It’s not just the entire viewing audience of MTV’s Teen Mom who hates Amber Portwood – an op-ed in her hometown newspaper makes it sound like the people who actually have to live with her aren’t terribly happy about it.
The Anderson Bulletin, the local newspaper for Anderson, Indiana, ran an editorial last week by a hometown resident who is none too pleased about Anderson’s most infamous resident and how she makes their community appear on television. Amber – who is never mentioned by name in the piece – is correctly vilified for abusing her on-again off-again fiance Gary (and the father of her child) on national television. But the anonymous author doesn’t just hate Amber – he or she is angry with MTV’s content as well:
Reality shows prey on featuring people who appear to be under-educated, narcissistic and full of anger. And that’s the image Americans are getting of Anderson.
We in Anderson know we’re better than that.
But for some reason, we can’t convince our own neighbors and friends to avoid portraying this community as a bunch of jobless buffoons.
“Teen Mom” is not the national image Anderson wants. The next time you see our teen mom in the store, point out that she is hurting this city. We don’t push our loved ones down stairs. We don’t take pride that our teenage girls are 16 and pregnant. We don’t all drop out of high school.
Look, I think reality TV has been around long enough that most viewers know to take everything with a grain of salt. And considering how rarely Gary and Amber’s town’s name has been mentioned on the show – I’m actually struggling to think of a time when they said it by name, and I’ve sadly watched every episode – I doubt most viewers are going online to try and find out where Amber lives so that they can cross it off of their “must visit” list. Most of the pushback to the show has been outrage about Amber’s treatment of Gary and her daughter Leah, not about whatever town Amber lives in. This isn’t Jersey Shore, which alleges to portray a particular community or area – it’s an ensemble show that focuses on the lives and personalities of four young women, their kids, and their significant others. The communities that these young women live in tend to be merely incidental, and mentioned only when it serves the storyline – for example, Maci’s move to Nashville wasn’t about Nashville, it was about the drama it caused between her and her family and her ex-fiance.
I can empathize with the author of this editorial. I’m lucky enough to live in New York, and there are so many media representations of my city that no one’s stressing about one of them being seen as the entire community. But I grew up in Raleigh, NC, a much smaller community that rarely gets mentioned in the nationwide media. When I was in college, a former high school classmate of mine – his name rhymes with Blay Staiken – became famous through a reality show. At first, everyone was flattered and excited that our little town was getting national attention thanks to our local idol. But when there’s only one media representation of your community, it’s normal to be paranoid about the way a place you love gets portrayed to others. When I watch episodes of Teen Mom, my takeaway isn’t “Anderson, Indiana sucks,” it’s “Amber sucks.” And I’m willing to bet the overwhelming majority of Teen Mom viewers feel the same way. Of course, every town has its less-than-beloved citizens. And reality TV is known for spotlighting the worst our society has to offer. But I just don’t see Teen Mom on par with a show like Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives series in terms of representing a particular community or claiming to show an entire ethnic group. It’s more about personality conflicts – or, in Amber’s case, outright abuse – than it is about geography. And that’s perhaps a much bigger problem.