After weeks of rumors, MTV has finally confirmed that Amber Portwood will get her own Behind Bars TV special, shot from inside the Indiana prison where she's serving time. Of course this is the Teen Mom series we're talking about, so controversy over the network's decision was inevitable, but there's one question that needs to end: "Is it inappropriate for MTV to go into a prison just to get an interview with Amber?"
I don't know. Is it inappropriate for any documentary filmmaker to go into a prison to interview a subject? Because like it or not, America, that's what Teen Mom is supposed to be, a documentary-style television show.
It's one that we know is edited and even feels staged at times (just check out the episodes when Catelynn mysteriously gets a perfectly timed phone call from her adoption counselor if you don't believe me), but the fact remains that Teen Mom (and 16 and Pregnant for that matter) are being packaged as documentation of what happens in these girls' lives. The cameras are there, tracking it all so they can relate a story, then packaging it so it's at its most entertaining. Following Amber into prison is the next logical step in telling this story.
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Trouble with the law happens to teen parents too, especially teen parents who buckle under the pressure of having a baby at 16 and turn to opiates as Amber did. By showing what has become of this girl, the producers at Teen Mom have a chance to undo the "glorifying teen pregnancy" image that's come with the popularity of their stars. There's nothing glamorous about five years doing hard time.
As for what message it sends that prison officials would let MTV on the inside, I'm not sure what damage this can really do to Amber. She already voluntarily committed herself to five years in prison rather than kick her drug habit. Got that? VOLUNTEERED herself. She's in the only place left that can help her, and she's got a long, long time to go after the cameras leave.
Even in TV terms, the Behind Bars special will hardly break any barriers. We've see the likes of Matt Lauer or Diane Sawyer going inside to get interviews with Bernie Madoff-types thousands of times on the news. We've seen documentaries like Rikers High that followed kids not much younger than Amber through the high school system at New York's infamous Rikers Island prison. There are even entire reality shows that center around prison life, from the heartwarming Louisiana Lockdown about prisoners working with animals to the grim Lockup about the conditions inside America's more notorious corrections facilities.
Coupled with the additional Teen Mom follow-ups the network is expected to air in October, a look at Amber behind bars is more evidence that MTV isn't ready to let go of their popular cash cow than it is of anything really inappropriate.
Will you be watching Amber Behind Bars: An MTV Special?