The influence of the media on culture is one of my greatest fascinations. Particularly, I, like many others, am intrigued by the manner in which the media perpetuates cultural hegemony. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to look at multiple news and entertainment internet sites on a regular basis. During one of my recent searches, I came across what had to be the 200th article on a Teen Mom cast member. For those of you who are not familiar with Teen Mom, it is an MTV reality show that is supposed to depict the harsh realities, or consequences, of having a child while still a teenager. While it seems the creators of the show set out to send a cautionary message to teenagers about the perils of teen pregnancy, they have, in fact, sent what one could argue is a contradictory message.
Despite contending with various challenges including incarceration and divorce, the teenaged mothers featured on the show have obtained what can only be described as celebrity status. Individual members of the show are frequently featured on celebrity and entertainment web sites along with famous actors, musicians, models, etc. They have also been featured on the front pages of celebrity magazines and gossip rags thereby anointing them as certified celebrities. As a result of their celebrity status, the various members of the cast have appeared on talk shows, featured on other reality shows, and offered book deals.
Still, one could argue that they have made the best of a not so great situation. Others have worried about the message that it may send to underage girls – have a baby and become a celebrity. Granted. This is a valid concern.
However, I am more troubled by the dichotomous message sent to those who look like those featured on the show versus those girls who do not resemble those featured on the show. Pointedly, I am troubled by the contrasting images of minority teen mothers versus those featured on the reality show, Teen Mom.
Prior to the now famous MTV show, members of the general citizenry were inundated with images and news stories of the disproportionate rate by which female, teenagers of color were giving birth. The images often shed minority teenage mothers in a negative light causing many to develop less than positive perceptions of them. Consequently, in response, policy makers, health educators, school counselors, etc. worked diligently to develop and implement strategies to reduce the rate by which teenagers of color were becoming pregnant. It was then labeled a public crisis.
At some point, it seems the crisis ceased to exist and ultimately became a forum for entertainment. Could it be the crisis did not cease to exist but the media’s response to a select demographic did?