MTV specializes in the kind of "reality show" that would have you believe all young Americans are spoiled, profane, and crazed about alcohol and sex. From its raunchy spring-break coverage to its "Real World" and "Tila Tequila" reality shows, MTV is constantly sending a message to young people that absolutely everyone is enjoying or seeking casual sex, and never are there negative consequences beyond the occasional break-up.
So it was shocking this summer for MTV to air a reality show called "16 and Pregnant." MTV, airing a show on the very real-world consequences of the hook-up culture? Jaws dropped across the spectrum of MTV critics, from the moralists who decry the promotion of premarital sex to the health experts and "safe sex" promoters who want every sex scene to come with a contraceptive message.
The six-part "16 and Pregnant" series examined the hardships undergone by six impregnated teenage girls. It illustrated how childbirth and motherhood radically changes a young girl's life, and explained what Barack Obama meant when he clumsily said he wouldn't want his daughters to be "punished with a baby."
The most shocking part of this series is the obvious premise: All six featured girls opted against an abortion. In the show's "Life After Labor" finale, hosted by radio and TV therapist Dr. Drew Pinsky, he jarred the viewers with the statistic that roughly half of unintended teen pregnancies end in abortion.
But not here. MTV may define "edgy," but it didn't want to focus an hour on the 16-year-old who gets an abortion. This was not done to please the National Right to Life Committee. In fact, when MTV viewers go to the "16 and Pregnant" website and click on "frequently asked questions" about pregnancy, there's a major push for the Planned Parenthood website, and teens are instructed how they can get birth-control pills at "health clinics where you do not need your parents' permission" for a prescription.
After almost 15 years of decline, teen birth rates are rising again. It's timely for MTV to air a show like this, even if it stands out like a sore thumb from MTV's usual reputation as the Getting It On channel. But that increased birth rate also may reflect a less casual attitude toward abortion.