April 20, 2012
What You See VS. Reality
Authors Note: This is my last draft. I feel like I covered ethos, pathos, and logos throughout my paper, however, I was having a really hard time making my three reasons obvious. Could you see them? Also, I think I stayed on topic with my reasons all to prove that Teen Mom is unrealistic. Although I didn’t have a visual, I asked fellow students at TCU, boys and girls, if they watch the show, and why, trying to prove MTV’s defense wrong, does that make sense? For some reason, this paper was one of the more difficult ones for me, and I look forward to reading your comments to see where I strayed and lost the main focus.
There have been many experiences during my high school period that have made me question certain aspects of life, like whether things are right or wrong, or whether things are realistic or not. By overcoming these conflicts, I have been shaped into the person I am today, and as an individual, I enjoy thinking about people’s true intentions, and whether certain situations are impactful or valuable. As I grow and see the world around me, I begin to question the ethics of the media more and more every day. However, there was one particular moment that hit me like nothing I had ever experienced; the TV show, ‘Teem Mom’. It was an ordinary Saturday morning; I woke up, brushed my teeth, made my breakfast, and went straight to the TV room to find something interesting to watch. As I was flipping through channels, I came across the MTV station, where I saw a 16-year-old girl carrying a baby, while yelling at what appeared to be a 16-year-old boy about not truly “loving” her. I continued to watch, and by the end of the 30-minute segment, my stomach had completely dropped. I felt an emotion of disgust and betrayal. What kind of image had that TV show just presented to me? Was I really just watching a TV show that made it “cool” to be a teen mom? I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I still don’t. There are many reasons as to why the hit TV show, Teen Mom, is unrealistic. Such reasoning boils down to three main arguments: my second hand experience on a teen pregnancy through my best friend, the way the hit TV show glamorizes each teen’s life, never showing the true hardships and obstacles teen moms go through, and instead showing scenes that only appeal for the entertainment and ratings, and the “coincidences” between the old and new life of each teen and their families that link the show to a purpose surrounding fame and money.
When I was in 5th grade, I became very close friends with a girl named Tara. As years passed, we had issues that strained our friendship from time to time, but we always knew we had each other’s backs and nothing would change that. When it came time to graduate middle school, we both were set on different high schools, but we promised to always try to stay in touch and remain friends. As life took it’s toll, it became harder and harder for us to keep in touch, but one day changed all of that. During my senior year of high school, my friend Tara Tepe became pregnant. “It was the roughest 9 months of my life”(Tepe), Tara said as we sat together reminiscing life’s vulnerability. I was with Tara throughout the months of her pregnancy, and saw the pain and pressure she had to endure every single day. She told me “every morning brought a new struggle, whether it was the different looks I would get, the fact that I had to miss school events like prom and homecomings, OR just the pain of carrying an 11 pound baby”(Tepe). I saw what my friend Tara had to go through, and it was definitely nowhere near what MTV’s Teen Mom portrayed. The 30-minute segment showed lies and deceit, making it look easy and normal to be a teen mom, which filled me with anger and pain, for in reality, being a teen mom is extremely difficult. For Tara, she was asked to attend school online while pregnant, but was welcome to come back after having her baby. She had to put her school, her friends, and her normal life on hold during her pregnancy; however, this was not the case shown in Teen Mom. Instead, the show normalized the idea of teen pregnancy, as if it were just any other issue teenagers go through during maturity. The image ‘Teen Mom’ portrays disgraces the mothers who truly try to make life better for their children and themselves by sacrificing so much at such a young age. Although my friend Tara already had her child, the pressure of adoption, pressure of making up such years lost, and much more still haunts her. Tara is a different person because of the trauma and grief of her teen pregnancy, so for Teen Mom to try and normalize teens having children, while making it look easy, is one of the most unrealistic and twisted products the media has had to offer. As I continued my research, I asked my friend Tara how she felt about the show, and she responded with, “I think it is just sad that MTV is taking such a serious matter and making it a joke”(Tepe). I asked her if she watches it to this day, and she said, “No, I remember I tried to watch it one day, but there was one scene that really ticked me off, and ever since then, I refuse to watch it”(Tepe). I asked her to elaborate on what the scene was and why she became angry. She discussed a scene that involved Maci, a then, 19 year old teen mom on the show, and how her acceptance back into school went about. Tara told me that everyone in Maci’s school, including her teachers and administrators, friends, and people Maci did not even know would come up to her, congratulate her for her strength, and acted as if nothing were different. Tara continued, “I just remember thinking about when I returned to school, and it was in no way, shape, or form, anywhere near to that. People who I considered my good friends ignored me, teachers were hesitant to talk to me, and everything from that day on at school was completely different. It was all just BS”(Tepe). I could tell she became vulnerable and anxious towards the subject, so I soon stopped relating her situation back to Teen Mom. Seeing the embarrassment Tara felt when asked about the show truly showed how she did not even want to compare herself to those teens. She in no way felt connected to Teen Mom, which only approved my image that the show Teen Mom, in no way, shows the reality and difficultly of what it takes to be true teen mom.
