Maci from 'Teen Mom' hangs with 'Jersey Shore': Why we're seriously worried

Maci-BookoutImage Credit: Dario Alequin/INFphoto.comTwo things that don’t belong together: Teen Mom and Jersey Shore. Yes, they’re both on MTV. Yes, our knowledge of space and time and the universe tells us that they occupy the same general plane of existence. But if we could alter the space-time continuum and carefully place the two in separate alternate realities, we would. Alternate realities as far apart as alternate realities can get, however that would work.

And yet, there’s our beloved Teen Mom Maci Bookout — the seemingly most grounded of the four young women, with the best support system to boot, featured on the documentary series — in Us Weekly hanging out with the cast of Jersey Shore. (Yes, she also has lots of new blond hair.) This union represents MTV’s internal bipolar disorder — a show with the best of public-service intentions (that’s Teen Mom, in my opinion, to be clear) and a series devoid of redeeming value, a self-perpetuating fame-mongering machine. I’ve long argued that Teen Mom has something to offer the world in its uncompromising portraits of girls struggling with the life-rocking effects of unintended pregnancy. Studies have shown that it and its forerunner, 16 and Pregnant, get the birth control message across to young viewers loud and clear; this is a good thing. The show also brings us real young people with real problems; this also is a good thing in a world too full of Gossip Girls and 90210s, Jersey Shores and The Citys.

But I’m starting to wonder if it will ever be possible to shine any spotlight on any real lives for more than a few episodes of television without burning them to bits. I don’t speak this dramatically just of Maci and her Jersey Shore hang, of course — that mixing of worlds is simply indicative of a much larger trend. Tabloids have trained relentless attention on the Teen Mom girls since the show hit buzzworthy status late in the summer. Farrah Abraham’s dating choices, sordid family life, and fledgling modeling career were even further dissected in magazines and on blogs than they were on the air. Amber Portwood has been demonized to extreme degrees after being caught on camera punching and pushing her daughter’s father, Gary Shirley. (Beating up on your mate? Not acceptable. Beating up in print on a girl with enough problems already? Not helping.) All of the girls’ bodies and fashion choices have been scrutinized as if they were Hollywood starlets; it’s no wonder Maci was hitting the town with new hair. And newer, grosser-than-ever rumors and allegations are swirling through the tabs again this week, this time including Teen Mom 2‘s Jenelle Evans as well. (I’m not going to dignify any with links or details here, sorry.)

But these girls are not Hollywood starlets, nor Jersey Shore fame-for-fame’s-sake strivers. As mentioned, I’ve been an unabashed advocate of Teen Mom from the beginning, as a big believer in birth control, open talk about sex, and the reality check it offers girls about the massive inequalities built into the babymaking process. (Yeah, he’ll probably leave you even — especially — if you have his kid. This series has not been flattering to teenage boys.) I’ve resisted the arguments that it “glamorizes” teen pregnancy — if anything, this makes it look like a special kind of hell — and that girls would be getting knocked up just to get on such a show. But, man, this tabloid stuff is making it tough to keep defending Teen Mom as a force of pure good in the world. Not because I’m starting to buy the glamorization idea — though endless magazine covers, even tabloid ones, don’t help — but because I worry about what such large-scale fame could do to these girls. Oprah has said that fame only magnifies your inherent personality and your problems, and I believe that — please see Ted Williams and Susan Boyle for further proof of what sudden fame does to regular folk, the kind who go from an exceptional low to the highest of high with little warning.

It all makes me wonder if the kind of shows that document these real people — the ones I so want to see documented and championed — do engage, by necessity, in a kind of exploitation. Mind you, I’m not accusing MTV of any particular irresponsibility in its handling of its subjects — I suspect they never expected 16 and Pregnant to blow up beyond its humble True Life-like beginnings, and the producers have told the girls’ stories, for the most part, with sensitivity. (See the deft handling of even the hottest of topics, abortion, in December’s No Easy Decision special, for example.) But these girls are middle class at best, and struggling to raise newborn children with few resources; they’re usually working menial jobs while, if they’re lucky, trying to inch toward college degrees. They need this show as much as it needs them. It looks like a win-win most of the time: The girls get some compensation, most likely, though MTV won’t say how much, and a better shot at a future — Maci, for instance, wants to write a book, which seems like a great idea for the aspiring journalist. MTV, in exchange, gets to air their lives to educate its audiences about teen pregnancy. All good, until the tabloids and sketchy offers and mean-spirited bloggers and rumor mongers come calling.

January’s abrupt introduction of Teen Mom 2 — with a new cast of four culled from 16 and Pregnant episodes — seems like it could be a move in the right direction. Perhaps a constantly rotating selection of teen moms could keep the franchise, and its benefits, going, while keeping the Hollywood heat off its “stars.” (Though MTV still plans to bring Teen Mom 1 back eventually.) Maybe the biggest lesson of Teen Mom — besides “condoms are awesome” — is that fame, like teen motherhood itself, always bears an unforeseen price.

