the polemics of "Juno"

There’s an interesting debate surrounding Juno, and it’s not whether Diablo Cody is guilty of overwriting the dialogue. The debate is more political in nature, centering on the endless controversy that is abortion, adoption, and teenaged pregnancy. Over at Alternet, Ellen Goodman gets in a tizzy over what she perceives as an appropriation of Juno as an anti-abortion poster girl:

we are in the midst of an entire 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 cinematic world without complication. Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that's never chosen. In Knocked Up it was referred to as "shmashmortion." In Juno the abortion clinic looks like a punk-rock tattoo parlor.

Perusing film reviews and discussion boards will expand on Goodman’s point, which is that Juno is an argument tailored for the (irritatingly named) pro-life side of the politico-cultural divide. But I think Amanda Marcotte, responding to this piece by a blogger named Publius, gets the conclusion right in her piece, "Sorry Anti-Choicers! 'Juno' Is Neither an Anti-Abortion or Pro-Adoption Polemic," although she doesn’t offer an explanation better than

Contrary to the many anti-choice hopes out there, the movie isn't an anti-abortion or pro-adoption polemic; on the contrary, it was a coming-of-age comedy plus teenage romance with teenage pregnancy as the hook.

The most critical reason why some see Juno as a polemic against abortion comes from misusing inductive reasoning and universalize individual situations. If a celebrity drinks a particularly drink, we should all drink it. If the cool kid does, so should we. If a woman is on the receiving end of a cumshot in a porno flick, then all women are being degraded. If Juno decides against having an abortion, we should all choose against having abortions. Of course, the second half of the previous sentences do not follow logically from the first halves; interpreting the individual to be symbolic of the whole is the problem with finding – that is, creating – a greater meaning in a particular story or event. In other words, and to use a bad metaphor, Juno is smoking a cigar that isn’t a phallic symbol.

Even if we granted that Juno could sensibly be layered with politics, a pro-life (or anti-choice) perspective isn’t necessarily the movie’s spin unless you severely distort the pro-choice position. I don’t know who advocates treating abortions like ear piercings, or who believes that abortions are “good” things. Pro-choice isn’t necessarily pro-abortion, but pro the individual’s right to make individual moral decisions – decisions that may involving choosing abortion over giving birth. Frankly, if a girl has a supportive and positive environment like Juno does and decides to have the baby, the response would be: rock on. Why not? It seems a far better situation to have a baby in than being pregnant without any kind of support, whether economic or familial. If anything, the film illustrates the right to choose, and as mistaken as it is to treat the film like a pro-life polemic, it’s also rather disingenuous to complain about exercising a choice by choosing to give birth rather than have an abortion.

All that’s a digression, though, a product of overthinking and overinterpreting. Maybe its in the pattern-seeking nature of our brain’s function, but we seem to be stuck with the bad habit of creating meaning where none is necessary.

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