in they have sex but aren’t really in a relationship) with Adrian, who befriends Grace, the resident Christian virgin, who is dating Jack. Grace and Jack get into many disagreements about having sex. Amy’s parents are getting divorced. So, that’s a very broad overview. There’s obviously a lot more that goes on, but I think this overview should help you understand this post and the problems that I have with the show a little better.
This is by no means a good show. I have a problem of getting weirdly addicted to bad television, which is why I watch this show, as bad as it is. And just because I watch it doesn’t mean that I don’t have problems with it. When I started watching it with those teenage girls at summer camp, I asked them why they liked it so much. Their response: “It’s so realistic!” Whoa there!
Now, into the second season of Secret Life, Amy has had the baby (John), her mom is pregnant (and it’s unclear if it’s her husband’s or her boyfriend’s), Grace and Jack have had sex, Grace’s dad died and she thinks it’s because she had sex (don’t even get me started on that one!), Ricky is becoming responsible, and Ben is still dying to have sex.
While I think it is great that ABC Family has a show about teen pregnancy, it is not a realistic representation of this situation for a lot of people. In the most recent episode that aired on Monday, July 20, Amy (who has by now had her baby, John) complains to her mom about not being able to go to Italy with her boyfriend, Ben, for the summer. She claims that she is an adult now solely because she has a baby and can make decisions for herself. Mind you, she is still 15 (almost 16), does not have a passport, wants to go without her baby but doesn’t have anyone she trusts (she wants her mom to do it) to watch the baby. A. What 15 year olds parents are going to let them go to Italy for the summer with her boyfriend who is going to stay with family and B. I bet a lot of single, teen parents wish their biggest problem was not being able to go to Italy for the summer.
When the teen girls told me they liked the show because it was so realistic, I asked them how many of their friends or people they knew were pregnant and had boyfriends who they were dating for a month who have pledged their love and desperately wanted to marry them (to the point of trying to get fake ids to elope)? Their answer: none. So, how is this realistic? While I’m sure this is the reality for some people out there, I really think that this show is romanticizing teen pregnancy.
When you look at the differences between Secret Life and something like 16 and Pregnant on MTV, you can plainly see the romanticization that happens in Secret Life. In 16 and Pregnant, the struggles of the teens are very clear (even though I wish they would show a little more of after the baby was born, maybe they’ll go back to the same teens in a later episode…). Some of them deal with absent fathers, economic struggles, non-supportive or controlling parents, and social ostracism.
While Secret Life does show some struggles that Amy goes through, recently she just seems to be concerned with her social life and John, her baby, falls through the cracks, at least in her mind. Amy is just coming off, at least to me, as whiny and ungrateful. Her parents, especially her mother, are supporting her immensely through this and trying to help her take responsibility, but she won’t have any of it. In the first season she was mad because she didn’t want to give the baby up for adoption (which is completely reasonable) but was expecting her mother to provide free day care while she went on with life as normal. In the second season, she is heartbroken that she can’t go to Grace’s dad’s funeral because she can’t find a babysitting not because she wants to honor and say goodbye to her father, but because everyone else is going to be there. Seriously?
I don’t mean to negate any experiences that teen parents might go through, even those similar to what happens on Secret Life. Maybe I have no place saying any of this because I was not a teen parent. But just because I wasn’t a teen parent, doesn’t mean I can’t at least have an opinion about the show. Has anyone else seen this show? What do you think about it?