After reading the Dad Gone Mad post about the Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy announcement and the various ways in which Nickelodeon might or might not address it, and then in reading all the comments, from people who seem to feel strongly one way or the other, I’ve been considering my personal feelings on the subject. In one way, I agree with pretty much everyone, a little bit. And in another way, I don’t really agree with anyone completely. See? See why my photo is in the dictionary next to “wishy-washy”?
I don’t agree that she should be stoned, or made to wear a big PMS (pre-marital sex) embroidered upon her chest, or held up for public ridicule, or punished for the situation she finds herself in. She’s certainly not the only pregnant teen in America, that’s true. I also don’t agree that hey, let’s just roll with it, it’s nobody’s business anyway and who are the rest of us to judge her???
Here’s the gist of it, for me. And let me preface this now with an “it’s only my opinion, blah blah” kind of statement. FOR ME, the truth of the matter is, I hold Jamie Lynn Spears, and any public figure, to a higher standard of behavior. I think that with the reward of their chosen profession comes responsibility, and that they should conduct themselves accordingly. Maybe that’s wrong of me, maybe it’s not my place to do so … but I do. If she and the executives at Nickelodeon are going to stand on my front porch every week (metaphorically speaking, of course) and knock on the door and ask to gain access to my living room and my children, then for me, there are certain standards that need to be met, and a certain example that needs to be set.
No, I don’t use the tv as a babysitter, and no, the shows and movies my children watch are not their only moral compass. But short of moving to a remote ice house in Siberia with no electricity or cable or satellite or messenger polar bears, access to celebrity news, especially teen celebrity news, is not something from which I can shelter my children one hundred percent.
Like it or not, agree with it or not, teens (and more likely, pre-teens) think she’s fabulous, and therefore anything she does is fabulous. Yes, it’s easy for me as an adult to separate the actress from the character she plays, but that’s not as easy for the 8-9-10 yr old set. My kids understand that “Zoey” isn’t pregnant, but the girl who plays her is, and how is that possible when she’s not married and will the baby be on the show and will they make Chase the dad or will they just cancel the show and etc. Bottom line, I am not happy that JLS the actress, and Nickelodeon, her boss, asked for our endorsement and patronage and viewer-ship (is that even a word?) and then failed (again, only my opinion) to hold up their end of the bargain, which was to deliver an entertainment program showcasing young celebrities who aren’t the polar opposites of the characters they play. Don’t ask to come into my home each week as a wholesome teen celebrity, and then show up pregnant. Or in nude photos, like Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical (lest you think Disney isn’t as plagued as Nick). It makes me feel cheated and tricked.
I feel the same way about other scenarios, as well. Take the Miss America (or Miss USA, or whatever) pageants, where previous winners have been stripped of the title when compromising pictures show up on the internet. Sure, I get that these girls have lives outside of the realm of pageantry. But if you are going to stand up and ask to be chosen as a representative of the young women of this country, then I think there is a standard to uphold. These women want to be identified as cream of the crop --- I don’t think cream of the crop behavior is too much to ask.
Same thing for athletes. Don’t ask me to buy tickets to your sporting events, or your merchandise, or to watch you play Monday Night Football or Major League Baseball from the comfort of my couch, and then admit later that you cheated by taking steroids. Don’t ask me to watch you cleat an opposing player in the head because you got angry on the field. Don’t hide a file in your back pocket and then deny it’s yours when the camera CAUGHT YOU tossing it away from you on the field. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t ask to be held up as a role model for sportsmanship and then confess to taking part in a completely UN-sportsmanlike activity like dog fighting.
To the people who say “Hey, Michael Vick didn’t ASK to be anyone’s role model. He just wants to play football, and then be left alone to live his personal life on his own” --- my reply is, “Oh yes he DID ask to be a role model, when he willingly signed that contract with the Atlanta Falcons and all that goes with it” -- the same way JLS signed on as a public figure with Nick.
The same way I think it’s disgusting that a man would run for the highest public office this country has to offer, and then get caught with his pants down in the Oval Office. I do hold the President of the United States to a higher standard of behavior then getting blow jobs from an intern underneath the Resolute Desk (I have no idea if there really is a Resolute Desk, but we saw National Treasure II this weekend and I just think it’s a cool idea.) To the people who might say that is a private issue, to be handled between him and his wife, and that what goes on behind closed doors is no one else’s business, I say I respectfully disagree, with regard to public figures such as this.