Follow Jennifer Armstrong on Twitter: @jenmarmstrong

Read more:
‘Teen Mom 2′ recap: College Daze


Comments (72 total) Add your comment
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  • Elizabeth

    When MTV airs a “dry” season of The Real World, then I won’t believe that its just exploiting people for ratings.

    • lefty

      Almost no one the ages of the residents lead “dry” lives. That would be more scripted than the hills.

      • brandy

        Well, I do, actually. Put me on it!

      • JB

        Seriously? Turn off the tv.

  • mscisluv

    I’m really torn on this. As a high school educator, I feel that 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom have done a really great job at showing the reality (truly) of teen pregnancy. I have used them as effective teaching tools, and I can also appreciate that the money from the shows helps to ease the lives of these girls and their children a bit. However, the tabloids, magazine covers, etc can only be destructive. I wish there was a way to have one without the other, but the trend seems to be that all reality “stars” are now celebrities in their own right.

    • Really

      Really? Trash!

    • stella

      and what favors is it doing for any of these girls? Instead of realizing the full repercussions of becoming pregnant at so young an age, they’re getting everything they’ve ever dreamed of because they DIDNT use birth control. it completely obliterates any other “message” mtv may have intended.

      it’s sick.

    • Ian

      In reality all these MTV shows about teen pregnancy do is perpetuate the idea that “if I get pregnant, I can get on MTV and get famous and rich.” It’s ridiculous. One of them got a contract for Teen Mom that pays them $30k an episode. How does THAT make a young girl not want to get pregnant? MTV wasn’t happy with giving us a landscape of horribly bad music, now they want to hand us a landscape full of uneducated bad parents too.

      • googliezoo

        I think if a young girl is stupid enough to believe she’ll be picked to be on MTV simply by getting knocked up, she’s got problems that 16&P is not to blame for.

  • Tal

    The reality is this: Teen girls know about birth control. They eschew it for two reasons: Making a guy happy, or because they WANT to get pregnant because they want the attention it brings.

    The issue with this show isn’t that it glamourizes teen pregnancy and motherhood, it’s that it gives these girls exactly what they’re seeking when they get knocked up. It doesn’t matter whether the attention is positive or negative. The fact that people know and care about who they are and what they’re doing is enough. They get to feel important–even if they’re being notorious–and that’s what matters to them.

    These girls need serious help. Media face time is not it.

    • Lauren

      You forget another, more prevalent reason — teenagers assume it can’t/won’t happen to them.

    • Cia

      Or, their relgions tell them sex and birth control are bad. So they end up having sex (because they’re human) without birth control (because they’re good girls), praying that they won’t get pregnant. Little knowing that nature/God set it up that you’re most fertile as a teen.

      • BlackIrish4094

        Yeah whatever, trying to blame religion, sounds like it’s your personal ax to grind.

      • paula

        Religion is not to blame. I was in a Catholic school and they teach us about ways to prevent pregnancy, we even discus it in class. The main reason is they are too ashame to buy a condom or birth control pills so the risk, and a lot of time that risk turns out a baby 9 months later.

      • pink petunia

        I don’t think any modern day teens buy into the religious notion of sex or birth controlbeing banned. It basically boils down to the fact that most of them are lazy about birth control and think it’s OK to have sex with just anybody. That’s the situation with one Teen Mom from Season 2. She hopped into the back seat with a guy on their first date – voila – TWINS! They didn’t even know each other, they just had sex. And that is the biggest problem teens face today. Girls have no respect for themselves; they’ll sleep with anybody and everybody!

    • Ani

      You have clearly forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. Teenage girls have been getting pregnant against their parents wishes forever. Teenagers are not capable of making rational decisions when they are flooded with hormones. These girls are in “love” and it all feels great, plus they are invincible and it’s never going to happen to them. Birth control education in every form repeated over and over until it’s not embarrassing is the only help, and still it will happen. Such is human nature.

      • pink petunia

        Yes, they have. But in past generations (like mine) there was fear to contend with. If you did get pregnant you certainly weren’t made a celebrity. There was some consequence involved.

    • melinda

      I have two young adult girls and their reason for not liking birth control is that they might get fat…just another piece to the eat5ing disorder puzzle. It goes round and round

  • Jen

    Teen Mom lost credibility for me as a “show with the best of public-service intentions” when I found out that these girls struggling to support their babies and finishing their educations were making $60,000+ a season.

    • KF

      Word…it is hard to feel sorry for them when they say they have no money or no place to live when they clearly are compensated for the show. No one in their right mind would let a camera crew film their drama for free.

