Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Be Careful not to Muff this One, Matt

I've got very little in the way of what I'd call regular television viewing habits, at least outside of baseball season, but in the past few months I've become a regular watcher of A Baby Story on TLC. It's a sort of cross between a medical drama, a hallmark hall of fame shlock story, and reality TV. The format is pretty simple: they follow around a woman about to give birth, through her labor, and into the early stages of recovery. Sometimes there are complications, of course. Some of them are cute (big babies, twins, etc.), and some of them are gruesome (a baby born with all his intestines on the outside of his body, 24-week preemies, etc.)

While they all come out fine in the end -- no stories ending in infant death make it to air -- the variety of gruesome grimaces of women in labor, grey and bloody babies, surgical incisions for C-sections, puffy relatives screaming, dazed dads trying to film the whole process, and other completely awful and disgusting moments is seemingly inexhaustible. That's why I watch it so much -- I'm preparing.

But get this -- while they'll show, obviously with the families' consent, all the gruesome blood and effluvia of birth, anytime just a hint of vagina comes into the frame, POOF! the frame is fuzzed out. For privacy? You can hardly get less private than sharing the labor and birth process with a cable audience. To avoid prurient appeal? Give me a break -- you couldn't get less appealing. To avoid grossing out the odd person who has turned into this show who has never seen a vagina? Right, and the baby with his intestines on the outside of his body wasn't gross.

Yes, the only explanation I can come up with is the obvious one. The bizarre American double-standard about showing certain parts of the human body having to do with reproduction -- taken to its most ludicrous extreme in a show entirely about reproduction.

As an aside, you can really glom onto the demographic this show appeals to by looking at the other shows that surround it. There's "A Dating Story", with, you guessed it, real-life ride-alongs on dates and courtships leading up to engagement; and 'A Wedding Story', all about each couple's storybook wedding, leading up to the birth of a cute baby (although the latter are frequently without a father present, and inevitably focus on the mother, not the baby of the title, in the way the stories are presented as a POV.)

This leads me, as an expectant parent, to search the listings for what would presumably be useful programs like 'A Diaper Story', 'A Colic Story', 'A Stubborn Rash Story', 'A Screaming Tantrum Story', etc. but they are not to be found. The whole Dating-Wedding-Baby story ('First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes XXX in a baby carriage', etc.) isn't educational TV: it's a romance cycle, like romance novels. Part of the romance of the 'Baby Story' that involves the blood and suffering is included, but god forbid the genitals enter the framework, much like much thrusting and heaving is suggested in a Harlequin but no descriptions of the organs doing the thrusting and heaving and secreting and oozing.

But, I still watch the 'Baby Story' shows as long as I'm getting ready. I figure a gauzy version is better preparation than nothing.

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