by Lisa Wade with Brett Wheeler
In Knocked Up, a one-night stand and an unplanned pregnancy are the fodder for an astoundingly, catastrophically tragic comedy. What's so funny?
An innocent child is forced into an experiment to see if a pot-bellied, pot-smoking, porn-peddler can get his shit together and become a responsible adult. The dad-to-be is an utter loser: he's crass, irresponsible in the extreme, sexist, and incapable of learning from his mistakes. Even his best efforts to impress are miserable failures by any standard. He's not a lovable loser, he's just a loser.
That this moron is called upon to raise a child is the comedic premise of the movie. In pursuit of this premise, the movie capitalizes on the contemporary popularity of gross-out humor in which the unsayable is said for laughs. For example, when the lead character is talking about the dilemma the pregnancy poses, his friend strongly encourages him to keep the baby: "I will be there to rear your child!" Another friend replies, "Look out man, he wants to REAR your child!"
We're so glad that the dying art of infant sodomy humor hasn't been lost to obscurity.
Look. We get it. This is gross-out humor. It's supposed to be disgusting. Mission accomplished. That's not our objection to the movie.
Our objection is this: Knocked Up is not just a silly movie, it's pro-life ideology disguised by dick jokes.
Knocked Up and pro-life activists share the idea that it is always better to raise a child than have an abortion. We learn this from the movie because they (1) associate a pro-abortion stance with unlikable characters (such as the pregnant woman's mother) and (2) romanticize a man's choice to be a father after going (way) out of their way to demonstrate that he is a terrible candidate for fatherhood. It is a sign of how powerfully the religious right owns the notion of morality that we accept that this man can be redeemed by agreeing to raise a mis-conceived child that he never wanted, didn't plan for, can't afford, and doesn't know the first thing about, with a woman who finds him repulsive and distasteful (and rightly so). Like pro-life logic, this movie relies on the idea that keeping a child is always the best thing to do. That is, after all, why we're supposed to be heart-warmed by this gross-out movie in the end.
Is deciding to keep the baby an inherently moral decision? Or might using an innocent child in an attempt to redeem an inveterate slacker be more immoral than not having it at all? Despite our cultural fetishization of biological parenthood, there is no alchemy that turns slacker lead into parenting gold. Having a baby doesn't magically transform your pot habit into a sense of responsibility (or infant-sodomy humorists into good babysitters). Sometimes people shouldn't be parents. (And at no point does anyone suggest adoption, even though there are waiting lists for adoptive couples who actually want a baby.)
The point is not that abortion (or adoption) would have made for better comedy. (Although, if one wanted to make a gross-out comedy, why not make it about abortion?) The point is the insidious pro-life message of the film: Even dope-smoking, misogynist morons (the antithesis of the pro-life contingent) "know" that abortion is wrong. Where does that place those of us who support abortion rights? Or choose to have one? Or (gasp) think that abortion, in some cases, might be good? It is almost unthinkable to identify as pro-abortion. Even adamant pro-choice activists frequently say that abortion is an unfortunate and regrettable necessity. The religious right wins when keeping a baby is always seen as morally superior to having an abortion.
The popularity of the film reveals some of our culture's most unfortunate tendencies: we fetishize biological parenthood, ascribe to the mythology that love conquers all, and have abdicated the realm of moral judgment to the religious right.