Abortion in Film: The Shame of Patty Smith

To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, drama, pre-Roe, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.

Released in 1962, The Shame of Patty Smith sounds like a classic exploitation flick: cheaply made, poorly written and acted, and full of lurid images of young girls led astray. Which, honestly, is why I wanted to see it – I do love Reefer Madness-style cult classics. Imagine my surprise, then, to see a staunchly pro-legalization message repeated throughout this tale of Patty’s rape and desperate search for an abortion. [Read more...]

Abortion in Film: Knocked Up

Released in 2007, Knocked Up was a bona fide hit, and received a lot of good reviews. The predictable story centers around a one-night stand that results in pregnancy and a relationship, and purports to be a no-holds-barred examination of sex, relationships, and slackerhood. Instead, what director Judd Apatow and his mostly-talented cast have tossed on the screen is 132 minutes of shrill, one-dimensional characters screaming at each other, fuming about their lives, and making decisions that seemed to make absolutely no damn sense, given the little character development that does occur.

In the three years since its release, Knocked Up has gotten a lot of ink following star Katherine Heigl’s comments that the film is a bit on the sexist side. As Meghan O’Rourke notes in a great piece for Slate, such criticism could be leveled at a whole generation of films. “[T]here was a time when romantic comedies … were more egalitarian in their assignment of playfulness,” O’Rourke writes, adding that the conventional wisdom of both films and culture does neither men nor women any favors, relegating both genders to narrowly-defined constructs that don’t allow for individuality or happiness. In this sense, Knocked Up is deeply traditional, despite its ample of dick jokes, drug use, and a truly disgusting lesson in how pink-eye can be transmitted: Ben, the amiable slacker, can only achieve truly respectability by moving out of the house he shares with his friends, getting a steady job, and reading a whole mess of baby books; Alison, the curiously isolated go-getter, must … wait, what exactly does Alison have to do? Besides deciding to reconcile with Ben after a particularly vicious argument, very little changes for the mother-to-be, which would be more noteworthy if the character were not completely devoid of personality or even a spark of an inner life. [Read more...]