Saturday, February 21, 2009

Abortion: Sometimes It's Really Not That Big a Deal

A really great essay on abortion, and not feeling guilt, but relief:

But with the recent popularity of slapstick pregnancy comedies like Knocked Up and Juno, you'd be surprised at how randomly "So have you ever been pregnant?" or "What would you do?" can invade a light conversation. And where anti-choice activists believe "confession" is a necessary step to absolve yourself of the "crime," and Christian sites like Care Net are full of essays about regretful women weeping about the mistakes of their youth to disapproving, divinely forgiving husbands, the pro-choice side isn't offering up any nifty guides titled So You're Eating a Cheeseburger With Your Man and Abortion Comes Up. That, at least for me, would've been more handy than all the safe-sex pamphlets stuffed in my hand when I exited the clinic. Between my desire to be honest and my fear of that honesty's ramifications, managing and packaging my abortion became more difficult than the act itself.

One of the problems is that Hollywood is too afraid to actual show abortions--not to protagonists, not to sympathetic characters. They always, in the end, decide to have the baby.

Men, the writer of the essay contends, have a hard time dealing with abortion, thinking that it's this gut-wrenching emotional experience, when in fact for many it's just an annoying but necessary medical procedure, like going to the dentist. We're conditioned to think of abortion as this horrible thing--killing babies!--but at such an early point it's nothing, and depending upon one's views and stage of life, it can be hard to attach such emotion to something that merely seems like a crappy outcome.

The New York Times explored these mixed feelings with this cover story. For another type of abortion--one that freaked me out when I first read it--check out this, another cover.

(Original essay link from Slate)


mikhailbakunin said...

"One of the problems is that Hollywood is too afraid to actual show abortions--not to protagonists, not to sympathetic characters. They always, in the end, decide to have the baby."

I understand your point, but I think that's a bit overblown. Off the top of my head, I can name three movies where "sympathetic characters" have abortions:

-Fast Times at Ridgemont High
-The Cider House Rules
-Dirty Dancing

MediaMaven said...

Perhaps I should have been more specific--in contemporary Hollywood, there has been few actual abortions showed, and I'm dating back to when we were in high school, when I first began to notice this. (Thanks, Bitch.) I'm hard pressed to come up with one; two of the movies you cited came out over twenty years ago, and third a decade ago.

I've actually seen all three of those movies, although I barely remember the first two. The Cider House Rules is primarily about abortion, whereas the other two only have it as a plot.

mikhailbakunin said...

You’re right, I can’t think of any recent Hollywood films in which a central character actually chooses to have an abortion. In fact, I can think of only two foreign films. One is a recent winner of the Palme d’Or -- 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (I had to look up the title) -- which I’ve never seen, but I remember reading some great reviews of it. The other is Vera Drake, which is a British film that I believe was nominated for a couple Academy Awards.

Still, I have two (somewhat related) issues with your post:

First, I don’t see how a film in which pregnancy is central to the story can have much of a conflict if the protagonist (or whomever) chooses to abort. The pregnancy is over and so is tension. What's the story?

Second, it seems strange for you to trivialize abortion and then argue that abortion should be featured more prominently in Hollywood movies. If abortion is really as inconsequential as you claim, it’s not really an interesting plot point, is it?

MediaMaven said...

I remember reading about 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, partly because critics were championing it because it was such an usual film. There was also criticism surrounding Knocked Up because the characters in the film wouldn't even mention the word abortion, which was judged as a sign of cowardice.

I wasn't specifying my complaint to film, though--television is notoriously gun-shy about abortion. In some ways that might be a better medium to explore it as a plot point, because you can know and follow a cast of characters that you are really invested in and watch the whole thing unfold. The only show that I can think of in recent memory that actually brought up abortion in a realistic way for a main character was "Sex in the City", and that was a big deal when that episode aired seven years ago. They also "got away with it" because it was a cable show with a mature audience attached.

I would like to see abortion at least discussed on television, even if it's a foregone conclusion. Most shows will make a big spectacle out of this storyline, so it will probably come out crass in comparison to the well-played version in my head. I think it can still be a worthwhile plot. We've all seen shows where a character threatens to leave, or there's a pregnancy scare, or some other major-shake up where we know nothing will really change. A lot of times it doesn't work, but sometimes, even if we know the love interest is temporary, it's a believable and compelling story and we learn a lot about the characters. Even if we know the central couple ends up together in the end, it doesn't mean the journey isn't interesting.

Abortion doesn't have to be trivialized. But it's usually presented as a terrible shameful secret, a major regret, when it's not. In the "Sex and the City" episode, Carrie is ashamed and afraid to tell her boyfriend, although she doesn't regret her decision at all. It would be nice to see this on the screen.

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