Thumbing through OK! Magazine while standing in line at Wal-Mart, my eyes were etched with shock as I was bombarded with huge fonts and a long article about Jamie Lynn Spears’ baby bump. Is pregnancy some mystical factor of the universe now? Did OK! expose the real mystery of what tilts the earth on a 23 degree angle? I looked up from the periodical to help move my mother’s items on the conveyer belt. I laid the magazine down, making sure not to lose my page. While moving a bag of chips and carrots to the counter, my mother could not resist taking a peek at the open tabloid. Wondering which celebrity brought chaos to the A-list party, she was astounded by the article that met her eyes. A gasp escaped her lips, startling the other customers waiting in line. She hurriedly grabbed the magazine and began reading with furious eyes. She loudly vocalized thoughts of scandal, ‘fast’ teenage girls, and pity. Curious as to what she was reading, an older woman leaning on her cart behind us asked her what all the hubbub was about. Exclaiming, my very surprised mother spread the news. “That girl from Nickelodeon is pregnant, Britney Spears’ little sister, and she is only sixteen.” I scanned the grocery store for the impending stares that we would get for speaking so loudly. The stares were there; however, I noticed quite a few people at the next register went over to the magazine rack and picked up OK! along with other tabloids that featured the story on its cover.
My thoughts quickened as I observed the numerous amount of Wal-Mart regulars converse with their shopping buddies. If this is the reaction in this grocery store, imagine the reactions across America. I must say that I was taken aback as well by the news. It is frowned upon for teenagers to have children, especially below the age of eighteen. What would this pregnancy mean for Jamie Lynn’s career as a child entertainer? What would it mean for Nickelodeon’s image as a child entertainment company?
The actress’ teenage pregnancy highlights the issue of the utilization of teen sexuality that is commonly overlooked in the media. Teenage sexuality is presented to viewers and readers with the straightforward message that sexually active teenagers and teenage pregnancy are a disgrace. However, numerous television programs and movies are centered on providing entertainment to viewers with content that involves these sexually active teens. Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy was a scandal that ultimately opened the door for exposing other teenagers for being sexually active.
Born on April 4, 1991 in McComb, Mississippi, Jamie Lynn Marie Spears grew up in Kentwood, Louisiana. (“Jamie Lynn Spears Biography.”) Her father and mother, a building contractor and a school teacher, had two other children, a boy and a girl who are both older than Jamie Lynn. Her sister, who we all know to be Britney, loved singing and now has a career as a singer. Her brother Bryan grew up to be the co-producer of his youngest sister’s television show Zoey 101. Spears moved to New York City with her family as a young child, in order to establish her sister’s career as a musician. When Britney’s career took off, she idealized her big sister and wanted to have a career in entertainment as well. She was introduced to the acting world when she appeared in Britney’s concert movie Totally Britney Live in 2001. A year later, she was casted for the role as the little girl version of “Lucy” in her sister’s movie Crossroads.
Gaining recognition, the teen idol began to create her own identity as an actress. Appearing on Nickelodeon, the actress starred in various roles in the eighth season of the television series All That. (“Jamie Lynn Spears Biography.”) In 2004, after two seasons on All That, the ambitious teen resigned her role to star in her own television show. Zoey 101, a program about the life of a girl at a boarding school, was a hit series that was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program and a Teen Choice Award in 2005. Jamie Lynn played the main role as Zoey Brooks alongside Nickelodeon stars Victoria Justice, Alexa Nikolas, Erin Sanders, Matthew Underwood, Jennette McCurdy, Sean Flynn-Amir, Paul Butcher, Christopher Massey, Austin Butler, Kristin Herrera, and Roark Critchlow. Being versatile in her career, the young actress sang the theme song of the show, co-writing it as well.
Zoey 101 gave tween viewers something to look forward to when coming home from school. The television show was set around Pacific Coast Academy, a boarding school that previously only accepted boys. Dustin, Zoey’s little brother already attended. She joined him, becoming one of the students of the first class at PCA to include girls. Zoey, who entered the class at the age of 13, had to adapt to living away from her family, attending a new school, and making new friends.
The tween program quickly ascended to popularity as one of Nickelodeon’s top rated shows. Zoey was a role model for viewers. Her character was genuine, friendly, respectable, studious and creative. The producers of the show even brought a special one hour event of a Zoey 101 movie where the cast visited the beach for spring break. The show was such a hit that Nickelodeon made free online games available on the Teen Nick website called Class Note Pass, Puppy Academy, and Gift Shift. (“Zoey 101 Games.”) Zoey 101 ran successfully for four seasons before being jeopardized. Jamie Lynn’s career and future at Nickelodeon would now be in question.
