Living no girls' teenage dream : young motherhood in MTV's teen pregnancy franchise

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2014-05

Authors

Weinzimmer, Lauren Maas

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Abstract

This thesis explores theories of postfeminism and discourses of “can-do” and “at-risk” girlhood as they are enacted in MTV’s teen pregnancy franchise, which I define as including 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and Teen Mom 2. Specifically, this project examines how MTV frames the young mothers featured across this franchise as what I label “postfeminist failures.” Within its teen pregnancy programming, MTV exploits the shortcomings of the featured teen mothers. These failures include broken relationships, prison sentences, and subsequent pregnancy scares and pregnancies. Furthermore, these failures all stem from the teen mothers’ initial failure to adequately manage her sexuality, as evidenced by getting pregnant at age sixteen. These failures constitute much of the plot of MTV’s docu-dramatic series and have also spilled over into paratexts related to MTV’s franchise. I contest in this thesis that the rhetoric of postfeminist failure, first articulated and exploited in 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and Teen Mom 2, is then reproduced in the franchise’s paratextual materials. These paratexts range from reunion shows hosted by Dr. Drew Pinsky to tabloid magazine coverage. I also interrogate the celebrity status of MTV’s featured teen mothers, especially those on Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, and problematize publicity and fame rooted in the failure of these girls to adhere to normative standards of postfeminist womanhood. MTV’s teen pregnancy franchise is categorized as reality television, a genre derided by many scholars as lowbrow and devoid of substance. In order to combat these assumptions about reality television, particularly because this teen pregnancy franchise is promoted as educational for its audience, MTV has fostered strategic partnerships with The Kaiser Family Foundation’s “It’s Your (Sex) Life Campaign” and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Through these partnerships, MTV has infused its reality content with pathways to information-rich websites about contraceptives and pregnancy prevention sponsored by each non-profit. Through analyzing these partnerships and cultural discourses surrounding teen pregnancy, I question the assumption by many proponents and critics of the franchise that the content must either be educational for its viewers or purely entertaining programming.

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