Tuesday, January 08, 2008
I noticed an alarming trend in my choices of entertainment lately. I seem to be drawn to works involving unplanned pregnancies. A week or so ago, we rented Waitress with Keri Russell playing the titular small town diner waitress that gets knocked up by her abusive husband. Then, based on critical acclaim, we went to see Juno, which is also about an unplanned pregnancy, this time to a smart-mouthed tom-boyish high school kid. And just the other night I finished Nick Hornby’s foray into Young Adult fiction, Slam, which is also about teenage out-of-wedlock pregnancy, this time from the point of view of the unlucky dad.
Of the three, as the parent of a seventeen-year-old, I found Waitress the least distressing because at least Keri Russell was playing a married woman as opposed to real life where she married the father of her kid a scant four months before the due date. The other two works feature characters my son’s age or younger and that is more frightening than Saw IV followed by a power outage.
Kids have been having sex in books since at least 1975 when Judy Blume published the forever-banned Forever. And teenage sexual exploits on the silver screen were old hat when I saw Porky’s back in my own teen years. These newer works are different in that they deal with the consequences of all that hormonally charged activity. And they confront the issues in a non-hysterical un-“Afterschool Special”-ish way.
Some of the concerns these kids having kids face are an inability to express emotions, trouble dealing with parents, and difficulty navigating social scenes. In other words, being knocked-up is just like regular high school except in maternity clothes. Also, in a contemporary twist, both works have the girl being the initiator of the ultimately unwise act. I think that is a smart narrative angle because it peels away the guy-bashing that would otherwise over shadow the other points of the story. Also, the actual procreative act is dealt with perfunctorily and with a minimum of prurient appeal. Neither of these is going to appeal to the Girls Gone Wild fans out there.
What they do emphasize is the absolute and total embarrassment this condition results in. In Slam, Sam and his preggers ex-girlfriend go to a birthing class only to run into one of his teachers. Similarly, Juno has to awkwardly cross an abortion clinic picket line that consists of one of her classmates. The take-away message is that having a baby is an incredibly humiliating hassle. Juno refers to her inflated self as a “cautionary whale.”
And cautionary tales these are. Depending on how you read the stats, teen pregnancy rates were actually much high a half century ago. But back then they gave out wedding rings instead of condoms. Not to throw out any spoilers, but there aren’t any wedding marches in either of these stories. That is another modern touch. Nowadays, having a kid doesn’t always lead to a matrimonial union. Some of the strongest marriages I know were conducted with moonlight glinting off a shotgun barrel, but times have changed for the most part.
And from a parent’s perspective, these stories have a strong “but for the grace of God go I” ring to them. Until my son is out of college and established in a career, I have to whistle past the maternity ward. One thing both Slam and Juno make clear is that even the dorky kids get laid. And that anyone can make a baby, but not everyone is cut out to be a parent.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Shotgun weddings – a terrible idea we are glad to be rid of? Or another fine forgotten American tradition?
Update: Ellen Goodman saw Juno too and bothered to look up facts and shit.