In December of 2007, the famous teen idol sat down in an interview with OK! Magazine and confessed that she was twelve weeks pregnant, not too long after she confirmed the news through a home pregnancy test and a visit to the doctor’s. Casey Aldridge, who she had been dating for two years, would father her unborn child. A high school junior at the time, Jamie Lynn explained in the interview that when she confessed the news to her parents, her mother was “very upset because it wasn’t what she expected at all.” (“Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney’s Sister, is Pregnant.”) Lynn continued further, stating that her daughter had “always been so conscientious. She’s never late for her curfew. I was in shock. I mean, this is my 16 year old baby.” (“Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney’s Sister, is Pregnant.”) It wasn’t until one week later that her mother accepted the pregnancy as a positive factor of her daughter’s life, despite her age. Jamie Lynn confessed to OK! that she waited two weeks after her doctor’s visit to spread the news. She wanted to thoroughly think about a plan that would fit her and her longtime boyfriend without the implications of negative opinions. She and Casey agreed to raise the baby in Louisiana, in order to provide the best chance at a “normal life.” (“Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney’s Sister, is Pregnant.”) However, negative opinions swarmed the media once OK! stocked the shelves with the new issue of the latest news with Jamie Lynn front and center on the cover.
Questions were raised for Jamie Lynn’s career as a child entertainer at Nickelodeon once she made the announcement public. In regards to Nickelodeon, Jamie Lynn admitted to OK! that she had yet to speak to the child entertainment company “personally.” She continued, “…but they have always been so great to me and have given me so many opportunities.” (“World Exclusive: Jamie Lynn Spears.”) The magazine finally asked an unavoidable question that would ultimately shatter her future at Nickelodeon, which targeted the message she might be sending to her young fans about pregnancy and sex at her age. In response, Jamie Lynn stated, “I definitely don’t think it’s something you should do; it’s better to wait. But I can’t be judgmental because it’s a position I put myself in.” (“World Exclusive: Jamie Lynn Spears.”)
The soon-to-be teen mother was bombarded with different reactions in the media. The spokesperson for Nickelodeon issued a statement the Tuesday after the interview was released on December 19, 2007. “We respect Jamie Lynn’s decision to take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation. We know this is a very difficult time for her and her family, and our primary concern right now is for Jamie Lynn’s well being.” (“Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney’s Sister, is Pregnant.”) The company announced the cancellation of the television show just two weeks after the Zoey 101 star reported her news to OK! The final episode of the third season aired on the Friday after the declaration. The filming of the fourth season was already completed, but the decision to air it had yet to be decided. (“Jamie Spears’ TV Show Cancelled…”) After long consideration, the producers of Nickelodeon decided to premiere the fourth season as Zoey’s final goodbye to fans and the company. The company had acknowledged and accepted the numerous critics that reported their comments on the matter of the idol’s pregnancy.
Bonnie Fuller, Founder of Bonnie Fuller Media and a contributor to the Huffington Post, released an article on December 19, 2007 that focused on the negativity of the teen pregnancy and how Jamie Lynn Spears’ mother is responsible. She opens with, “Lynne Spears, what were you thinking? Or not thinking and not doing? Did you never sit down with either of your daughters—Britney, now just turned 26, and the divorced mother of two toddlers or Jamie Lynn, 16 and now three months pregnant—and give them The Talk?” (“Jamie Lynn Spears Pregnant at 16…”) Referring to Britney Spears’ numerous events involving her children and marriage, Fuller goes on to say, “Jamie Lynn won’t be deemed an appropriate role model to continue starring in Nickelodeon’s hit show, Zoey 101. Her character on that show, after all, is smart and savvy and since I’ve watched it a lot, I can say that I doubt her character would be careless enough to get pregnant at 16.” (“Jamie Spears Pregnant at 16…”) Questioning Lynn’s decision to make a profit in her daughters first interview with OK!, the critic ends by stating, “After all, Jamie Lynn’s already pregnant, why not cash in?” (“Jamie Spears Pregnant at 16…”)
Several families shared their thoughts on the subject in a New York Times article. Viscariello, a participator, stated, “There is no excuse not to use contraception.” (Rimer) Others conversed about now having to speak with their children in an age group of 8-12 about sex and contraception. Younginer, another participator, claimed Jamie Lynn to be a role model in the statement, “She was supposed to be one of the good, clean actresses for girls to follow after. I think it just sends an awful message for the young girls.” (Rimer) Akusis, friend of Viscariello, asserted that the teen actress’s character of Zoey was “still a good role model.” (Rimer) Viscariello agreed, stating, “It would be wrong to cancel her program and tell her she can’t come back because she is pregnant,” concluding that the idol should just take time away from the industry to focus on her family. (Rimer)
In response to the comments, Dan Martinsen of Nickelodeon assured fans and critics that the produced content of the company had not changed and still promoted positive television programs for young viewers. In an attempt to address the negativity in the media, Martinsen explained that he and Linda Ellerbee, the host of Nick News, were discussing airing a special about teen pregnancy, which would educate viewers on how to “navigate and interpret and understand it.” (Rimer) Although the program would be created in a positive outlook, D. Hinckley of the Daily News explained that a special about teen pregnancy aired on Nickelodeon would jeopardize the network’s fan base and would alter their reputation for seemingly exploiting the teen idol. (“Nickelodeon Considering Jamie…”)
Jamie Lynn Spears’ pregnancy at such a young age brings to light the issue of teen sexuality in the media. Teen sexuality is frowned upon, in which parents, including the educational system, strive to steer their children away from becoming sexually active until they have reached a mature age. However, these tries have been suppressed by companies that utilize teen sexuality as a form of entertainment. MTV is well known for its reality television programs. It has produced the hit television series Teen Mom, 16 and Pregnant, Engaged and Underaged, Baby High, and True Life, all of which are programs that have included and are dedicated to exploring the consequences of sexually active teenagers.
