Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pact Mentality

"Hollywood films Juno and Knocked Up blamed as teenagers race to become mothers" read the sensational headline in the British newspaper The Times of London last week.

It seems 17 teen age girls, some younger than 16, the age of consent in Gloucester, Massachusetts, made a pact to become pregnant at the same time so they could "raise their children together." According to CNN reports, there was severe peer pressure among the girls at the school to become pregnant to join .. to belong to the pact.

One father said that his daughter was either scared .. or strong enough .. to refuse when she told her parents about the pressure the girls were putting on her.

The school nurse reported girls being "disappointed" when their pregnancy tests came back negative - more than 150 tests were requested at the school.

I recall a rash of teen pregnancies several years ago, where the reason given by most of the pregnant girls was that they wanted to get pregnant to have someone "love them" for the rest of their lives. Not someone *to* love. But someone to *love them.*

The article says one of the fathers is a homeless 24 year old man, other fathers in their mid-20's. Some are outraged at the men, saying they should at the very least be financially accountable as fathers and at the most put in jail for impregnating the girls under 16. That's statutory rape.

The correspondent, with the regrettable-for-this-story name of James Bone, is only one of many columnists and pundits who claim that recent films "Juno" and "Knocked Up" may have been the inspiration for such a pact.

In Juno, actress Ellen Page stars as a teenager who finds herself pregnant through carelessness and ignorance. She decides to have the baby in order to give it to someone who can care for and nurture the new life properly, with all its attending responsibilities. Her family supports and loves her through her pregnancy; classmates and friends accept her situation.

The Diablo Cody script received an Academy Award last year.

"Knocked Up" is about a slacker who impregnates an otherwise responsible, mature woman with a solid career because both were careless and irresponsible. Unlike in most similar real life situations, he learns to grow up and take responsibility for his behavior.

More, the teen pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears, Briteny Spears' younger sister, is said to have influenced many girls, because Spears has been the focus of special interest, and even though her mother has agreed to raise the baby, Jamie Lynn's actions were not seen to have many negative ramifications, other than interrupting her show business career as the star of the sitcom Zoey 101.

Meanwhile, back at Gloucester High School, there was a call for issuing contraceptives to the youngsters without parental consent ... that was nixed because most are Roman Catholics in the fishing village.

The Times of London article says that the school superintendent doesn't blame Hollywood. No, Christopher Farmer believes the real cause is that these young women have no sense of purpose or direction, that they lack self-esteem and affection.


I would have added to Christopher Farmer's list: they lack a sense of belonging.

"Pact" mentality seems to be a popular among many American youngsters today, regardless of its reason.

I see it as trying to gain a sense of belonging, in whatever way they can.

Gangs provide a "pact mentality" with a strong sense of belonging; it's the primary reason kids hook up with them. Belonging then gives kids a purpose - even if that purpose is malevolent. Even if their chances of being maimed or killed are astronomical. They can die feeling they did it for their gang family.

Family is a place where a sense of belonging is supposed to start. Too many kids aren't feeling as if they belong in their own families. Among the million reasons why the don't feel they fit in or belong is not being accepted for who they are by their parents or extended family. Feeling isolated, and in turn feeling bad about themselves, which leads to a lack of self esteem, a lack of purpose or direction as well as a lack of affection. Withholding affection is no way to "punish" a child.

How many kids have "good homes," but behind closed doors are not accepted for who they are, who are told they are supposed to be, essentially, someone else? Denying a kid a sense of self, acceptance and their true identity is a recipe for kids seeking acceptance, love and support somewhere else.

Enter Hollywood.

Sometimes adult intentions when writing for or about kids are good, but because kids don't perceive things the way adults do, the message becomes garbled or misinterpreted.

Writer-director-producer John Singleton created the film Boyz N the Hood, a breakout film that showed the mean, gritty gang culture and how his hero, the protagonist, was able to leave that horrible lifestyle behind, to be a positive influence and have a life contributing to the world.

That's how adults saw the film. Gang bangers saw it as a glamorization of their lives; they experience the hero as "weak" "meek" and wimpy -- adults would experience that young man as having more courage than any gang banger.

Because of this, sadly, after seeing the well-intended film, several fights broke out, shootings occurred and some theaters refused to show the film because of it.

In Juno, I can see girls thinking that getting pregnant is a good way to get special attention and love, and end up with a boyfriend/husband as the teenager did in the film.

Its star, Ellen Page, would do everything to refrain from getting pregnant at her age because she has a purpose - a direction, a career and is getting lots of affirmation for her talent and skills.

Those of us who see it as "just a movie" understand that.

But for vulnerable kids desperate for love, positive attention, direction and purpose, who knows how they perceive so much of what they're exposed to in this media-saturated culture. They seek out answers from media instead of the people from whom they need to get real information. A genuine reality check.

Many, if not most adults, did not understand Napoleon Dynamite. The kids did. And absolutely loved Napoleon and the film. He was a kid who didn't fit in and was seen as a slacker because he had no purpose or direction, but who came through for his friend in what could have been the most humiliating way - and was therefore a real hero to them.

I don't "blame Hollywood" .. but I do feel that media influences people -- especially kids -- in intended and unintended ways when a vulnerable, needy individual is exposed to it.

Intended .. through advertising. Commercials and ads want to affect your behavior and actions -- to buy their products. Many companies enjoy a healthy bottom line because of their advertising.

Unintended through the examples I've already cited.

In the film, The Whole Truth, for which I'm the writer-director-co-producer, I originally included a specific purebred puppy for one of the lead characters because they are *so* unbelievably cute and smart.

I have since replaced that purebred with a rescued mutt puppy from the animal shelter because I knew puppy mills would go crazy for the purebred, wrecking little pups because of their hateful breeding systems, because kids would want them and while puppies may not be babies, they take a heck of a lot of attention, socializing and training to live happily ever after.

Most dogs end up in shelters because they are brought home as puppies, not socialized or trained properly and become pests because they've not had enough attention or proper care.

I remember the nightmare of Dalmatians besieging pet shelters because kids wanted one after seeing 101 Dalmatians. They are a special breed, prone to deafness and other problems, so they need special attention.

No doubt the puppy mill runners carelessly bred them as well, creating more physical and psychological problems. When the puppies turned into work? They were literally dumped at shelters all over the world.

The moral of the story in 101 Dalmatians got lost on little minds; they just saw the cute puppies and wanted one.

Should that film not have been made?

Of course not .. but parents needed to help their kids understand that any puppy is in need of lots of time, care and attention. Especially feeding, watering and picking up their poop. That would have been a great problem-solving exercise for kids to understand whether they were ready to get a dog, because the vast majority of people who bought those puppies couldn't handle them when they grew up.

So they took them to shelters (or worse - released them alongside country roads) that had to euthanize them because there were too many to care for; rescue facilities were already overcrowded.

In short, these films make great family discussions and can lead to some very positive interactions and actions by the kids. If kids want a puppy after seeing our film, at least they've seen how much care they need.

Without these discussions, kids will see what they want to see, hear what they think they hear and take actions that may well not be in their best interests.

Something to consider. Feel free to respond!

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