Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Pregnant Pause

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.


HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything said...

I loved Juno, its honesty, its embarassment, its quirkiness. And I'm looking forward to reading Slam, as much for the fact that it's new Nick Hornby as the subject matter.

yellojkt said...

Juno just reeks of quirkiness and despite its sometimes bitter sharp dialog is surprisingly sweet.

Stella Dean said...

I keep seeing commercials for Juno. I guess I'll have to go see it. I hear nothing but good. I'll put Slam on my list of reads to do.

As for the other, I think that back in the day of shotgun weddings, honor and respect had a lot more to do with the equation. Not that I would marry off my kid, then I'd have to feed her, the baby AND him. Ug.

Most Prepossessing said...

I really liked Juno too. I saw Waitress and I didn't really like it as much as I thought I would... It made me sad that she let her husband treat her that way, even though in the end, she got out of the relationship.

2fs said...

Not sure what "used*to*be*me" means by "honor and respect," but I think a lot of shotgun marriages came about because the shotgun-wielder didn't want his pregnant, unmarried daughter to embarrass the family name. That's a sort of honor and respect, I suppose...but certainly not for the daughter, the father, or the baby. I certainly hope no one's serious in thinking that compelling two people to live together, theoretically forever, is a good idea unless they think it's a good idea. Children are harmed by having parents stay together who clearly do not want to do so. (I say this from experience.) Child support - that should be compelled, yes. But marriage? Insane idea.

Actually I think it's pretty much insane for people to get married without having lived together. I mean, you're expecting to spend your whole life with someone you've never lived with - or even, in the most conservative version, had sex with? What: compatibility in living styles and sexuality is just unimportant? That's nuts.

Cham said...

Teen pregnancy used to be shameful, now our culture has turned it into cuteness. In the movies these days the impregnator male is always a hapless teen who made a mistake. In reality it is an older guy desperate to get laid who preys on teen girls with questionable self-esteem.

But all that really isn't my point. Women have jobs now, good jobs. Women run for president. Women get mortgages, women pay their bills. Women can have babies, with or without a baby daddy. It's hip, it's cool, it's the thing to do.

Men are becoming obsolete.

Jamy said...

Well, I could trot out a whole bunch of evidence that shows that teen pregnancy is not such a terrible, horrific thing. And that abstinence-only education is a crock and leads to MORE unprotected sex.

Of course shotgun weddings are a terrible idea! They say it's ok to treat women like property. We're past that at least, right?

trusty getto said...

I haven't seen Juno (and probably won't -- I don't get to go to movies all that much), but I must admit that when I first heard of its premise, it gave me the willies. I don't mean this in a self-righteous way, and I'm biased having two daughters, but no matter how well it's done, I don't want to watch on the silver screen a 16 year old get pregnant, carry the child to term and then give it away. The underlying tragedy of the situation (again, just for me - not trying to be self-righteous) with a young woman going through that experience instead of doing things most young women enjoy seems hard to cover up with witty dialogue.

It's probably just me. I can suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the Transformers and crap like that, but Juno makes me uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

OK, first I think I need to mention that your midlife crisis is way scarier than mine. You don't see me writing about teenyboppers' sex lives. (-:

Obviously the shotgun weddings weren't such a smart idea; they're probably the reason that the divorce rate skyrocketed all of a sudden when the Women's Lib movement became front-page news. Consciousnesses were raised, women decided that they weren't property after all, and they got the hell out.

Cham makes a good point about the way males are posed as being relatively useless these days. Men are subjected to being part of images in popular culture that would infuriate any minority group. Is this payback? Maybe. But that doesn't make it right.

TBG said...

trusty getto... you should see the movie then. There is no underlying tragedy. The tragedy's all out there, believe me; not underlying at all. That's what makes it such a good movie.

yellojkt said...

Since it's my blog, I'll weigh in too. Shotgun weddings are extremely patriarchal, but we need to do something about too many undereducated single mothers. I think its a shame that adoption has become such a last resort option.

yellojkt said...

And trusty, your girls will do some stupid things, just like my son has done some stupid things. We can't guard them against everything and I think movies like Juno arm kids against peer pressure by making these topics public. Being able to say I don't want to end up like Juno could be a good deterrent.