What Does It Mean When It Is Entertainment?

I’m moved to write this by a post today on The Adopted Ones blog, which is itself inspired by this TV listing.   There’s a new reality show out there and the hook is we watch young women thinking about giving up their children for adoption.

What does it mean when decisions about adoption become the stuff of reality TV?   I suppose it means we’ve come a long way from the days it was a deep and dark secret, but really, is it all progress?  I’m inclined to agree with the criticism you’ll see on the Adopted Ones blog, but there’s more than that to bother me.   This isn’t entertainment–it’s real life and it’s serious and it’s not for us to sit around and watch.  Then again, I suppose we (as a culture) do a lot of that these days.

I was thinking about entertainment already today because I picked up a guide for the Seattle International Film Festival this morning.   Perhaps it is no longer a surprise, but my topics here are now the stuff of cinematic exploration.

Starbuck is the opening night feature in Kirkland (a Seattle suburb, if you are wondering.)  It’s a modern comedy about a man who has over 500 offspring via twenty years of sperm donations.   The too-many-offspring problem for your entertainment and amusement.

And Gayby is the gala presentation for the lesbian/gay section of the festival.     It’s about a gay man who helps a single (and I think straight) woman friend get pregnant by having sex with her.   Complications ensue.   (It’s also a comedy.)  This one reminds me of last year’s Father’s day post.

I suppose there is nothing new here.   Families have always been the stuff of entertainment.  From Father Knows Best to Modern Family pop culture (in the form of the TV sitcom) has always presented images ofthe basic family unit.  I suppose the inclusion of unconventional family forms is a step towards recognition and acceptance.   How much more accepted can you get than to be the subject of a light-hearted comedy?

That’s a little different from the reality TV problem, though.     Not that I’m much of a consumer of that entertainment, but it’s always struck me as a bit like the Roman circuses, and I worry that more than anything it heralds the decline of our civilization.  I’m probably overreacting, but when we are invited to watch and enjoy the struggles of real people trying to live their lives I do worry.

If anyone happens to see any of these movies or shows I’d love to hear about them.   Maybe I need to get out more and see some for myself.  At the very least, they are a sign of the times, I think.   Could anyone forty years ago have imagined any of these things as light-hearted comedies or any other form of entertainment?

Of course there’s a serious side to the subjects that underlie these entertainments  and it seems to me that the biggest risk is that we could forget that.   Still, I don’t suppose every treatment of every subject has to be equally serious.   Sometimes you can learn a lot from comedy.   And so in the end, what can I say except welcome to the mainstream.

2 responses to “What Does It Mean When It Is Entertainment?

  1. Thanks Julie – as always you have the ability to see broader context as well and the Roman circuses is a great comparison.

    I think light hearted comedies will be better than a lifetime movie would be simply because Lifetime movies are watched as “real” and create stereotypes, where comedy you can get something out of it while at the same time understanding they are playing it up to get the laugh.

  2. Alana Stewart Newman who was in Anonymous Father’s day spent a good amount of time filming at my house for her documentary. I agreed to do it because she herself is donor offspring. In the past when I have been approached by ABC I was very excited thinking they’d be able to help me find my friends families and they offered me a bunch of money but they wanted to run the show like a pain Olympics where the person with the best written sob story and the prettiest face got to meet their parents it felt horribly exploitative to me and they wanted to background check and psych check the people I was looking for and the people who were looking for insurance reasons or they would not help, they did not want any dark adoption stories. Honestly any time a person is not raised by one or both of their bio parents something dark is afoot something sad happened and different people process that loss in different ways and I just don’t think its fair to not help someone because they were depressed at some point or because they were in and out of juvenile hall. It felt snotty to me. What if my friends could not pass their test and the network rejected them. They’d feel like they were not good enough for their family or prime time. That though made me mad and I told the producer I would find their families by myself without their money or their help they were not going to use my friends like that. I felt really good about that and I did find one friend’s mother within a couple of days and the other in a few months.

    I get scared to be involved in media projects because I don’t ever want anyone to say that I help for money or that I capitalized on anyone’s pain or troubles by writing a book or something. Not that anyone would want to buy it but the people who I helped tell me and its funny they all think I should do it for a living my whole family wishes Id make money at it since I spend so much time at it. Here is what the troubling thing is about the shows and the movies and whatnot, those that take a position against the process, how can you sleep at night if you make a dime talking about something your against? Then it serves you. It benefits you. If your in favor of something and you profit from it or get acclamation from it your all aligned and at peace with yourself. But to profit even subsist off of something that is a tragedy to a person and they need help and you could just give it to them but you charge them, there is something really distasteful about that. So I don’t think documentaries are necessarily for entertainment the purpose is to educate although I could just be snowing myself into that position. Reality TV is soap opera. A woman should not profit or become famous for an act that will cause her offspring much pain and her family much pain. A documentary would be one thing a Teen Mom reality soap is distasteful.

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