Last week, Amber Portwood-star of MTV reality series Teen Mom and female answer to Chris Brown-went to court to face up to three felonies for domestic abuse and neglect. While speaking to the judge, Portwood had to fess up about her occupation and salary, declaring herself a television personality who nets $280,000 a year. Oh. My God.
I’ve always wondered how the impoverished stars of Teen Mom stay so…impoverished. After all, it’s one of MTV’s top-rated shows, averaging 2.4 million viewers an episode. Recently, Jezebel even started a Teen Mom college fund for stars’ Catelynn and Tyler, ultimately raising the couple $15,000. Even though the effort was honorable and well-inentioned, it should’ve been MTV’s job to provide for its stars. These girls are exposing every embarrassing detail of their life to millions of viewers each week. We watch them struggle to pay rent and provide for their newborn babies. After hearing Amber’s admission though, is it really all a hoax? Is MTV having them pretend they’re poor to make good television? It would certainly be in their best interest to do so. Watching teenage mothers struggle financially is sad yet familiar. Watching them buy a Mercedes and a house in Brentwood, however, would be bizarre and defeat the purpose of the show, which is (I think) to show the consequences of making such a reckless decision. A Mercedes isn’t a consequence, right?
The situation reminds me (on a much less dramatic scale) of The Hills. By the third or fourth season, Lauren Conrad and Audrina Patdrige were making millions of dollars a year in endorsements and appearances. However, we had to adopt a suspension of disbelief when we still watched Audrina answer the phones at Epic Records and Lauren steam dresses as an intern at People’s Revolution. In reality, Lauren Conrad already had her own clothing line. The irony was intense. The everyday girls who were trying to make it in L.A. became successful by starring in a reality show about everyday girls trying to make it in L.A. The premise rebelled against itself and played a role in the sharp downturn in ratings.
It has yet to be determined whether the news of Amber’s generous compensation will have any affect on the show. Probably not. But when I see footage of Amber still working at the local tanning salon and going to her crappy apartment in Craptown, USA, her hardships will have less meaning for me. Because you know the second those cameras are off, she’s going straight to her real home-a split-level in the nice neighborhood-and having a nice big glass of wine.