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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

MTV: The New Baby-Making Machine

  Fame is an excuse for all kinds of selfish and dreadful behaviour. The spotlight previously reserved for the most talented artists and brilliant scientists has been overtaken by those who possess view merits and display none. The limelight is the reason why Kim Kardashian videotaped her notorious BJ skills, why Heidi Montag turned herself into a Personal Flotation Device, and why Sarah Palin quit elected office. The will do sacrifice all moral credibility for money has spawned the extension of the pseudoreality genre to include A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila and Bridalplasty.  The destruction of any form of normalcy has become entertainment, and we're all on the bus speeding toward a canyon of ridiculousness.

   For the most part, the genre has been divided into two types with subtypes. The first is competitive, shows like Survivor and The Biggest Loser reward those who play the game to win, sometimes at all costs. The subtype consists of programs that use human beings as the price, all of the celebrity dating shows would be examples of these. In the Competitive reality format, there is an extensive auditions process and there is always one or two who have definite star quality. The rare magnetic individual can indeed use their temporary stage to showcase attributes that can result in a future career as an actor, speaker, or businessperson.

  We also have the Observational format. Under this, folks with unusual lifestyles are followed in their day-to-day lives. We watch rich kids behaving badly and marvel at the mother raising a massive brood. We are sometimes amused, often horrified, and periodically deeply affected by the lives playing themselves out in front of us. We cheer loudly when the little guy scores his first goal and scream at the screen when an overly tyrannical stage mum refuses to acknowledge her child. We are on the outside looking in, but we're far from an impartial audience.

  One of the more popular Observational reality programs has been Teen Mom and it's sister program 16 And Pregnant, both aired on MTV. They initially seemed like cautionary tales- educational vehicles that explored the difficulties of young motherhood. But as celebrity culture began to absorb some of the young mums, the teaching moments were shirked in favour of high ratings. Instead of occupying a 30 word 4" X 4" on page 63, the new stars of Teen Mom have scored front-page glory, endorsement deals, and red-carpet appearances alongside their idols. And your daughters have been watching the whole time.

    A reader alerted me to a trend amongst girls from her area. Similar to the shocking pregnancy pacts that have made the news, girls were getting pregnant en masse, but this time it was inspired by MTV's shows. But MTV has their roster, so it would seem that this disturbing life-producing fad would die with the show's end. The problem is, MTV doesn't want the Teen Mom paycheck to stop.

   The old cast of Teen Mom are no longer useful to MTV. Now in their twenties, with kids that are just too old, it would seem to be the end of Teen Mom. However MTV, in its quest for revenue, is now in the process of finding new stars. So begins a competitive process. In addition to having the "it" factor, the requirement to audition is pregnancy. Internet chatrooms are filled with young girls so desperate for something clearly lacking that they want fame and will get pregnant to do it, no doubt exposing themselves to any of a number of diseases in the process.  The quest for short-term fame not only has long-term consequences, but now has innocent victims.

  Parenthood is a serious deal- when you sign that birth certificate, you've made a lifetime commitment and so has your family. I wonder how many of these lives will be tossed away to be raised by strangers or elder relatives when Little Miss Narcissism's quest for stardom doesn't pan out. Children are awesome- they're perceptive little balls of energy, constantly wondering and wandering. Each one of us began as an infant, and fundamental qualities that we possess today originated early on, blocks in the foundation of our existential skyscraper. But when childhood suddenly stops, our ability to grow as individuals becomes stagnated. Young parents must lose their remaining youth in order to become successful parents, and even then most will still be ill-equipped. It's akin to trying to complete an entire University degree in a month: sure, a few will succeed, but the overwhelming majority will fail miserably.

  MTV needs to stop casting this show and spend their resources developing new content that doesn't deliberately exploit misery. The David Katzenberg-Seth Smith vehicle The Hard Times of RJ Berger is a monumentally successful throwback to when television was fun. Programming can be racy, educational, and entertaining without putting real lives at risk in order to do it. But then again, that requires talent.

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