Tag Archives: Oprah

The Return of the Pregnant Man

Part 1 of a three-part series: What We Really Need Now is “No”

Just when I had almost purged the memory from my mind, the “pregnant man” re-emerged in the pop culture zeitgeist, and reminded me (as if I needed reminding) that the world is on the brink of losing whatever shred of rational bearings it still has left.

The pregnant man. Oh, the pregnant man. “He” (aka Thomas Beatie, formerly Tracy Beatie) first made waves last spring when (s)he appeared on Oprah, with a beard and a pregnant belly. (S)he gave birth to a baby girl last summer, which (s)he plans to raise with his/her wife/lesbian, Nancy. To read about the sordid biological minutia of all this, just google “Thomas Beatie Pregnant Man.”

On Oprah, Beatie said that whether you are a man or a woman, you have the right to get pregnant and have a baby.

“I feel it’s not a male or female desire to have a child. It’s a human need. I’m a person and I have the right to have a biological child.”

Really? I mean … Really?? Even though it is physically impossible for a male to biologically get pregnant and have a baby, it is somehow still their right to do so?

Is it a right because you say it is a right? Does it follow that whatever one sincerely feels or desires deeply—whether to get pregnant as a man, or perhaps to marry a horse—that it is a “right”? Since when are rights derived from the fickle and variant desires of the individual? Personally, I sincerely, passionately desire that I be able to fly… but even if it became scientifically plausible, I would not ever consider it to be the right or natural thing to do. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should. Clearly, humans were not created to fly. Clearly, men were not created to give birth to babies.

It’s a very western, capitalistic notion, I think: this idea that it is our human right and prerogative to do and be whatever we want. To some extent, it is healthy to champion this “sky is the limit” mentality. But there have to be limits: clear, moral limits that necessarily rely on some sense of transcendent truth. Unbridled capitalism (I think we’d all agree) means trouble, just as a “buy and become whatever you desire” consumer mindset frequently winds up being damaging.

And the same goes for identity. Young generations in the industrialized west have grown up hearing from everyone that they can be whoever they want to be, that their identity is completely within their grasp and is definable by them and them alone. “You are special,” was the message we got from Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, teachers, parents, and presidents. “You can be whoever you want to be. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.”

And of course, when that is what a civilization preaches, it is only a matter of time (and science) before we get things like “the pregnant man.”

How far will we go in this “anything goes” free-for-all before we collectively recognize that there must be limits? We’ve set a moral course and precedent that relies on dangerous precepts—that something is permissible if 1) it is sincerely or passionately felt to be one’s “right,” 2) it doesn’t directly hurt anyone else, and 3) it is scientifically possible.

My sense is that younger generations will be the first to rebel against this “all is permissible” mindset. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are going to be (I think) the last generations to actively push this “you can and should do whatever you think is right” fallacy. In my experience, kids these days are fatigued by hearing “yes you can!” from every direction. They recognize the lack of authenticity and sustainability inherent in this overpopulated forest of yeses. They are desperately longing for limits, for someone—anyone—to tell them “No!” We’ve gone up the postmodern mountain and over the hump, and now (I think) we are cautiously coming down on the other side.

Transmedia Superstars

When Scarlett Johansson announced she was going to release an album of Tom Waits cover songs, she was just the latest in a long line of celebrities who have “crossed over” from one media form to another—in her case, film to music. Celebs have been doing this for a long time, but these days it is happening with increasing frequency, it seems. Indeed, the “media-specific” star is pretty much dead; instead, we have “transmedia” superstars—those stars who transcend media forms and disseminate their personality in a multiplicity of forms and outlets.

It’s easy to see why this type of star is increasingly the norm. It has to do with shifts in the industrial landscape of Hollywood and the entertainment business. In a word: conglomeration. Disney was the first Hollywood “major” to introduce the concept of horizontal-integration back in the 50s, when it began cross-promoting Disney’s brand on television, in film, and in theme parks, earning money from each but also from the synergistic effects of the whole enterprise. Then in the 80s, government deregulation paved the way for more and more entertainmnent companies to combine and form massive conglomerates, so that one parent company (Viacom, for example) had control over film companies, TV channels (both network and cable), record companies, book publishers, etc. The result was an explosion of cross-promotion and intertextual dialogues: films based on television shows, television shows featuring the music by so-and-so, books based on films, etc… Throw in the Internet and it all adds up to a convergence in which media forms more fluidly relate to each other, telling the same stories just in different, though complimentary, ways.

Success in this sort of environment lives and dies on the strength of brand—namely brands that are strong enough to thrive on a multitude of media platforms (think The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, or Sex and the City)—and what better brands are there than celebrities? When you see a celebrity’s name on a movie poster, you know what that movie will offer. Quentin Tarantino is a brand. So is Beyonce. And Oprah, well, she’s the mother of all celeb brands.

For these celeb-brands, it makes sense (both for themselves and for the industries that finance them) to expand to as many media forms as possible. If I’m Oprah and I know millions of people will do whatever it is I do (or say), why not have a TV show, an entire TV channel, a magazine, some made-for-TV movies, a book club brand, and so on… In this day and age, there are no longer “movie stars” or “TV stars” as much as there are just “stars”… famous people with their hands in a little bit of everything.

American Idol epitomizes this whole idea. The point of the show isn’t so much to make music stars as it is to make stars. It’s a show about how to become famous; and once famous, its offspring can make money in a variety of ways. Idol alums have sold a lot of records, obviously, but they’ve also made a lot of money for FOX as TV stars, and some of them have become movie stars (Jennifer Hudson), Broadway stars (Clay Aiken, Tamyra Gray), and so on…

Obviously some transmedia careers are better than others, and some “brands” are just not strong enough to thrive in multiple platforms (and sometimes the talent isn’t there). As an example of this whole phenomenon, here’s my list of the best and worst of the transmedia superstars:


Beyonce – Media conquered: music, movies, fashion, Jay-Z
Miley Cyrus – Media conquered: music, television, movies, live concerts, theme parks, awards shows, magazine covers, basically the whole world.
Justin Timberlake – Media conquered: music, movies (he’s actually a very good actor), MTV.
Oprah – Media conquered: everything imaginable.
Jared Leto – Just kidding! Though he has been in some good movies (Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream) and good TV shows (My So-Called Life), his rock band (30 Seconds to Mars) is pretty terrible.

Jewel – Media conquered: music. Media failures: movies (she wasn’t bad in Ang Lee’s Ride With the Devil, but it was totally a one-and-done for her as an actress), poetry (A Night Without Armor, anyone?).
Britney Spears – Media conquered: music. Media failures: movies (Um… Crossroads), television (Britney and Kevin: Chaotic was a disaster, though she was pretty good on How I Met Your Mother), motherhood…
Paris Hilton – Media conquered: nightclubs, television (The Simple Life), adult video, prison. Media failures: music (one and done with the self-titled Paris), movies (House of Wax), and general classiness.