As the movie was hyped out of all proportion here, and I was prepared to be disappointed - but I loved it. (We both did.) It was hilarious, sweet, and very well written and well acted. Superbad is created from a classic mold - our heroes go out into the big scary world to have adventures, and find their way home safely, lessons learned. The characters are believable and appealing; even when they're acting horribly, you only cringe for their innocence and naivete, you never dislike them.
I love good teenage movies, and I find so few that really work for me, and this did.
Now the teenage movie that everyone in Canada is talking about is "Juno". Ellen Page, the young star who was just nominated for an Academy Award, grew up in Halifax, and Michael Cera, of Superbad fame, is also Canadian.
I keep hearing and reading how sweet this movie is. Too bad I won't see it.
I can't bring myself to see a movie celebrating teenage pregnancy, and assuming - in typical Hollywood fashion - that abortion is not an option.
I've been pleased to see this phenomenon documented everywhere I turn. In the Globe and Mail, Judith Timson asks "When did abortion become a dirty word again?" (Answer: In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected.) Macleans asks "Suddenly teen pregnancy is cool?"
Antonia Zerbisias, writing in the Toronto Star, notes that
But, just when the hit movie Juno debuted last month, the news about the climbing teen birth rate hit the headlines. Everybody began drawing connections to celeb baby mania and the recent spate of other flicks about unplanned pregnancies (Knocked Up, Waitress, Bella, Quinceañera) that end so cute you want to have morning sickness in your popcorn bag.
That's because, in Hollywoodland, the pregnancies bring all sorts of wonderful things to the pregnant characters – career boosts, huge inheritances, pie shops, toad-fathers-turned-into-Prince Charmings.
Not so much in real life. Which isn't surprising. That's show biz.
But is the entertainment industry so cowed by the religious hordes – or incapable of conceiving a strong woman who chooses not to go to term – that it can't come up with a script that doesn't end with a crib?
Maybe not: Not only does the U.S. have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world – more than double that of Canada's – it also makes it harder for women to get abortions.
Not surprisingly, the best of the lot comes from my great hero (and former Haven Coalition colleague) Katha Pollitt, in her column in The Nation.
Maternity Fashions, Junior Size
Teens getting pregnant: bad. Teens having babies: good. If this makes no sense to you, wake up and smell the Enfamil. It's 2008! The hot movie is Juno, a funnyquirkybittersweet indie about a pregnant high school hipster who gives her baby up for adoption. The hot celebrity is Jamie Lynn Spears, 16-year-old sister of Britney and star of Nickelodeon's Zoey 101, who's pregnant and having the baby because she wants to "do what's right." The teen birthrate, after falling for fourteen years, is up 3 percent, a phenomenon perhaps not unrelated to the fact that abstinence-only sex ed, although demonstrably ineffective at preventing sexual activity and linked to higher rates of unprotected sex, is the only sex ed taught in 35 percent of our schools. (Although maybe teens are having babies for the same reasons grown women are--the birthrate for adults is up, too.)
. . .
Juno is sensible enough to realize she's just a kid and makes the choice that not long ago was forced on middle-class white girls. These days, 29 percent of pregnant teens have abortions; 14 percent miscarry; of the 57 percent who carry to term, less than 1 percent give up the baby. Paradoxically, the women's movement destigmatized single motherhood and thus helped make a world in which some of the old justifications for abortion no longer seem so forceful. Now it's abortion that is a badge of shame and "irresponsibility."
But feminists aren't the only ones over a barrel here. It has been amusing watching the anti-choicers squirm as they laud Jamie Lynn Spears's "life-affirming decision" to add a new member to pop culture's most notoriously dysfunctional family. Even Mike Huckabee--the candidate who protested that he was too busy to keep up with the NIE report on Iran's nuclear program--called it a "tragedy" before adding, "Apparently, she's going to have the child, and I think that is the right decision, a good decision, and I respect that and appreciate it." Off the campaign trail, Jamie Lynn has been getting a royal slut-shaming: a football player could probably have killed someone and gotten less criticism--as long as he didn't kill a baby, that is. Especially a really cute one. Or a dog. Even the New York Times ran a front-page story about how "disappointed" are the parents of the young girls who adore Zoey 101. As if it's unusual for 16-year-olds to have sex. Maybe if so many parents didn't have the idiotic idea that "perfect" girls like Zoey actually exist, they would talk to their daughters about birth control instead of assuming, as Jamie Lynn's mother did, that Jamie was "conscientious" because she always met her curfew. Mama Spears's parenting book has been put on hold, reportedly replaced by a million-dollar baby-photo deal made by Jamie Lynn.
Just to bring the whole reproductive carnival full circle, Florida's "Choose Life" license plates, of which more than 40,000 have been sold, have raised more than $4 million for low-income single moms. But there's a catch: only women who choose adoption qualify. A woman who wants to keep her baby can just go starve in hell. Since only a handful of women want to give away their babies--even among pregnant women who plan on adoption, 35 percent change their mind once the baby is born--the money is just sitting there. Maybe someone, someday will make a movie about that.
Pollitt praises the movie very highly, especially the title character, who she describes as "prickly, winsome, complex and original person: she wears work shirts, plays the guitar and has a luminous intelligence and a pixielike nonsexy beauty, and that is a way young girls are almost never portrayed in films." She likes that the girl initiates all of the decisions (including the sex) and controls her fate the entire time. That was great to read.
But although the two female friends that Pollitt saw "Juno" with both cried, she writes,
Still, and maybe this is why I remained dry-eyed, I couldn't get over my sense that, hard as the movie worked to be a story about particular individuals, not a sermon, it was basically saying that for a high school junior to go through pregnancy and childbirth to give a baby to an infertile couple is both noble and cool, of a piece with loving indie rock and scorning cheerleaders; it's fetal fingernails versus boysenberry condoms. To its credit, the film doesn't demonize teen sex; still, a teen who saw this movie would definitely feel like a moral failure for choosing abortion. Do we really want young girls to feel like they have to play babysanta? The mother in me winced at Juno, that wisp of a child-woman, going through the ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth.
At this point, at least one reader is contractually obligated to tell me to lighten up. Juno is not meant to be political, it's just meant to be fun. Why can't I just enjoy it?
I can only sigh. I've been hearing that question in varying contexts all my life. No matter how I answer it, I've learned that people who are not political generally will not understand.
When you are a political person, your worldview informs everything you do: everything you see, everything you read and as many of your actions as you can manage. Perhaps it's the same for people who are deeply religious: their faith informs their entire lives. For me, as an atheist, my political worldview functions as my religion: it's the lens through which I see the entire world.
That's the general context. But there's a specific context, too.
I write for kids and teens, I used to work with teenagers (and loved it - and miss it), and I'm passionate about girls' issues. I've been involved in the reproductive rights movement for more than 25 years. And I've chosen to be child-free.
These are all very basic and important parts of my life and of my self. So how could I, for the sake of two hours' entertainment, watch this movie with no context? How could I switch off my thoughts and feelings about girls, teenagers, pregnancy, abortion? Even if I wanted to compartmentalize my life so thoroughly, I don't think it's possible to do.
That's what it is to be political.
Sometimes you have to see the movie so you can write about it. If I were Katha Pollitt and writing one of the most widely read progressive columns in the US, I would. But sometimes you can just skip the movie, and the anger and disappointment you'll inevitably feel afterwards. And since I'm me, writing this blog, that's what I'll do.