On the show, cameras follow the lives of 4 different teen parents, showing day-to-day activities and the different tasks they must overcome. Although the idea sounds reasonable, the outcome has been a completely twisted interpretation. Teen mom Whitney Purvis stated, "Some people they just think it's so cool that I was on TV. They treat me like I'm a celebrity”(Chung 2). Teen mom glamorizes the truth behind teen pregnancy, showing teens that it is “normal” and “easy.” Michelle Hankins, leader of a young moms support group, states, “Seeing all these teen moms in the media, it makes them less fearful. It's desensitized them, there's just an immunity to the shock value of it"(Cassidy). With less and less fear of pregnancy, the act of sex, and the beauty of pregnancy, just becomes degraded and un-important. Moreover, the actual 30-minute segment is filled up with lies and scenes that will only score the show higher ratings. Purvis stated, “"They [MTV] want you to argue ... they want you to talk about each other, they want you to get where you want to break up with each other to go stay at separate places”(Chung 2). Each segment is not really showing you the lives of the teen parents, it is showing you false drama that only try to convince you that you must keep watching until next week’s episode to find out what happens in these teenager’s “real lives.” Teen Mom focuses more on the drama and full effect of the teen’s high school and relationship rather than the pregnancy path, directing the audience to view the show more as mere entertainment, rather than a life lesson. MTV is not trying to truly show the life of an average teen mom, they are just trying to grow income and keep ratings as high as possible.
So how do we know everything in the show wasn’t just shown for the money? Well, we don’t. Did you know “that one teen mom on the show earns $60,000 - $65,000 per season?” (Huffingtonpost) But yet, on the show, why do the teen moms continue to drive run-down cars and wear clothes that only enhance their “poorness?” Is it to convince the audience that their lives really are tough, when in reality they are making more than a majority of the TV show’s audience? Since this seems to be the case, there is no actual realistic convincing as to why Teen Mom shows us the truth. A friend of a teen couple on the show told Life&Style “The money is the only reason he’s willing to do the show” (HuffingtonPost), when interviewed about Gary, one of the main show’s fathers. Is it bad that these teens are getting paid so much to show the “reality” of teen moms? Not necessarily, not until there is an advantage taken; which Farrah Abraham soon showed when she used her salary income, not for her many obstacles a teen mom has to face, as the show tries to convince, but rather “for a breast enlargement” (Daily Mail Reporter). It doesn’t seem to make sense as to why a teen mom, who has claimed to just have gone through so much in her life, dealing with the death of her baby’s father and her mother’s physical assault would get a breast enlargement. The behind the scenes, which are never shown on the MTV show, only by news tabloids, never show what is really going on with these teens, making the show unrealistic and questionable.
When taking a look at MTV’s defense of Teen Mom, they explain that they are “helping to show other teenagers that actions have consequences and that raising a child is difficult even under the very best of circumstances, but especially difficult when you are still a child”(Henson 1). Although MTV claims this is their goal, the show shows differently. Instead of actually focusing on the true hardships of each teen, they focus more on their relationships with their boyfriends, their new tattoos and piercings, and drama that surround their friends, in order to make for better TV. What MTV does not show you are all the negative affects teen pregnancy truly does have on teens and the people surrounding them. Did you know that “Teen pregnancy is the number one reason why teen girls drop out of school?” (Dr.Phil) On the show, teen pregnancy only seems acceptable and just another obstacle every teen goes through, when in reality, it is what leads teenage girls out of school. So when watching Teen Mom, the question is what do you truly gain from that show? Do the viewers focus on how difficult it is to be a teen mom? Or do they focus on those particular teen mom’s lives and what they are handling with boys, relationships, body images, fights, and all of the above? After seeing MTV’s defense, I began to truly wonder why people watch the show. Out of 6 girls and 3 boys, all between 17-19, two of the girls said they learned something valuable from Teen Mom, while zero of the boys admitted to learning nothing, and only watching because they thought it was entertaining. If MTV is directing the shows to a teenage audience, more hidden thought and meaning should be portrayed through the lives of the teenage parents to really make a point, for otherwise, it is viewed as just another unrealistic MTV show. As teenagers, we watch TV as a daily routine, not truly thinking much of a show unless a certain scene or situation strikes us with curiosity; therefore, it is MTV’s job to make sure that through their intentions, they articulate strongly on how Teen Mom will help teens from becoming pregnant and emphasize the daily struggles one goes through.
Questioning the media is a must these days, for one never knows what TV shows, radio shows, newspapers, etc. are truly trying to portray. As viewers, it is our duty to make decisions on the ethics and values of each media aspect, not the industry themselves; their main focus is to bring in the money. Teen Mom portrays unrealistic views and lies of what teen pregnancy truly is. With second hand experience, watching my friend go through a pregnancy showed me the truth and hardships she had to endure, not Teen Mom. Instead, Teen Mom showed me a glamorization of teen pregnancy, focusing more on immature dramas with boys and girls rather then the actual pregnancy difficulties, and never showed the true reality of how hard teen moms have it, only showing teens who play a role for being a teen mom, when in reality, MTV is supporting their lives through publicizing. Teen Mom is not the answer to keeping teen pregnancy at a low, for it shows false re-enactments of unrealistic lives, all for the mere purpose of entertainment.
Cassidy, Bailey. “MTV’s Reality Shows Glamorize Aspects of Teenage Pregnancies.” The Paly Voice. n.p. March 17, 2011. Web. April 5, 2012.
Chang, Juju. “Does MTV Show Encourage Teen Pregnancy?”. ABC News. n.p. March 3, 2011. Web. April 5, 2012.
Daily Mail Reporter. “Has Teen Mom Farrah Abraham used her MTV Salary to Pay for a Breast Enlargement?”. Mail Online. n.p. January 10, 2011. Web. April 5, 2012.
Hafertepe, Chelsea. Telephone Interview. April 5, 2012
Henson, Melissa. “MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’ Glamorizes Getting Pregnant.” CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., May 4, 2011. Web. April 5, 2012.
McGraw, Phil. “The Real Teen Mom: Alarming Statistics.” Dr. Phil. Peteski Productions, Inc., n.d. Web. April 16, 2012.
“’Teen Mom’ Stars’ Big Salaries Revealed.” The Huffington Post. The HuffingtonPost.com, Inc. October 28, 2010. Web. April 5, 2012.