Idol Chatter

secretlifeamericanteenpic2.jpgI finally watched episode one of “The Secret Life of an American Teenager,” the new, much advertised and talked about television series that premiered on ABC Family last Tuesday. I know my fellow Idol Chatter blogger Kris is rather outraged about the proliferation of Christian stereotypes that raced across the screen as the show was let out of the gate–and she’s right–the stereotypes abound. And these stereotypes might make you wince a bit.
But I’m not ready to write the show off–or it’s portrayal of Christians, especially teen-aged ones–quite yet.

To start, the show does have just enough of a satirical flare to the tone of all the characters on the show, not just the Christian ones, to at least echo the wonderful “Saved!”–one of my favorite high school films and a warm-hearted but hilarious spoof on evangelical youth culture–though not with nearly the level of humor. At least not yet.
Most of all, though, what intrigued me is how the show is dealing with sex. Full on. More or less without flinching. One of the minor characters’ dialogue includes listing statistics on the frequency of sexual intercourse among high school students in America, and when lead character Amy Juergens tells friends she’s pregnant, they give her rather textbook advice on how she shouldn’t assume the home pregnancy tests are 100% reliable–she needs to see a doctor to confirm and make sure something isn’t wrong, plus she should tell her parents rather than go it alone, since they are going to see the doctor’s bill anyway and aren’t her parents going to find out one way or the other because either she’s pregnant or sick?
And the show is doing its best to tackle the issue of religious belonging, personal and family values in relation to sex–no easy task, but I give them kudos for trying.
Having just conducted a major, national study called “Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses,” what was most startling to me was how familiar all those seemingly stereotypical lines coming out of the characters’ mouths–Christians included–rang true, since I heard men and women both expressing similar opinions, struggles, and dilemmas behind closed doors in the interviews I conducted. Including the very same line that Kris complains about, where the good Christian boyfriend says, with anguish, that he’s not sure how to be a man of God and a man with sexual desires at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that one.
The other thing I found so interesting was how much the first episode was about the difficulty of simply asking someone out–as the school counselor suggests to and eventually convinces Amy’s new admirer, Ben. You have no idea how many students I interviewed talked about how they wished someone would ask them out or that they had the courage to ask someone they liked out–but that having sex just seemed easier than actually inviting someone on a date. I thought to myself, as Ben got up the guts to call Amy and ask her on a date that this show was modeling the desires for old-fashioned dating that so many students expressed longing for behind closed doors in my study.
By no means was the show perfect. But I am really interested to see where it goes. I’d say give it a chance. “Secret Life” is like comprehensive sex education but in a television series. At least so far. And that’s pretty subversive in and of itself.

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