      • Ashley

        I agree. I feel like these girls exploit their lives and struggles, and get paid handsomely to do so. Further, I feel like this show makes having a baby at 16 glamorous because hey, you could be the next teen mom getting paid $60,000 plus per season because you got knocked up. These girls should not be paid that much. It gives the wrong impression to them and other girls their age. I’m 28 and have never had a pregnancy scare, let alone a child, as I take birth control. It’s works like a charm if you take it!

      • etm

        Or maybe MTV should give the girls a very small stipend and put the rest of the money in a trust for their kids – something like that – I haven’t really thought it through.

      • Naomi

        Does anyone really know for sure what they are being paid? I am genuinely curious and also hope that a LARGE portion of the money is required to be set aside for the CHILDREN of these young girls.

    • Mary

      This.

  • JLC

    On MTV, the formula is “find someone who’s done something that gets attention (good or bad), put them on TV, see how they react to being famous.” It doesn’t matter whether the show is done with “good intentions,” they all end the same.

    • jade fisher

      hey you alright maci i heard what happened with ryan

  • Tom

    It’s the ‘observer effect’. The act of observation changes the observed.

    • Saphron

      Good point.

  • BlackIrish4094

    Teen mom should be cancelled if the result is these kids are seeing themselves as some sort of stars and hangning with the lowlifes of Jersey Shore. Shouldn’t that girl be home with her kid. I ahve a 2 year old son and my wife and I never get out, staying home would do that kid some good.

    • ks

      I was thinking the same-Single mom here and busted my butt so my kids would grow up good. All went to college and all have good careers.
      All MTV doess is glamorize this stuff

    • Brett

      I don’t even get what the big deal over ‘Teen Mom’ even is. Teen pregnancy rates are THE LOWEST THEY HAVE BEEN in what… 60 years? Give me a break. This show is NOT getting people pregnant. Maci is on a HIT SHOW regardless of its contents. For some reason people forget that and think that she should live under a rock and not be happy.

      • stella

        the point is that she is FAMOUS because she got knocked up. much like bristol palin. they’re reaping rewards they would have never had otherwise simply because they make dumb, uninformed, immature decisions. much like jersey shore as well, actually. It’s a poisonous trend.

        they need to flush all these shows down the drain. screw the “positive intentions” – they can just make a documentary, encourage teachers to show it to their kids, and it’ll have the same effect.

      • Naomi

        Eeeesh…might wan tto double check your facts, or at least the whole picture. The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. The Center for Disease control says that one-third of girls get pregnant before the age of 20. Regardless of if this rate is falling, it is still alarmingly way to high. Not to mention another statistic related to teen pregnancy (teen sex) is the increasing rate of STDs in young people (because they aren’t using protection).

      • T2

        Hey Naomi – it was on the news this week that the teen pregnancy rate is the lowest it has EVER been.

  • JJ

    I hope Maci doesn’t turn into another Hollywood has-been.

    • Really

      too late

  • dally

    I don’t know if a rotating cast with new moms each season is the answer. There’s already rumours that girls are deliberately getting pregnant to get on the show. A rotating cast would give them more opportunities and incentive.

    • Ashley

      I agree. This needs to go off the air, stat. It sends the wrong message to teenage girls. Or, if they are going to keep it on the air they should not be paid they way they are now.

      • googliezoo

        But it’s ok for MTV to be raking in millions off these girls’ stories and they get squat? I’m all for putting the money in a trust for the babies, though.

  • toonaspie

    Just kill me now.

  • Marissa

    What are the rumors going around about Jenelle this week?

    • Brett

      That the father of her son shown on ’16 & Pregnant’ isn’t actually the father…

  • Julie

    why is Susan Boyle lumped in with the 5 minute HOBO and the Teen Mom’s. Susan Boyle is a recording artist now with 2 albums that sold 14 million of so stop lumping her in with the 5 minute HOBO.
    just because she had a hard time adusting to fame.

  • SaraJ

    Thank you for writing this!! I totally agree about the way Amber’s been treated in the media. Yes she hit Gary, which isn’t great — but he must be the biggest stupid idiot I’ve ever seen. He won’t get a job, he keeps her from finishing her GED and threatens to keep away her daughter (passive aggressive tactics by not letting her use the car). I’d have hit him 3 times more than she has.
    And yes, comparing their outfits and bodies to other celebrities when they’re going to store, and live in Middle Town USA? Not fair at ALL.

  • Beauty

    Very well written article! I feel the same way you do about the show. I think it shows these young girls watching that they are throwing away their lives and limiting what they can do for their future by having a baby. Yeah they might make it to college eventually but then they can’t even study with a crying baby on their lap. But now the tabloids have gotten a hold of this and jumped on the bandwagon and turned them into celebrities. The girls, children, and show is being damaged by this.

  • a777

    The only thing “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” are showing is that a pregnant teen may be able to lead a more glamorous life if they can use their pregnancy to get on MTV. At least the Jersey Shore cast are in their 20s and know what they are signing up for, and are putting themselves out there to be taken advantage of consciously.

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