Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Heart of Teen Mom

I finally finished watching the finale Teen Mom, the MTV spin-off show from I’m 16 And Pregnant. I’m one week late because of getting food poising at a Chinese restaurant (yeah just dwell of that irony). After reflecting on the experience of watching the whole series, I’ve concluded that Teen Mom is one of the best television shows that MTV has put on in a long time.

Teen Mom feels like a mix of The Hills, the plotted and scripted “reality” show and MTV True Life a legit documentary series (which has included some of the best television journalism I’ve ever seen like “I’m Coming Home From Iraq”). Now in Teen Mom I realize that there is manipulation in scenes and situations and that the editors have a strong part in shaping the way we view the reality of this show. But it really isn’t relevant to a piece of art how “true” it is.

Maci and Ryan

Just because a movie is based on a true story doesn’t make it a better movie and if a film leans on that to draw viewers in then there probably isn’t a lot there worth watching. No one goes to Hamlet and complains that it’s all made up. I don't watch Teen Mom expecting an accurate, unbiased and objective view of these people. This show is entertainment first. And as entertainment it's fantastic.

Why did I initially watch this show? Because of the commercials that showed Amber hitting Gary after he disrespected her father.

My initial reaction was “wow, this girl is crazy and whacked out, I’ve got to watch this train wreck.” But when I sat down at watched show the “schadenfreude” feeling of enjoying watching these teenage mom struggle through life quickly disappeared and what was left was a sympathetic feeling as the show followed these moms through everyday struggles.

There’s Farrah who simply doesn’t understand that having a kid means that she can’t go out and party. Gary and Amber, who try to keep things together but they simply don’t know how to anymore. Maci struggles with Ryan who simply doesn’t seem to care and then there’s Caitlyn and Tyler a couple dealing with giving up their child up for adoption.

One of the my friends commented what was most shocking about Teen Mom is what people don’t do. It’s like the way that negative space defines form in painting. Farrah doesn’t insist on spending every night with her child. Ryan wakes up to hear his son crying and instead of comforting his son walks out of the house and drives away. Gary doesn't helping Amber get to her GED. But it’s not all negative, Tyler doesn't leave Caitlin through all her depression, struggles and tears and he never gave on her.

Farrah and Sophie

What we saw in the finale of this series was these moms trying to make the best first birthday party they could for their child. It wasn’t about the fathers or even themselves, they wanted to do something for their kid who may not understand or appreciate everything that is going on but these mothers do these things anyways.

Every single mom found meaning in caring for their child at the end of the finale. It was a life-affirming and powerful way to end a show that could had easily simply been exploitive. Instead the show chose to have heart, to believe in these mother.

The mothers are regular people trying to make things work and within these lives true heroics are seen in everyday struggles: Farrah enjoying baby class with her mom, Amber getting a job, Maci putting aside her anger with Ryan to plan a party and of course Ryan proposing to Caitlin were moments that warmed my heart and reminded us that life really is about the little moments that we share with each other.

This show is not so much about how horrible it is to be a teenage mom but rather a celebration of what is truly meaningful in life.

It’s easy to watch this show and be high and mighty. Yeah, seeing some of these situations makes me feel proud that my relationship with Diana, but that’s not really fair. These moms really are teenagers.

I’ve gotten a jokes thrown at me for watching and enjoying Teen Mom. And if you’re someone who has a knee jerk reactions against this show, I don’t blame you. MTV doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record of creating meaningful and relevant television shows. However, Teen Mom is different and I encourage you to give this show a try.

Leah and Amber

I hope that some teenagers watch this show and think twice about the choices they make in their lives and realize what it truly means to be a parents. Maybe that's wishful thinking, but after watching these teenagers amazing journeys, I'm feeling hopeful.

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