What goes on behind closed doors *is* private business, as long as it stays behind closed doors and effects no one else. But when Monica Lewinsky shows up with a semen stain on her dress, or Lindsay Lohan passes out drunk in public, or Britney Spears keeps flashing her nether-regions getting in and out of cars, or Jamie Lynn Spears announces a pregnancy, or porn tapes or nudie photos of young stars keep surfacing, it’s no longer private. And don’t ask for me to vote for you in the next election, or watch your tv shows, or buy tickets to your movies, or buy my kids any of the merchandising crap being shoved down their throats at every commercial, unless you are willing to maintain a respectable level of accountability. In other words, yes, if you put your life out there, people are going to be watching it.
Bottom line, when you rely on the public, and the public’s wallet, to keep you where you are professionally, which athletes and celebrities and politicians do, then I think you have an obligation to that public to behave in a manner that is not completely out of line with decent societal expectations.
And to the people who say we Americans are uptight and hypocritical and puritanical. Well, perhaps we are. But this is our country and that is your country and that’s just the way it is. I think the biggest way we are hypocrites is the way in which we decry these behaviors, then forgive them so quickly. Why are all these celebrities released from rehab and still making blockbuster movies? Why is corporate greed, and even crime, rewarded with book deals? The above-mentioned Oval Office skankbag has a pretty good shot at being our country’s first-ever First Husband, which makes my stomach churn, but that’s just me. And what makes me even more disgusted about the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal is that I bet you anything if he were to be released from prison tomorrow, and given a position with a professional football team, there would be tons of people showing up to his first game with “We Heart You Michael” posters in the stands.
So, back to the JLS situation. Am I shocked that a 16 yr old would be sexually active and wind up pregnant? No, I’m not shocked. Just disappointed. Do I think they should cancel Zoey 101? Well, I hope they don’t, because too many other cast and crew are employed there as well. I would hate for all those people to lose their jobs due to a show cancellation. What I would like to see Nick do is either bring in a new actress to play Zoey, or even simply continue the show without her. And I would like to see Nick release JLS from her contract with them, but not as a punishment. Rather, as a show of support for the situation she is now in. Let her move back home to Louisiana and take this time to prepare herself for impending motherhood.
Do I think Nickelodeon should air a teen pregnancy special, like they’re supposedly considering? Well, I don’t really care because I wouldn’t let my kids watch it anyway. The message I keep trying to hammer home with Brayden is that this isn’t a typical teen pregnancy because JLS isn’t a typical teen. She already has the financial resources to handle an unplanned pregnancy and a baby. She has a private tutor and won’t have to face public high school as an unwed teen. She doesn’t have to worry about pregnancy compromising a minimum-wage paying job. She can afford the material needs of a newborn, and won’t have to worry about finishing school, or finding a sitter so she can make it to her part-time job after school. I don’t ever want my daughters to think just because a celebrity does something, that means it’s alright for them to do it, too.
I do imagine that’s it’s next to impossible to maneuver the minefield of adolescence in the public eye without making some sort of slip. Do I think it should be acceptable, even embraced, that JLS is pregnant at sixteen? No. Do I think she should have sipped away in the night for an abortion? Of course not. She’s too well-known for any kind of adoption scenario, I would think. And remember her older sister Britney? Before the train wreck that became *her* life, do you remember when she was cute and young and adorable and dating Justin Timberlake and she went public with the announcement that she was a virgin and hoped to stay that way? Do you remember how people mocked that, and rolled their eyes, and made fun of her?
If you stand up for abstinence, people think you’re either ridiculous, or lying. And heaven forbid you make a public statement and then change your mind. Don’t have sex. If you have sex, use birth control. If you use birth control and it fails in some way, you’re condemned for being pregnant. And for having sex in the first place. But don’t act like you’re not having sex because no-body will believe you anyway. And let’s not even open up the can of worms that is the male-female double standard.
Truly, being a teenager is hard, hard work. I can only imagine how infinitely more difficult it is to do it as a celebrity. But you know what? These people have asked for their celebrity status, and in doing so, must accept that our children look up to them. So I wish they would behave in a way that makes them worthy.
And like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.