Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Abortion on TV

33 years ago, a strong, determined, and independent female character on TV had an abortion -- with no regrets, no devestating consequences. Maude (and the writers, directors and producers of the show) were definitely ahead of the times -- remember, this episode aired in November 1972, 2 months before the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade (Maude lived in NY, where abortion was already legal).

33 years later, it still seems as though those writers, directors, actors, (and characters) are still "ahead of the times." It took 32 years before another character on network television even had an abortion (all the other "accidental" pregnancies ending in adoption, deciding to keep the baby, or the "lucky break" miscarriage) -- but even then, they had to tack on some corny "confession" scene for the doctor.

I remember when that episode of Everwood aired. I had never watched Everwood, but even I knew what happened. Everyone seemed to be talking about it.

Which makes it even more surprising that I have seen so little mention of the recent "abortion episode" of Jack and Bobby. In fact, I only found out about it on "accident" -- I was watching a tape, which ended about 10 minutes before Jack & Bobby ended, so I was able to see the last 10 minutes of the episode. I figured out what was going on fairly quickly, and was intrigued. So, I watched the rest of the episode. Sure enough, the girl (who I later found out is named Missy) went to Jack's & Bobby's mom for help (apparently, her parents had kicked her out of the house for getting pregnant). The mom takes Missy to the clinic and waits for her until after the abortion, and they walk out together -- end of episode.

I sat there thinking, huh, wow. But then...(and you knew it couldn't last long, right?) I see the previews for the next week's episode. Seems that a bunch of the characters (high school students) all go out partying after prom, and [dum dum DUUUMMMM] one of them will die.

I knew it, I just knew it, right then and there that the girl who got the abortion was being killed off.

I didn't tune in to witness it, but I kept an eye out on various websites, and sure enough, Missy is killed in a drunk driving accident.

When will these TV characters ever learn -- in this day and age of right-wing conservative thinking, if you do something like get an abortion, you will suffer the consequences -- like being killed off by the writers.


thistle said...

A friend was telling me about this. Apparently in the subsequent episode she has all kinds of emotional problems post-abortion. I don't know exactly how the writers depicted that--but it doesn't sound too promising.

Terry said...

FYI, on last night's episode of "House" a 12-year-old has an abortion. He honors confidentiality and doesn't tell her parents, though the last scene implies she told them herself afterward.

bean said...

I actually just saw that episode of House last night (I had it on tape). I thought it was quite well done.

The interesting part, I found, was that they kept showing the "warning" for "sexual content, parental guidance suggested." The only thing even close to "sexual content" was the abortion. HUH?

Anonymous said...

Right now, I'm finding this too depressing for words.........

Crys T

blue said...

This is a bit of a drift, but I've noticed other variations of skewing toward patriarchal storytelling lately too. A recent CSI epsiode featured the drug-addicted prostitute daughter of one of the cops on the show. The story revealed how the cop had failed his daughter (and how she had failed herself, I suppose), but in the end it was revealed she was the product of his ex-wife's infidelity so, of course, he wasn't really a flawed father, but a hero for caring about this girl he wasn't biologically related to at all.

In a recent episode of CSI: Miami a pre-teen girl whose mother had been selling her to men for cash appeared to have an obsessive, abusive father. In the end, he was revealed to be the caring parent, but implicitly relieved of any responsibility for her abuse at the hands of the mother because DNA revealed he was not her biological parent. His caring for his daughter becomes something unnaturally impressive because he cares despite no genetic connection to her. (Because, why would you care, really, if she isn't of your seed?)

So abuse of young girls and women is portrayed as unstoppable since their fathers are not really their fathers and they have no one to protect them when fatherless. Also, since the father figures in their lives are not really accountable biological parents, instead they become heroic men who care about somebody else's offspring despite the troubles it causes them.

blue said...

Just to add: I'm aware there is no need to "skew toward patriarchal storytelling." I mean that they present a possibility for a more enlightened story, then they cover their ass in the final scenes with a patriarchal backup story. So men can turn off the telly feeling fine about themselves.

Sarahlynn said...

I didn't regularly watch "Party of Five," but I did watch the much-hyped episodes surrounded Naeve Campbell's character's pregnancy. I still remember feeling cheated when she decided to have an abortion then conveniently miscarried before she could follow through. Because of the way it was handled, I felt (and still feel) that pressure from advertisers and/or studio execs encouraged the writers to add the "convenient" miscarriage.

Emily H. said...

