Photo Credit: MTV
When MTV's reality series 16 and Pregnant debuted in June of 2009, it carried an implicit message to teen viewers: Think twice before having unprotected sex. "There's a reason that [Season 1 cast member] Maci Bookout decided to share her story with the world," writes Debbie Newman on the MTV Remote Control Blog. "Although she loves her son to bits, she wanted people to see how much having Bentley changed her life, her relationship (she and Ryan are no longer together) and her dreams of pursuing a college degree (which for the moment are dead in the water)."
So, did the show succeed in making teens think twice about having unprotected sex? Um… apparently not. Season 2 of the show premiered Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, with 10 new pregnant girls. And they're making comments like: "I'm not ready for this responsibility at all" and "You're only, like, this young once."
Granted, this show was a hit for MTV. As long as it's making money, the producers will find new pregnant girls who are willing to spar on camera with their knuckleheaded boyfriends and their outraged parents. And in a way, the success of the show has made teen girls something of a valuable commodity. As long as shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are hits, the network will be scouting for new pregnant teens. No doubt the show delivers a message: "Look how terrible it is to be a teen mom!" But it's also inadvertently sending another message: "But if you do become pregnant, fill out an application. We might make you famous!"
Does MTV glamorize teen pregnancy? Anyone who's seen the show must admit that teen pregnancy is very difficult. It's basically drama-rama, 24/7. But in many ways, so is E!'s Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Oxygen's Bad Girls Club. Just like Kim Kardashian, Season 1's teen moms are famous now.
"Once you achieve a certain level of fame, you're famous forever," said Perez Hilton in a recent USA Today article. And fame -- any kind of fame -- is like money in the bank. "Celebrities are 'brands,'" says Peter Bart, editorial director of Variety, also quoted for the article. "Their name becomes ubiquitous, so even if they have failures, the brand has staying power and other revenue streams."
The most obvious revenue stream for reality stars is ... more reality stardom on shows like VH-1's The Surreal Life, Celebrity Fit Club and NBC's I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! Omarosa Manigault Stallworth has set the gold standard for reality stardom: She has appeared on over 20 other reality shows since her stint on The Apprentice in 2004. This spring, she is set to be the star of another one, TV One's Omarosa's Ultimate Merger, a dating show where she'll have her pick of 12 eligible bachelors.
Could getting pregnant at 16 land you a role on 16 and Pregnant? Sure. Could it then land you a role on Teen Mom? Probably. Could that, in turn, lead to a profitable reality TV career? If you play your cards right.
I'd be surprised to hear about a teen who thinks this way. I can't imagine that someone would purposely get pregnant in order to become famous. But then again, I'm surprised by a lot of things on TV these days.
Do you think shows like 16 and Pregnant deter teens from having unprotected sex?