author – activist – faculty – mom
As some of you know, I watch the TV show “Nashville,” (executive producer Callie Khouri, the filmmaker of Thelma and Louise). In all my small screen watching, I’m always on alert for portrayals of reproductive issues, and this season’s “Nashville” made my kvetch list. [SPOILER ALERTS] In a recent plotline, ascending music star Scarlett O’Connor (played by Clare Bowen) gets pregnant. She is a rising music star in a performing duo with and her on-again off again boyfriend Gunnar (Sam Palladio). From the moment she became pregnant, I knew she was going to have a miscarriage. I assumed as much, because the show already has one baby, and the reality of her situation would be totally torpedoed by the reality of raising a child. The other mom is Juliette (Hayden Panettiere), the established superstar who can still have a career. Scarlett, the emerging artist? Not so much.
Part of the plot line has to do with Scarlett and Gunnar as sort of star-crossed lovers, for whom something is always getting in the way. In this case, it was a pregnancy. And everything about the circumstances of her getting pregnant were less than optimal: Scarlett was ambivalent about the relationship, the pregnancy was unplanned, it happened at a time when it could totally sabotage her career, and most challenging of all, Gunnar wasn’t the father. She had gotten pregnant during a one-night-stand with a narcissistic British video director. So the pregnancy threatened everything she had built with Gunnar, in their romantic partnership and their shared career.
In the story, Tabloids revealed the pregnancy and the fans got excited, idealizing the couple. But then she was exposed as being pregnant by someone other than Gunnar, and the gossip mills attacked her. There’s a scene during the pregnancy where she and Gunnar put together a crib in a TV commercial, and Scarlett breaks down in hysterical tears because she’s so distraught about the overall pregnancy situation.
And yet, a short while later when she has a miscarriage, suddenly it is a situation in which she feels unmitigated grief. Now hear me clearly, I understand that the character had accepted her pregnancy, and seen the baby on the ultrasound, and had gotten excited about the life growing in her. But how is it, that faced with the loss of her baby, all her feelings of distress or even ambivalence about the pregnancy are conveniently erased, and the only feeling is terrible heartbreak?
I see this as part of the consistent erasure of abortion politics from mainstream media. Scarlett’s character is deeply traditional and self-sacrificing. I can buy that she wouldn’t do what most rising stars would do—have an abortion. However, it seems unbelievable that there would be no sense of relief to accompany the grief. Given her traditional morals, she might even feel guilty about that sense of relief.
In addition I take issue with certain directorial choices that sentimentalize the pregnancy, such as close ups on the tiny pink booties and the box in which Scarlett puts away all the baby stuff. It is as if they have superimposed the storyline of a turning-forty wife who’s been trying to get pregnant and this is her last chance. Scarlett is a not-yet-thirty musician, with decades of fertility ahead of her. The show even has a barely plausible situation in which a woman finds out what happened and randomly appears to talk with Scarlet about the secret pain of miscarriage.
And I know this pain is real. I have held friends as they grieved over miscarriages of pregnancies that were planned and desperately wanted. And I have also held friends as they grieved over miscarriages of pregnancies that were unplanned and inconvenient. And it has been my observation that the latter case brings a tangle of emotions beyond simple grief.
Like the pregnancy test commercials where the tired woman is sitting in the messy house with many children already, and is ecstatic that her test has come back positive. I don’t totally buy it. How come, when it comes to the unborn, the only acceptable emotion is gleeful welcome? How come the only acceptable emotional tone at the termination of a pregnancy is tragedy? Are the feminist writers of Nashville slipping? Or is the anti-abortion right wing so powerful that they censor themselves out of sheer self-preservation? Either way, I found the storyline disappointing and conservative. Yet I did appreciate the way that Scarlett finishes her grieving process. She takes a self-defense class and finally taps into her rage. She kicks the ass of the padded male instructor. While this doesn’t redeem the show, it does offer enough feminist imagery and storytelling, that I will most likely keep watching.