Friday Night Abortions
My favourite television drama right now is Friday Night Lights. Through four seasons, the series has been uneven. The first season was a work of art, perhaps the greatest season of televised drama of all time. The second season, due largely to massive plot inconsistencies (the characters appeared to switch years in high school), the threat of cancellation and a not uncommon sophomore slump, was rather lackluster. The third season picked up a bit, and this fourth season, while not quite as good as the first, has been excellent overall.
One reason is the writers’ willingness to tackle big issues, as they did in Season 1. Most recently, their episode on abortion garnered coverage in the New York Times. I admire the producers and writers for going where so few shows had gone before. I remember in Beverly Hills 90210 Val faked a pregnancy and took a trip or two to the abortion clinic, but I had never seen a major character actually go through an abortion on prime time television. According to the NYT article, unlike other pop culture representations of the pro-life position–from Juno to Sex and the City to Bristol Palin’s appearance on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager–the episode of FNL offered a relatively unambiguous pro-choice message.
The writers of Friday Night Lights had something altogether different in mind. Becky’s pregnancy had been the result of a one-time sexual encounter with Luke Cafferty, a well-intentioned football star and the son of struggling, religious cattle ranchers who have not always held his best interests at heart. When Luke’s mother learns what has happened, her response is to say that Mary and Joseph thought they were in a tough spot too, at first. Luke bluntly corrects her: “Becky and me are not Mary and Joseph.”
I was impressed that the show really kept the decision in female hands: Becky, the pregnant teen, ultimately makes the decision, with encouragement from her mother and moral support from high school principal Tammi Taylor. This was not a radically feminist message, but the writers still placed women at the center.
Still, I’m not sure the episode was as unambiguously pro-choice as the NY Times article indicates. I think the show’s writers made the decision for a poor high school student who got pregnant from a one-night stand to abort appear be a difficult one, rather than the obvious one that those on the pro-choice left believed it to be.
But then I thought: should pop culture/artistic representations have a message? Doesn’t that make them propaganda? I tend to favour scholarship that attempts to be objective. I think I like my art-including prime time TV dramas–the same way.
All I know is that I can’t wait for the next episode.