I have had some unexpected free time to watch television these last few weeks, so here are some reflections on TV parenting that I have observed. On Tuesday, I was flipping through the channels and landed on the Bachelorette. I watched a woman have an ultrasound on live TV to reveal to the couple, the studio audience, and the viewers at home the sex of her baby (spoiler alert: it was a boy). I’ve been interested in public moments during pregnancy for years (in fact, it was the subject of my book), but it still amazes me to see a fetus have such a public audience for its image.
Since I wrote my book, gender reveal parties have become even more popular for parents. The purpose of this type of party is to invite loved ones and find out the sex of the baby together in a group. This interests me not only because it takes what used to be a private moment and makes it public, but also because there is so much discussion about encouraging more equality between boys and girls and making gender matter less, but here the sex of the baby still attains such a significant moments in people’s lives.
Pregnancy is also taking center state in the new CBS program Extant, in which Halle Berry plays an astronaut who returns to earth after a solo mission and finds that she is pregnant. I tuned in to see how pregnancy would be portrayed on this show, but I actually am more interested in the character of her son. It turns out the son is revealed to be not a human, but an android that mimics human behavior. The son tries to act human but apparently lacks the ability to respond emotionally. I’m curious how the son will be developed as a character. So many parents and educators are working with children referred to as “on the spectrum.” These children sometimes also have difficulty gauging, mimicking, and responding to emotion.
I also have heard about a new show on Lifetime called The Lottery. In the show, women can no longer become pregnant, and the human species faces extinction. After one hundred embryos are fertilized in a lab, women compete in a lottery to see if they can become a surrogate for one of the embryos. I have not seen the show yet, but I imagine it will showcase the anxiety of impending parenthood.
These programs all seem to reflect a notion of parenting as precious, not completely in our control, and in some cases, just out of our reach. I wonder what cultural, historic, and economic conditions may be contributing to this view of parenting? Have you seen shows lately with similar themes?
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts