When I read that our blogger friends at Jezebel.com started a PayPal account for a “college fund” to help Catelynn and Tyler, the teens who gave their daughter up for adoption on “16 and Pregnant,” my heart melted a little bit. “Catelynn and Tyler have won us over, exhibiting strength and maturity in the face of hardship, and they’ve expressed a desire to continue their schooling,” wrote blogger Tracie Egan Morrissey. “So we’ve decided to raise some cash for their college education.” Who doesn’t watch those kids’ awful parents — Tyler’s dad, Butch, who is in and out of prison; Catelynn’s mom, who is nasty to Catelynn for not keeping her baby — without wanting to get them outta there? Anyone whose left their own family drama behind them knows it takes a certain amount of money for a young person to extricate himself or herself from their parents. I don’t know how much they’re paid by MTV to appear on “Teen Mom.” So, hell, if Jezebel wants to help these kids out some more, show me where I can donate.
But my colleague Julie couldn’t disagree more. Julie’s also a “16 & Pregnant”/”Teen Mom” fan and her soft spot for Catelynn and Tyler is just as big as mine. But she questions Jezebel.com’s motives for starting a PayPal college fund in the first place. Not to mention the fact that they’re just doing it for Catelynn and Tyler—not the others on the show.
So Julie and I did what we always do around The Frisky when we disagree: we had a catfight! After the jump, the hair will fly!Jessica: So, I think the college fund for Catelynn and Tyler on “Teen Mom” is a great idea. Whether it’s used for college or some other kind of vocational training, it’s a worthy cause. Those two kids have so much against them that I’m sure they appreciate whatever help they can get. I’m more sympathetic to Tyler and Catelynn, too, because they haven’t really been on the cover of magazines as often as Farrah, Amber and Maci have. They don’t seem as interested in tabloid fame, you know?
Julie: Well, that’s debatable. They’ve been on the cover of People mag, at least. And have definitely been in the other tabloids, if not cover subjects. There’s no doubt that Tyler and Catelynn have dealt with a lot of crap in their young lives — and that they probably have some of the worst parents around. I wholeheartedly believe that they are good kids in terrible circumstances. And I am not in disagreement with the idea of creating a college fund for them. However, something about this particular effort rings hollow to me. And there are several reasons for that: 1) it seems like a publicity gambit for Jezebel more than anything to me, and 2) it strikes me as odd that a fund is being created solely for Catelynn and Tyler when several other “Teen Moms” are also struggling to pursue their educations. It seems strange to me that because Tyler and Catelynn are “likeable” they’re more deserving of our support.
Jessica: Well, Catelynn and Tyler seem to me like they’re less press-hungry than the others. You may be right; they may have done tabloid covers, too, but I don’t see them on tabloid covers nearly as much as the others. The other “Teen Mom” girls have been dominating the covers for the past month or so with all these little tidbits about their lives: Amber might be losing her baby to Child Services; Farrah might be pregnant again, whatever. I think Catelynn and Tyler are more sympathetic for that reason. But as far as there being lots of youngsters who are deserving? I think people want to help people they feel like they know. It’s one thing to give money to a charity and know you’re helping a nameless, faceless entity. It’s another to feel like you know Catelynn and Tyler from TV, care about them and want to help them better their lives.
Julie: I guess I am troubled by making a valuative judgment at all about who is more deserving than anyone else — especially based on tabloid covers. But this also doesn’t get to the root. This whole well-meaning thing was set up with no restrictions on how money would be spent, and is not even set up like an actual charity — meaning donations are not tax deductible.
Jessica: Well, nothing is stopping you from creating a fund for Amber or Farrah or Maci.
Julie: It seems hastily created, and slightly manipulative.
Jessica: Why do you think it’s manipulative?
Julie: Because it plays on the fact that, 1) these people are people whose narratives we’ve come to know and feel invested in, and 2) it strikes me as not solely charitable — this has an element of wanting to get publicity because it’s also controversial. I’m not saying that there isn’t something good about it — of course Tyler and Catelynn have a compelling story, and are really impressive kids (for having been given a story arc that shows them as such) — I too have been drawn into their story and their ultimate desire to make something better for themselves.
Jessica: I think your point that the college fund has “an element of wanting to get publicity because it’s also controversial” is an interesting one.
Julie: This seems like an ill-planned venture with not entirely pure intentions.
Jessica: Well, we don’t know Jezebel’s intentions. I’m willing to give ‘em the benefit of the doubt.
Julie: We don’t, we can only examine them in the context of other things that they’ve done. See, I’m not [giving them the benefit of the doubt], because I see a lot of what they do to be purely about page views. (Example: the Duke “F*ck List” debacle.)
Jessica: But if the end result is to give charity money away, what’s the problem?
Julie: Well, as I mentioned, 1) they are not set up as a charity, and so a portion of whatever people will donate will get taxed through Gawker Media [Jezebel's parent company], and then again as Tyler and Catelynn receive it. They didn’t bother to do it the right way.
Jessica: It’s not like Jezebel stands to profit off it. To me, the soft drinks and makeup and yogurt companies that “pinkwash” their products during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and then only give a portion of the proceeds to charity are more icky.
Julie: They don’t stand to profit, LITERALLY, per se, but this will garner them plenty of publicity and to that end, it’s not an altruistic act. It just smacks uncomfortably of publicity stunt to me.
Jessica: Well, you can’t blame Jezebel for not being set up as a charity. They’re not a charity; they’re a blog. They can’t just start a Send “Teen Moms” to College 501c3. What would have been your ideal way to do it? Or do you firmly believe they should not have done it at all?
Julie: I don’t know. I just know that in my gut it seems less than altruistic. And poorly planned. But! That said, I do think they are good kids that deserve more from life. And I hope they get it. But I also hope that for any of those “Teen Mom” kids — who are all in somewhat crap circumstances trying to make the best of their situations.
Jessica: I can see why you could view it as less than altruistic, but I don’t know that there has to be a purity test for altruism. Agreed. I do wonder how Maci, etc., feel now that they know people are donating money for the other kids. That probably makes them feel a little crappy.
Julie: But it’s also like, you know what … these kids are all just characters of themselves. That’s the nature of reality TV and so it seems weird to be giving money to a character.
Jessica: You’re getting meta, Julie.
Julie: Reality TV is meta.
Jessica: Catelynn and Tyler seem more genuine than most people on reality TV. Of course, it remains to be seen how they turn out. For all we know, Jezebel could give them the money and they blow it on a flatscreen TV and strippers. Any act of charity is sort of a leap of faith, though. You trust that the people you give the money to are going to use it as it was intended.
Julie: True. My issue is not with trusting them to do the best with the money. You’re right — you never know what will happen with money you give.
Jessica: Well, what’s done is done. So we’ll just see what happens?