Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Friday Night Abortions

with 2 comments

by Weiner

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.


Written by David Weinfeld

July 17, 2010 at 10:04

2 Responses

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  1. I’m glad you wrote on this and need to see the episode myself (copyright issues with Germany (where I am now) have annoyingly taken Hulu away from me) before I really judge how well the writers did here. But my question is, in what sense did the writers make the decision seem difficult? In an emotional way, in a ‘pressure from small town conservative politics’ way, or in a weighing of the pros and cons of actually becoming a young, unprepared mother way? I think whether it’s honest for them to show a woman’s emotional uncertainty depends on the way the character’s been written–some women, and I would guess even more so teenagers who may not yet have deeply ingrained views on life decisions or abortion politics (particularly when not raised in an openly pro-choice environment) would struggle with actually making the decision (never mind the struggles that they might face in actually obtaining the abortion–I’m curious–did they portray the difficulty of actually getting an abortion in a rural area with very few abortion providers and potential legal obstacles?).

    I stopped watching Friday Night Lights during season 2 (similarly disheartened after an amazing first season, though it sounds like I need to just skip ahead) and remember a plot line with the parapalegic guy and the waitress and a pregnancy from their one-night stand. I don’t remember the resolution of that story-line, but it initially left me with the same ambivalence you feel here: the girl was all for abortion (and I do remember the writers’ honesty on that count surprising me–and the writers admirably portray strong, decisive women) but the guy thought it might be his only chance to have a kid and was pressuring her to keep the child. I similarly thought “ok, no brainer”–one night stand = abortion, and worried that the writers were going to turn the story into some sort of “amazing grace birth” from the paralegic and the down-on-her-luck-waitress (which would do a disservice both to reproductive and disability politics in this country). Then again, the structure of TV writing may also have a lot to do with the way abortion decisions are drawn out: while it would be extremely heartening to have writers portray a ballsy young woman who immediately knows her mind about what to do with an unwanted pregnancy (and as there are loads of them out there, it’d be nice to see them on TV– actually Sex and the City, despite having Miranda keep her baby, is the only show I’ve seen that at least talked about that sort of no-nonsense decision (Carrie refers to having had a no-brainer abortion in her wild, early-20s New York youth), but I wonder if writers consider it a waste of a good plot line that could be spun out over 4 episodes, to so neatly have their characters come to a conclusion.


    July 18, 2010 at 02:46

  2. […] certainly leading to a happy ending (think Juno and Knocked Up). A powerful exception occurred on television in Friday Night Lights, without question the best network drama in a decade, where a high school student makes the […]

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