Degrassi: the Next Generation had a teenage girl who had an abortion a season or two ago. But we already knew Canada (where the show's produced) was a more enlightened place...

CSI doesn't seem so bad for it, but CSI Miami drove me crazy with its highly reactionary values--it's very much about protecting women and children, and women and children needing to be protected.

bean said...

Yes, the Degrassi episode made big news here -- primarily because the US station that carries the show refused to air that episode. To this day, it still has not been aired.

reddecca said...

I'm a bit ::cough:: of a Buffy fan and one of the interviews I read with Joss Whedon talked about writing a story about Jackie having an abortion when he was on Roseanne. He was quite excited about it, because it was dealing about real issues. Apparently the studio came back and said - keep the story but she can't have abortion, and the whole story got rewritten to her thinking she might be pregnant.

I think it's a shame that he never picked up that lost thread when he was the one with the power, and could use it (he got the Willow/Tara kiss in the Body by saying he would walk if they didn't include it). Actually what would have been really cool if Firefly had stuck round if Kaylee had had an abortion and been incredibly matter of fact about it. Things on Buffy tended to get over-blown, whereas the ensemble nature, and external plot of Firefly meant that abortion could be a sub-plot.

Anonymous said...

"33 years ago, a strong, determined, and independent female character on TV had an abortion -- with no regrets". Maude was a politically motivated "agenda" show and that episode aired before millions of abortions were being performed annually in the US. The medical knowledge that we have in 2005 about life and fetal development is far greater today than in 1972. The accumulated knowledge of post-abortion counselling is far greater today than in 1972 as well. Perhaps the reality that abortion is a gut-wrenching, very serious decision is what is keeping it form being portrayed on TV. For me - I understand the reality of abortion - and I would just choose not to watch this type of TV. I certainly couldn't abide with the myth that "Maude" portrayed. Similarly I wouldn't want to watch a show about the family loosing a child to cancer. Maybe gut-wrenching, no happy ending TV is for some - but not for me.

BTW: I remember watching Maude when I was young. With all of it's "firsts" and agendas - it was not a fun show. Certainly it had funny parts but it wasn't fun. Designing Women was similar in many ways. Compare those shows with something like Seinfeld. Seinfeld was irreverent but seemed not to have an agenda.

My own opinion is the TV reflects what will sell. If TV is "patriarchal" it is only because that is what most people want to see.

Sarahlynn said...

"TV reflects what will sell"

This is so ignorant, and I speak as a professional marketer here. TV reflects what "professionals" *think* will sell. Time and time again it's been proven that the "professionals" are so wrong.

Gloria Steinem had to go door to door begging for advertisers for Ms. Magazine in the early 1970s. She had to explain that feminists were more likely to be working women with disposable income. Advertisers did not consider women to be major sources of revenue.

More than 30 years later, advertisers are still surprised whenever a new study shows that women make many of the major purchasing decisions in American households. Advertising and programming are still targeted toward the 18-35 year-old male consumer.

People who spout this pure free market drivel are living privileged, sheltered lives.

BAC said...

I remember when Maude came on the air, and I loved it! The 70's were a time when a number of "message" programs were broadcast -- and were very popular! It seemed to start with All in the Family, that tackled rape, racism, and a number of social justice issues.

What we are seeing today on television, and in the movies, is a product of too few decision makers. Five (or less) corporations own the airwaves, and those corporate interests decide what is "popular."

All in the Family and Maude were products of the Lear/Yorkin production company. Their children have had to FIGHT to get one program with a social conscious on the air.

What I think is needed is an all out effort by feminists (and all progressives) to take back the public airwaves. A first step would be to re institute the Fairness Doctrine. At least they would have to give us equal time when they bash us!


Anonymous said...

Oooh, first comment in months. Cool. Re: Party of Five, I've just bought the season 2 dvd and on the audio commentary for "Before and After," series creator Chris Keyser basically says that pressure from the affiliates led to the decision to have Julia have a miscarriage. And he goes on to say several times that they felt it was a sell out or cop out, the best ep they ever did in some ways, but the one that left the audience the most cheated in others.

I'm also stunned that it took 33 years to have another on air abortion after Maude and that it'd be Everwood. How backward is this country?!

Finally on the Joss Whedon tip, that would've really done something if you had this happen on Buffy (or Firefly). I'm going to be stuck with images of Kaylee having an abortion for the rest of my life now. But to give Joss his due, I believe he was also the first one to have a homoerotic sex scene on network tv as well.

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