It Rhymes with Smashsmortion

Curator's Note

Like millions of other Americans, last weekend I went to see Knocked Up, the new movie from Judd Apatow. As you no doubt already know, the film is about what happens when beautiful and successful Allison (Katherine Heigl) is impregnated by schlubby and unemployed Ben (Seth Rogan) after a decidedly ill-considered one-night stand. The film barely considers any possibilities for Allison other than having the baby and raising it with Ben--for better or for worse. Indeed, the word abortion is never uttered, except euphemistically, as in the title of this post. As Avi reminded me, Knocked Up isn't the only recent media text where abortion isn't considered as an option for women even in dire circumstances--for example, the current indie hit Waitress, and even more distressingly, Lost, where abortion isn't even mentioned as an alternative to certain death for pregnant women on the island. It's interesting to contrast this silence on abortion in 2007, especially in Knocked Up--which is otherwise frank and explicit--to the clip from Maude that Susan Murray presented on this blog a couple of months ago. As a critical rhetorical scholar, I can’t ignore that Knocked Up (and Lost and Waitress) contributes to a political environment in which abortion is too controversial even to talk about (not to mention the other potentially patriarchal aspects of the film), even as I found it to be smart and funny in other respects (but perhaps somewhat overrated). So, I’m interested to hear from others--did anyone else experience this tension while watching the film? Is anyone avoiding the film because of its implicit politics? Anyone read it as a feminist film in disguise?


Yes... It is an interesting contrast to, for example, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," (1982) in which the character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh considers no recourse for her pregnancy *but* an abortion. The consequences of which are not presented as more serious than a cost of $150 and needing a ride home from the clinic. A bit more complex treatment of the subject (strange to say) involves the quack abortion performed in "Dirty Dancing." The choice was perceived as correct for the character, but the details were horrific, arguing (one might say) for our current safe, legal procedures rather than the history that is portrayed in the film. I was surprised to hear that the film so briefly touched on the subject of abortion... but, then again, it is a comedy that relies on the pregnancy for most if not all of the jokes. A deep consideration of a complex alternative might be too much to expect.

Like you, I found this scene to be one of the more interesting moments in the film. I'm wondering, though, to what extent it might be a commentary on the limitations of the Hollywood ratings system and the degree to which it prevents abortion from being discussed in anything other than an R-rated film (if then). The film itself was frustrating, and I especially found the depiction of the wife to be rather unsympathetic--as if her primary purpose was to prevent Paul Rudd from playing fantasy baseball and having fun, in much the same way that Year of the Dog seemed to be relatively unsympathetic towards Laura Dern's character.

Dana Stevens of Slate has some interesting things to say about smashsmortion here. Now that you mention it, the Leslie Mann and Laura Dern characters do have quite a lot in common. Mann's character is fairly incoherent--the same woman who freaks out about her husband playing fantasy baseball apparently goes clubbing with her sister on an at least semi-regular basis.

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