Bump: Why Reality TV Will Not Resolve The Abortion Debate


When Obama called for "ways to communicate about a workable solution to the problem of unintended pregnancies," he probably didn’t envision an online show where viewers vote on whether characters should abort. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.

To be clear, executive producers Dominic Iocco and Christopher Riley actually thought that a fake reality show, where actors portray women who have agreed to let the audience decide about their abortions, would be a good way to stimulate public discussion on reproductive rights. Writes the Washington Post‘s Kathleen Parker, the producers “want to see whether stories can succeed where four decades of rhetoric and politics have failed. They fashioned their experiment in a way that would be most appealing to the wired, reality-show generation.” Unfortunately, their effort is anything but appealing.

Parker is spot-on in her criticism of the pilot: “although the idea is to humanize the debate, none of the characters is especially sympathetic.” Hailey is a fame-whore and an airhead, and Denise is a weirdo whose played-for-laughs persona is made even more discomfiting by the suggestion that she’s being abused. Katie, who got pregnant after cheating on her solider husband, is the only well-rounded, adult-seeming character. Of course, not every woman who considers abortion is a nice or admirable person, but the producers of the show can’t seem to decide whether they want to satirize reality show contestants or honestly consider the issue of abortion. This split personality persists in the first episode, which went online today:

Although the episode does contain a somewhat moving heart-to-heart between Hailey and Katie, Denise still comes across as an inarticulate space case, and Hailey’s boyfriend appears to exist solely so that we can poke fun at his cluelessness. Bump is poorly executed, but it’s hard to see how its premise — the fundamentally abhorrent idea of online viewers voting on a woman’s reproductive choices — could have been executed well. Parker writes,

There are so many unappealing facets wrapped into this one package, it’s difficult to identify the core offense. That’s not so much the fault of the producers — who get some credit for seeking creative ways to advance rational debate — as it is a function of the culture. Media critic Marshall McLuhan was surely right when he declared that the medium is the message and that our media eventually form us. Thus, we find ourselves sitting before computers, inputting opinions about whether fictional characters should terminate a developing human life.

But she’s giving Iocco and Riley too much credit for their misguided attempt to reach a supposedly “wired” generation. Just because I occasionally watch The Real Housewives doesn’t mean I want all issues framed in reality-show form, and the abortion-rights issues at play in Bump are totally masked by the weirdness of the game-show conceit and the flatness of the characters. If Iocco and Riley really wanted to use online media to get people to think about abortion, they might consider interviewing actual women about their experiences and posting those on YouTube. It might, of course, be difficult to find participants, since having an abortion is still stigmatized and performing one can get you killed. We still have a long way to go in terms of reproductive rights, but Bump adds little to this journey.

Bump [Official Site]
Turning Abortion Into An Online Game Show [Washington Post]

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