My thoughts on a recent interview on Vulture.
With things like interracial marriage, or gay marriage, or immigration rights, or any number of things, you can see big opinion shifts in America in the span of a few years or even months sometimes. But it seems like Americans have made their mind up on abortion. Why is abortion so hard to move the needle on?Vulture, What TV and Movies Can Tell Us About Abortion — and What They Can’t. https://www.vulture.com/article/abortion-p-valley-katori-hall-into-it-podcast.html
SH: There are a couple things going on. With a lot of those other issues you mentioned, the movements have really been about supporting people for who they are, right? Marriage equality is like, You love who you love. Immigration? You know somebody who comes from an immigrant family. Those issues are very much about who people are, and loving them no matter what. But abortion is something you do, it’s not who you are. Even when it comes to portrayals of abortion onscreen.
“Those issues are very much about who people are…abortion is something you do.”
While this is technically true, abortion is often portrayed as a character-defining decision in media. In this interview Steph Herold explains that people in silent films who had abortions were vilified, and that today’s TV stories show people accessing it much more easily than is possible in life. In addition: “the type of characters who have abortions on TV are very different than real-life abortion patients: white, wealthy, not raising kids. It’s a big departure from reality, where the majority of abortion patients are people of color, struggling to make ends meet, raising kids.”
Of course having an abortion doesn’t change who a person is, but historically, television has made it out to be that way. What do we know about Penny from Dirty Dancing?
I rest my case.
Instead, what if we made these abortion stories very simple? We do this by showing people in movies (and books!) that know instinctively, easily, without a lot of drama, that they do not want to be mothers or even to be pregnant. Abortions don’t need to be preceded by drama, carried out under dangerous conditions, and followed by emotional turmoil. They can be a pill a woman receives when she realizes she is pregnant and doesn’t want to be, and then she can go on living her life as normal. How many of these stories have you seen?
I’ve seen stories that are more true to life recently in literature, which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Two that spring immediately to mind are An American Marriage and The Mothers. These stories are very different from, say, Revolutionary Road, but they are also a product of their time and place. I wonder what plot lines will look like in years to come.