Book Review: Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop

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When I was in elementary school, there were two dominant female pop singers: Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I didn’t have MTV so everything I knew about these two women was based on what my friends told me, and somehow I got the idea that you could like one or the other but not both. So I chose Cyndi Lauper, because everyone else seemed to worship Madonna and I’ve always been a contrarian like that.

I’m still more a fan of Cyndi than Madonna, but reading the wonderful anthology Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop has given me a new appreciation not just for Madonna’s influence on music and popular culture, but the impact that she’s had on multiple generations of women. Not all of the thirty-nine essays in this collection are flattering to the erstwhile Material Girl; some of them are downright nasty. But whether the writer has come to praise or bury Madonna Louise Ciccone, she does it with intelligence and passion. The icon is the lens through which a whole range of issues, including religion, sexuality, feminism, body image, race, and socioeconomic status are explored, and it’s interesting to see such a diverse range of reactions and viewpoints that all have the same catalyst in common.

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MTV: You Might Get Raped, or Fired for Becoming Pregnant

I came of age in the MTV era. In fact, MTV is only three weeks older than I am and for the longest time, I thought this was super cool. Now? Not so much. The folks over at The Village Voice have obtained a copy of the standard contract members of The Real World must sign. While some of its contents are not surprising (i.e., if you get kicked off the show, it will be filmed), others are… well, shocking.

Several clauses explicitly deal with sexual and reproductive issues. For example, as the Village Voice points out, the MTV contract states that female members are “not pregnant and…won’t become pregnant before the show’s done filming. If you do become pregnant, you’ll tell the Producer immediately–and pregnancy is grounds for dismissal.” Funny, I thought discrimination against pregnant women was illegal. What happens if male cast members impregnate someone during their stint on The Real World? Do they get dismissed as well? Doesn’t look like it. Newsflash: pregnancy – both planned and unplanned – is, indeed, part of the real world. So what gives?

As if this sexist, maternal profiling bullshit wasn’t enough, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

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MTV’s Influence on Pro-Choice Attitudes

A recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute revealed some striking attitudes about abortion. The survey of 3,000 adults found that while 56 percent of respondents believed that abortion should be legal in all or most instances, an almost equal number—52 percent—say that abortion is morally wrong. In addition, 70 percent of respondents identified as pro-choice, while almost two-thirds said they were anti-abortion.

What I found most interesting, however, was the influence that pop culture had on some respondents. According to the study:

Americans who have seen MTV’s shows “Teen Mom” or “16 and Pregnant” are significantly more likely than the general public to say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (65% vs. 56% of the public) and to say that having an abortion is morally acceptable (48% vs. 40% of the public). They are also nearly twice as likely as those who have not seen these shows to say that at least some health care professionals in their communities should provide legal abortions (65% vs. 34% respectively).

“16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” have both drawn a significant amount of flack for ignoring the issue of abortion, and also for glamorizing teen pregnancy. While I’m in the camp that criticized the former, I always found the latter argument a bit ridiculous. The teens profiled on both shows are perpetually stressed out, undereducated, struggling financially, and more often than not raising their children as single parents (with varying degrees of family support). But aside from a stand-alone special aired by the network last December, neither series seemed too eager to address abortion head-on; any discussion of that option was usually dealt with in a brief conversation, if that.  [Read more...]

Friday News Roundup

A Matter of Life or Death. New York Times.

How Groundbreaking was MTV’s Abortion Special? Los Angeles Times.

Late-Term Abortion Doctor Moves Practice to Maryland. All Media NY.

What Mel Gibson, the Tea Partiers, and Newt Gingrich Should have Gotten for Christmas. Alternet.

MTV and Abortion

Last night, MTV aired “No Easy Decision,” a half-hour show that told the stories of three young women who had had abortions. Hosted by the omnipresent Dr. Drew Pinsky, “Decision” had a similar format to the network’s popular series “16 and Pregnant,” and in fact devoted the most airtime to Markai, a young mother whose first pregnancy was chronicled during that show’s most recent season.

