John Doyle, the Globe & Mail's television critic, can be quite cantankerous at times. But I found myself nodding in agreement at his rant in Wednesday's paper about Octomom and pronatalism run amok. The last two paragraphs in particular.
Did anyone watch the show?
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Octomom: robbing motherhood of its moral authority
No job and 14 mouths to feed, but in our culture, still a star
Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 04:02PM EDT
Today, I have no idea where to begin.
It's not that I'm speechless. Far from it. It's more a boggled-mind thing. For a start, I'm reminded that when I was a young fella in the Ireland of long ago – okay, the 1970s – and became a devoted newspaper reader, I was particularly fascinated by the letters to the editor page. There, I'd often find that a woman's letter of outrage about some development or other was followed by the writer's name, and then, “Mother of 12.”
It was a time and place when being a mother of 12 gave the writer and her opinion greater weight and authority. That was then. This is now.
That kind of identification no longer appears in Irish newspapers. The idea is considered primitive and absurd. However, it turns out that the mother-of-12 phenomenon has followed me here, with a vengeance.
So let's start with this: The so-called “Octomom” is ready for her close-up.
Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage (Fox, 8 p.m.) is the, ah, highly anticipated special that offers “never-before-seen footage” of Nadya Suleman, who made headlines in January of this year when she gave birth to octuplets, conceived through in vitro fertilization. Then it emerged that she was already a mother of six. For tonight's special, Fox makes the claim that “much about Suleman has been shrouded in secrecy and subject to speculation.” And, “Through this never-before-seen footage, viewers will be able to witness the emotional struggles, physical complications and financial burdens of this single mother of 14.”
Oh, give me a break. Suleman did not merely “make headlines,” she became a celebrity, and that was the point for her.
The advance word on tonight's special, which has been judiciously leaked by Fox, is that Octomom expresses regret. “I screwed myself, I screwed up my life, I screwed up my kids' lives … What was I thinking?” Suleman says in a clip from the program. We are also treated to footage of Suleman sitting on her bed with the eight complaining babies, as she seems dismayed about the chore of feeding them.
This will probably have little impact where it matters – in the minds of young women who blithely have children in the most dire economic circumstances. Back when Suleman emerged into the media, it was revealed that she was an unemployed single mother living on food stamps. There was some tut-tutting by columnists and pundits. I suspect that, too, had zero impact where it matters.
What mattered to many young women watching in the United States is that Suleman was a star, the focus of constant attention and, yes, she was going to get her very own TV special. No job, living on welfare, living with her parents, but a star!
Call me peculiar, and allow me to rant here, please, but I'm appalled by the adoring attention given to those celebrities who embark on increasing their ever-expanding broods. As I write this, I'm led to believe that Canada is swooning over the news that Celine Dion is knocked up again. At least she's only had one child already.
Simultaneously, there are photos everywhere of Madonna on holiday with her boyfriend, her daughter Lourdes and two adopted children. I've no idea how many children Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have accumulated by now, but my impression is that it's about a baker's dozen.
From the cringe-inducing freak show that is Jon & Kate Plus 8 to the movie Knocked Up and dozens of others with their own twists on celebrating the joys of parenting, the popular culture has gone too far in beating the drum for the mindless make-babies craze. The attention paid to celebrities having babies and the celebration – in film and on TV – of people having babies who are unequipped to do so, is disturbing and detrimental.
It's detrimental because the attention validates the decisions to have children made by young women who are not stable enough, economically or psychologically, to raise them. Suleman has denied the widespread belief that she had plastic surgery to better resemble Jolie. However, it has emerged that Suleman worked as a stripper and her stage name was “Angelina.” Go figure. This is one narcissistic woman with a deep need for attention. And she's got it.