The Nation's Pulse

The Knock on Knocked Up

Out of wedlock pregnancy can't expect a Hollywood ending.

By 6.19.07

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Director Judd Apetow's new hit comedy Knocked Up appears to have struck some conservative chords. Writing in the current National Review, Ross Douthat calls the movie "a clear-eyed, hopeful, and hilarious celebration of doing the right thing." It "is exactly the sort of social conservatism we need," he concludes.

The movie (SPOILER ALERT) centers on Allison Scott (played by Katherine Heigl) an ambitious, successful young woman, and Ben Stone (Seth Rogan), a slacker-stoner. Allison and Ben hook up after a night of drunken partying at a club. A few weeks later, Allison discovers she is pregnant. Happily, both she and Ben eschew the abortion option. And, eventually, Ben dumps the stoner lifestyle, gets a job, and helps provide for Allison and the baby.

It is the decision to see the pregnancy through and Ben's acceptance of his fatherhood responsibilities that have some conservatives pleased. NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, while ambivalent about the movie, nevertheless states, "That's the refreshing part of the movie: There's no question it embraces life. If you stretched optimism a little bit further you would see some kind of ode to marriage in it."

While I found Knocked Up to be quite funny, I was much less enthused about it than some of my fellow travelers on the right. Whatever pro-life, pro-fatherhood message the movie may have is overshadowed by the way it portrays out-of-wedlock pregnancy. I doubt that most women in that condition are much like Allison Scott. Rather, they tend to be more like Anne and Lisa (not their real names), two young women I knew when I lived in Iowa.

Anne came to move into the apartment underneath mine because the church that both she and my landlords attended asked my landlords if they could help her. They agreed, a decision they would later regret.

When I first met Anne, she already had two kids, a girl and a boy, and was pregnant with her third. Each child, including the one that was not yet born, had a different father. The more I talked to her, the more it became apparent that she was unhappy with the way her life was turning out. "I guess this is what happens when you get pregnant at sixteen," she once told me. When she gave birth to her third, she was only 21.

Unfortunately, the only one of the fathers that was around was the father of the boy. He can be best described as an abusive knuckle-dragger. It was common for me to hear him yelling at her when I left for work in the morning and when I came home in the evening. It wasn't long before I began calling the police. They would come, make him leave, after which he would come back. According to Anne, he was 27, had never had a job, and had told Anne that it was her job to take care of him. Finally, the intervention of the landlords stopped him from coming around.

At one point her used car was repossessed by the owner for her failure to keep up on the payments. Feeling sorry for her, and not wanting to see her kids suffer, I loaned her $450 to get the car back. She paid me back only $50 before she skipped town. Sometimes there is a fine line between compassion and stupidity.

My compassion began to wane as, among other things, she let her friends hang around at all hours and let her garbage pile up in the garage we shared. It ran out the day that her government welfare check accidentally ended up in my mailbox. "Nice," I thought to myself, "she gets to have the kids and I get to pay for them."

The landlords finally evicted Anne after she failed to pay the rent. A few months later, her name showed up in the newspaper for being arrested for theft. Rumor had it that she had developed a drug habit and that the authorities had taken away her kids.

Sadly, it was more than just a rumor. The last time I saw Anne, I was out for my morning jog. I saw her heading toward the Salvation Army drug treatment center. It took me a few seconds to recognize her as her skin was very pale and there were dark circles under her eyes. And here's the kicker: she was obviously pregnant with number four!

Lisa was a waitress I met at a casino where I used to play poker. A sweet young woman, she went to college when she wasn't working. However, she also had a wild side and she got a boyfriend who ended up getting her pregnant.

When I first saw her showing, I pretended to act happy for her. We spoke for a few minutes, and she said that she was moving in with her boyfriend. "I also want to stay in college and finish a degree," she told me.

For the next few months I was too busy to go down to the casino. When I next saw Lisa, her best-laid plans had gone astray. Her boyfriend was a drunk and she had moved back in with her parents. She no longer had any time to attend college, and was now spending all of her savings on an attorney to make certain that her boyfriend would pay child support.

I saw Lisa one more time before I left Iowa. Her then two-year-old son was developing behavior problems and she was seeking therapy for him. She was going out with her girlfriends after work that day. She planned on doing some drinking, and was going to "let go" about her problems with her girlfriends.

Thanks to both the sexual revolution and the "Great Society" welfare programs, this nation has seen a huge rise in illegitimacy. Worse, Hollywood, through shows like Murphy Brown and Friends and celebrities like Madonna, has glamorized this social tragedy. Getting pregnant out of wedlock is something that hip, successful women do without suffering any serious consequences.

Knocked Up only reinforces that message. In the movie, Allison Scott is a successful television producer for E!, and she is just beginning to host her own show when she gets pregnant. But the pregnancy actually helps her career; viewers like her pregnancy, and E!'s executives want to make the most of it. In the real world, of course, Allison probably wouldn't have such a happy fate. As much research has demonstrated, there are few ways that will more likely lock a young woman into a life of poverty than getting pregnant before she is married.

Yet Knocked Up takes the wrong message up a notch. Not only is out-of-wedlock pregnancy something that is associated with successful women, it also turns slovenly losers like Ben Stone into responsible fathers. That's not a message that is likely to do much good. Rather, we should want young, single women to be aware that the men most likely to get them "knocked up" are also most likely to be bums who will abandon their charges.

After all of the dreck that Hollywood has inundated us with over the years, it is hard to find fault with my fellow conservatives for being enthused about Knocked Up. One feels a great sense of relief to finally see a film that has messages that are pro-life and pro-fatherhood. Unfortunately, it still sends the wrong message on out-of-wedlock pregnancy. It tells young, unassuming women that Allison Scott is what getting pregnant outside of marriage is like, when in reality they are far more likely to suffer the fate of Anne and Lisa.

David Hogberg is a Washington writer and host of the website Health Hog.

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.