Markai’s story was indeed compelling. She became pregnant again when her daughter was about eight months old, and neither Markai nor her partner James was confident that they could provide for another child, as they were already struggling financially. Their discussions about which option to choose – adoption, continuing the pregnancy, or abortion – were candid and thoughtful, as were Markai’s talks with her mother and a close friend. Markai eventually decided that having an abortion was the best choice for her and her family, even as she makes it clear that she never thought she’d have to make this decision. [Read more...]

Quick Hit: MTV’s “No Easy Decision” Airs @11:30pm Tonight

Kudos to MTV for airing “No Easy Decision,” its first show about teens who choose to get abortions. After 3 seasons of “16 and Pregnant,” the coverage is long overdue.

Pro-choice advocates will be live-blogging during the program to show their support for the young woman sharing their stories.

Follow the conversation live on Twitter with the hashtags #16andloved, #WMCwatchin, and #provoice.

Become a fan of Exhale’s on Facebook to get daily updates on the campaign:

9500 Liberty Shows Online Activism CAN Make a Difference

Have you ever wondered if your online activism can make a difference? Does blogging, Tweeting, and Youtubing have the power to create social change? A new documentary by Annabel Park and Eric Byler shows that online organizing can be a powerful medium for ordinary people to make a tremendous difference.

9500 Liberty” is a documentary about an immigration bill that was passed in Northern Virginia. The film came together organically, as Park and Byler started to collect video footage of the debates and protests in the lead up to passage of the immigration bill. They posted on the videos on Youtube, and the response was overwhelming. The film has been widely distributed in Arizona, in the wake of SB1070, the anti-immigrant bill that was modeled on the law passed in Virginia. I, for one, was very inspired after I saw the film at a free screening at ASU. It was incredibly affirming for me to see that posting videos to Youtube and blogging was enough to sway public opinion and get the bill overturned.

9500 Liberty” will premiere simultaneously on MTV2, MTV U, and MTV Tr3s (with Spanish subtitles) this weekend.

Sunday Sept. 26th
8 PM ET, 8 PM PT on MTV 2, MTV U, & MTV Tr3s (with Spanish subtitles)
If you are not in the Eastern or Pacific time zone, check your local listings. [Read more...]

Is There Really a Teen Pregnancy Epidemic?

The second season of MTV’s “Teen Mom” debuted last night. The show features pregnant teens, or young women who have just given birth, and it focuses on their struggles to raise the children while the mothers themselves are still growing into adulthood. The timing of the season premiere could not have been more fortuitous, because an op-ed in today’s Huffington Post seeks to blow the myth of a teen pregnancy epidemic right out of the water.

Choice USA Executive Director Kierra Johnson writes a scathing article, asking pro-choice advocates and policymakers alike to re-examine the way that teen pregnancy is discussed and demonized.

People in every age bracket have sex, get pregnant, have abortions and have children. Sex and the outcomes of sex are not exclusively experienced by teens. Actually, according to the Guttmacher Institute, teens have a lower rate of sexual activity (46 percent) than other age groups, and teens make up the smallest percentage of pregnancies (seven percent, including 18 and 19-year-olds), abortions (six percent) and births (10 percent). The vast majority of pregnancies, abortions and births occur after the teenage years.

So, if people of all ages are having sex and facing the results, why are teen sex and teen pregnancy the problems?

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MTV’s New Sex Ed Push

MTV has been a presence in teens’ lives since it’s creation in 1981. That’s nearly 30 years of influence. Now, in my opinion, MTV used to be much cooler back when Real World was in Seattle and they showed hours of full length music videos (and therefore living up to its name as Music Television). Now, MTV has morphed into some gruesome manifestation that’s focus seems far from music (unless you count the JoBros as music, for me not so much). But, the television station is still trying to have a positive impact on teen lives.

In April this year, which was also STD Awareness month, MTV, in coalition with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Planned Parenthood, launched a campaign called GYT. Any guesses as to what this stands for? It took me a while to figure this out: GYT=Get Yourself Tested. MTV is trying to communicate with the text-savvy teens of today with its campaign using slogans like ILY GYT (I love you, Get yourself tested) WTF GYT (What the f**k, Get yourself tested), and my all time favorite OMG GYT (this one is self-explanatory, I think).

I think this campaign, although a little cheesy, is fantastic. Planned Parenthood is saying that the have already seen some positive results that could be attributed to the campaign. [Read more...]