BOSTON -- I hate to release my inner fuddy-duddy this early in the year. So I'll blame this rant on having spent the last afternoon of 2007 in a movie theater with a bag of popcorn and a row of tweens.
I went to see Juno, the indie comedy about a hip and sarcastic 16-year-old who gets pregnant after what she calls "premeditated sex." In a rush of wit and grit, she decides not to have an abortion and picks a couple to adopt the baby. The story waddles inevitably to a happy ending and a slew of reviews praising the film for skewering the pieties of both sides of the family values debate.
I enjoyed this the way you enjoy the bubbly on New Year's Eve that leaves you with a hangover the next morning. I had the sense of being co-opted.
Please allow me a fuddy-duddy disclaimer. I am aware that reel life is not real life. Zoey 101 is not, alas, Jamie Lynn Spears. And Juno isn't meant to be a documentary. But we are in the midst of a wave of movies about unexpectedly pregnant women - from Knocked Up to Waitress to Bella - all deciding to have their babies and all wrapped up in nice, neat bows.
In Knocked Up, pregnancy from a one-night drunken stand transforms a slacker babydaddy into a grown-up. In Waitress, pregnancy empowers a woman to escape from Husband Wrong to Mr. Right. And in Bella, it's the belly that leads her into the heart of a warm Latino family. Here is a world without complication. Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that's never chosen.
Sitting behind those tweens, I wondered what was being absorbed through their PG-13 pores.
Need I remind you of the news that teenage pregnancy rates have gone up for the first time since 1991? It's expected that 750,000 teenage girls will get pregnant this year. We've spent about $1 billion on the taxpayer scam known as abstinence education. And Jamie Lynn Spears announced her pregnancy, saying, "I was in complete and total shock, and so was he."
I don't want to return to those wonderful yesteryears when Dan Quayle took on Murphy Brown. But we're navigating some pretty tricky cultural waters here.
On the one hand, liberals who want teens to have access to contraception and abortion don't want to criticize single mothers. On the other hand, conservatives who want teens to be abstinent until marriage applaud girls who don't have abortions.
There's an unstated compromise that historian Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College sees being acted out by the culture: "Social conservatives are backing off on the condemnation of single mothers. Social liberals are backing off on the idea that it's possible to have an abortion and not be ruined by it." This is best expressed by Hollywood, which wants to be all things to all audiences.
Is it still OK to ask whether this cultural "compromise" ends up compromising the future of those kids in my theater?
Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is email@example.com.