16 and Pregnant is a perfect example of the utilization of teen sexuality. The series began in June of 2009 premiering as an hour long documentary that focused on the life of one soon-to-be-teen mother who was exhibiting changes physically, emotionally and socially. (“MTVs 16 and Pregnant.”) Episodes of different girls aired every week until the season was complete. MTV is dedicated to providing its young viewers with information in regards to sexual intercourse, hoping viewers everywhere would learn from the documentary and think about being sexually responsible. Although used as a good cause, the program utilizes teen sexuality as a form of entertainment, in order to make a profit.
With 16 and Pregnant such a success, MTV continued to produce three more seasons. Following the first two seasons, Teen Mom aired. Teen Mom was dedicated to following the girls from the first season of 16 and Pregnant and so on. (“Teen Mom.”) This television program explored life after birth, the different circumstances for each teen mother. There were a variety of episodes that revealed supportive families as the new mothers attempted to be responsible and become mature. There were also episodes that revealed alcohol and drug addictions that challenged each individual’s attempt to be more responsible. For example, Janelle Evans appeared in season three of Teen Mom 2. (“Teen Mom.”) Evans struggled with a marijuana addiction that altered her decision making in choosing to be home for her son or smoke with her boyfriend and friends. Fortunately, Evans’ mother took care of her son, forcing Evans to sign over custody until she was fully able to mother her child. MTV has taken the initiative of exposing the consequences of teen pregnancy, a penalty of being sexually active at a young age. Although these television programs are designed to educate the sexually active, they also utilize teen sexuality as a form of entertainment.
ABC Family mimics MTV as the Secret Life of an American Teenager revolves around the life of a teen mother. (“The Secret Life of an American Teenager.”) Amy finds herself pregnant at the age of 15, in which she decides against abortion and adoption. The television show began following Amy; however, other subjects appeared as different focuses, two of which found their selves in Amy’s situation. The main topic that is explored in each episode is either sexual intercourse or the consequences of sexual intercourse. It has been expressed by the subjects in the program, specifically Adrian, that sex is beneficial, ultimately promoting teen sexuality. The matters of teen sexuality being advantageous and disadvantageous are both explored in the program.
The well known movie American Pie is another great example of the utilization of teen sexuality. The teenagers in this film are all ‘sex crazed,’ making a pact to lose their virginity by their high school graduation date. (Weitz) They are exposed to naked women and sex at wild parties. The movies that were produced to follow the first American Pie all focused on the common interest of sexual intercourse, in which the main characters included students under the age of 20, qualifying them as teenagers. American Pie utilizes teen sexuality in a different light. Rather than focusing on the consequences of being sexually active at a young age like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and the Secret Life of an American Teenager, it focuses on teen sexuality as a stepping stone to achieve popularity, women, and adulthood.
One film that includes the negative thoughts and opinions of teen sexuality is Saved! Starring Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin, the film is centered on the life of a teenage girl who attends a catholic high school. (Dannelly) Once the public learned of her pregnancy, she was condemned as a sinner. She received judgment and glares as she passed through the hallways of her school. The principal, also a priest, and a very religious classmate openly expressed their view towards the main character, urging her mother to transfer her to a different high school. This film utilized teen sexuality through a religious stand point, including both views of those who are religious and non religious.
MTVs and ABC Family’s television programs utilize teen sexuality just as much as films like American Pie and Saved! With Jamie Lynn Spears pregnant at the age of sixteen, controversy was conjured in all forms, summoning both views of whether or not Nickelodeon should continue Zoey 101. Representatives of Nickelodeon were forced to give public announcements regarding the matter and to figure out how to dismantle the unwanted attention for their company, as well as for Jamie Lynn. The child entertainment company decided to discontinue the program, in order to avoid the negative views of fans and the media.
Teen sexuality was not regarded as a positive factor during Zoey 101’s existence in 2005 until 2008. The same went for the film Saved!, produced in 2004. (Dannelly) However, American Pie, produced in 1999, did not exert any negative views in regards to sexually active teenagers, more so utilizing them as a form of entertainment. (Weitz) The Secret Life of an American Teenager follows some of the aspects of American Pie. Although the program includes negative and religious views of teen pregnancy and sexuality, it also expresses sexuality in the same light in which American Pie presented it. Multiple characters in the show revealed sex as fulfilling, despite their age. Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy at a young age opened the door for the idea of exposing teen sexuality. Regardless of whether or not it is shown as a negative dynamic, it is utilized in the media for entertainment purposes.
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