Thursday, June 28, 2012

Conflict is fun!

Even when it's not being presented Matrix-style. (source)

A few weeks ago, I posted about the number of writers that admit an addiction to (or at least a love for) reality TV. Most reality shows (well, at least the ones I like to watch) are trashy, shallow...and not real at all. Yet for every person who complains about the amount of coverage the Kardashians get, there's another one who glues themselves to the TV screen every week to see what shenanigans, real or imagined, predictable or unpredictable, the famous clan will get into next. Sometimes those people are the same.

I have to admit, baby Mason is pretty cute. (source)

But two of the most controversial reality shows of the past decade (and two of my favorites) are 16 and Pregnant and its spin-off, Teen Mom. The former highlights the trials and tribulations of various pregnant teenagers, and the latter highlights the continuing years of motherhood for a select few of the girls (another show, Teen Mom 2, follows girls from the later seasons of 16 and Pregnant, and a Teen Mom 3 is planned for the season that just aired). Because the focus of the show is, naturally, the pregnant girls, they are generally (though not always) portrayed as the good guys -- the girl next door, the ambitious go-getter, or even the poor, naive victim. Just like any reality show (and even in the world of celebrity), producers will sometimes go to great lengths to uphold an image for a girl.

Take, for example, Teen Mom cast member Maci Bookout. Maci, like, me, is a Southern girl; she was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, no doubt amongst plenty of sweet tea and Baptist revivals. As a pregnant teen (and, later, a mom), Maci was an all-American girl. A popular cheerleader ambitious enough to finish high school early, with significantly fewer money problems than many teen moms, fans identified with Maci and sympathized with her when Ryan, her baby daddy-slash-fiancé, appeared less than thrilled at the prospect of being a husband and father. Even after they split for good when their son, Bentley, was a year old, Maci continued to mourn their relationship and Ryan's apparent lack of fathering skills. And mourned it. And mourned it. And mourned it...until most of us were like this:

Fittingly, the caption on the original photo  is "just shoot me now." Yep, that sums it up.

Post-breakup, Maci found a new man and moved him in after just a few months of dating. She later criticized Ryan for going out during his weekends with Bentley, after his bundle of joy was already in bed. Two years later, Maci tagged along on Ryan's family vacation and promptly dragged his new girlfriend through the mud, purposefully intimidating her and criticizing their decision to vacation together after dating for only a few weeks. Because moving in with your boyfriend of a few months is totally better.
A little further digging reveals more incriminating information: Not only does Maci travel frequently, leaving her precious Bentley for weeks at a time, but she's quite the party girl herself. In a scene from the much earlier 16 and Pregnant, Maci laments her then-fiancĂ©'s decision to go out several nights in a row as opposed to spending time at home. A valid concern? Perhaps...or it would be, if it weren't for the blatant black X's across Maci's palm. At this point, she might as well take that permanent marker from the bouncer and write "I'm a hypocrite!" across her forehead.

So what's my point? Sure, criticizing a cast member on a reality show is a questionable way to spend one's time, even if it is technically an escape. But people wouldn't do it if it wasn't some sort of release or form of entertainment for them. A few weeks ago, there was an article on Cracked about why people are driven to negative internet discussions. Long story short: Being positive about something is often seen as a waste of time. And in terms of writing...well, this sort of makes sense.

Imagine a story that went like this: Once upon a time, there was a perfect princess who lived in a big castle, had plenty of money, and always got her way. She was as beautiful as the day is long, and she had plenty of family and friends who loved her and they never fought. 
One day, the princess met a prince from a neighboring kingdom. He was as handsome as the day is long and had just as much money as she did. They met, immediately fell in love, and decided to get married. He moved in with her and they lived happily ever after. They never even argued about money because they both had as much as their hearts desired.

This guy was so bored by that one that he fell asleep in a damn cart. (source)

Not exactly a great story, right? Humans are drawn to conflict because we are imperfect, and conflict is in our nature. Any time a story starts out like the one above, there's generally something beneath the surface. Maybe the prince had a girlfriend he left to marry the beautiful princess. Maybe the princess's family and friends never fought with her because they were all afraid of her and were reduced to being her "yes men." Or maybe there were other problems in the princess's marriage that drove a wedge between her and her husband. Plenty of families have great lives, but you never hear about the good times. You mostly hear about the wives who cracked and shot their husbands...or the teenage daughters that got pregnant at 17.
So next time you're fed up with a conflict and just want to focus on the positives...well, that's not necessarily a bad thing! But remember why people focus on negative things, and turn that negativity into a creative positive.

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