· MTV Surprise ·
MTV, a channel known to have liberal tendencies, popular with young people for its music videos – at times also offensive and wayward – has come out with a pleasant surprise by presenting telefilms and fictional programming on adolescent motherhood. These don't involve all the possible predictable discussions, like encyclopaedia entries, on pills and contraceptives. While that is part of it, the fresh angle of these shows is that they tell the stories of girls who stay pregnant and don't choose abortion.
And they do so with a wide selection. Mamme per caso ( Moms by chance ) features Italian girls who recount to the cameras their pregnancies while cradling baby in their arms; Sixteen and Pregnant , a mix between reality TV and fiction, follows its protagonists, young American pregnant girls, from the days preceding delivery to the months following the child's birth. There is also the follow-up: Teen Mom, which has teenagers speak on the post-natal process at such a young age. And in the made-for-TV movie The Secret Life of the American Teenager , Amy, an intelligent and talented 15-year-old, gets pregnant after just one night with Ricky, her difficult boyfriend from school who, after initially refusing, decides to help her.
Mamme per caso , a special broadcast on 15 May, is perhaps the most emblematic. The expression “by chance” perhaps indicates the superficiality of sexual relations, but above all expresses how normal it is to accept a child who was “not planned”.
And it is moving. One beautiful 19-year-old says: “Between allowing my life to change completely and saying ‘I'm going to abort’, I chose the former option. It was simpler: abortion is wrong, it's traumatic. The panic came when I had to tell my parents”. Another girl echoes the same sentiments: “I'm a little bit fatter, but you can't tell. And it doesn't create a problem”.
And so on, speaking about life, abortion, contraceptives, gynaecology, ultrasounds. Finally someone says that the arrival of a child is not a tragedy; it is unexpected, tiring, a big change, but it's just a fact. The protagonists of these MTV programmes have come to terms with this reality, and they have taken it as a positive life change: “If someone doesn't want to keep her baby in order to go out dancing, then she's stupid!”.
It calls to mind the Italian car advertisements with the slogan: “Everything else can wait” – but in this case applied to the family. A girl might prefer a pair of shoes she sees in a shop window – as the advertisements show – to the idea of having a child, or a man might be seen embracing a school-teacher, while all the others are picking up their sons and daughters outside the school: what a difference in outlook.
These are not programmes about religious girls. Many of them stay single or live with their partners. But perhaps that's precisely where the strength lies: the protagonists represent a reality – not exclusive to believers – in which they can say: “How lucky I am not to have ended my pregnancy!”.
These programmes undermine a modernist phobia: the fear of having children. Today's imperative is to be able to have all the sex you want without children: they are obstacles to careers and to fun. In Italy the girls – according to the country's National Institute of Statistics – plan on having a family with many children, but then limit themselves to one or two at most, because everything in society impedes this dream.
These programmes do not favour precocious relationships or superficiality. Instead they explain just how hard it is today to become mothers at 18, without a family. But seeing these 20-year-old fathers and mothers is touching, because it takes us back to a normality that no longer exists.
Having children and raising a family from a young age – in the period dictated by one's biological clock – has become an exception in contemporary Italy, as in other countries. While this is certainly due to the difficulty involved in finding work, above all it results from a cultural motive, which presents children and families as nothing but an obstacle to “real” life.
The MTV programmes are well-made, whereas with others, which feel compelled to be edifying, there is a risk of viewers seeing they are contrived. These involve a search for a happy ending at all costs or they avoid certain issues, when instead the tragedy today is that no one really discusses abortion and motherhood. We speak of laws, of “methods”, of rights, but no one describes in a concrete way what it means to abort, what an infant is, or the difficulties and beauty of family life.
One girl explains: “It's normal that a child would change your life. A young person naturally wants to have fun, and now I stay at home more. Of course. But now I've become a mother. And I've become sweeter, with him and with others”.
On the other hand, they do not hide their difficulties. “Firms don't take you if you're pregnant”, or rather, “I work in a call centre, four hours a day: that's all I have”. With a strong, implicit reference to the responsibility of those in charge of granting work opportunities that, when lacking, make things difficult for a family at the most appropriate age.
“In this world, there is a remedy for everything”, says a woman on the show who has just become a grandmother. Yet it would be nice if there weren't just “remedies” but rather open roads for those who want to have children at a young age, at least for those who often find themselves considering abortion as an option; but the difference in choice is immense.
The girls who have kept their babies smile and tell their stories; sometimes it saddens them, but they continue to recount their experiences, looking at their TV audience as one might look at someone who hasn't understood a great secret.
One doesn't expect these programmes to express a definitive “no” to abortion. In order to build a different culture, it's enough to demonstrate and explain. The power of life affirms itself. It is enough not to censure it.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 20, 2020
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