In yesterday’s Washington Times, I had a review of the new reality show starring Bristol Palin, 21, called Life’s a Tripp. The show is supposed to be about how Bristol matures in adulthood as the single mom of a toddler, but it struck me as typical reality show fare, complete with manufactured drama, rehearsed camera talk, and lots of onscreen crying.
Being a single mom is tough. Just ask 21-year-old Bristol Palin.
“I think young girls see a baby as an accessory on their hip — and it’s not. It’s something that needs work, needs attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she tells the camera in Lifetime’s new docu-series, “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp.” In 10 half-hour episodes, the show, which premieres Tuesday, follows the day-by-day life of Sarah Palin’s oldest daughter as she moves from Alaska to Los Angeles — and then back to Alaska — with her toddler, Tripp, at her side.
Back in 2008, when her mother was nominated as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Bristol came to fame in “one of the most intense and embarrassing ways possible,” as she said at the time. Her unintended pregnancy at age 17 with her then-boyfriend, fiance-turned-playboy Levi Johnston, was ready-made for tabloids: The daughter of the most famous hockey mom in the country knocked up by a high school jock. The media had a field day.
So maybe there’s some redeeming message in Bristol’s story — some lesson about making mistakes, learning from them and maturing into adulthood? That, at least, seems to be the moral that “Life’s a Tripp” is groping for.
“It’s really hard being a single mom,” Bristol tells viewers. “I think I’d be a lot more immature and carefree and careless if I didn’t have Tripp. He gives my life purpose and direction.”
It’s a nice message — but one that doesn’t quite ring true throughout the first two episodes of the show.
One item that I didn’t address in the review, but which I’ve been thinking about a lot, is why Bristol would do a reality show in the first place. Of course, after resigning from the governorship of Alaska, Bristol’s mom starred in TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska in 2010, so there’s the family precedent of bearing your life on screen. But Sarah Palin’s Alaska was essentially a travel and discovery show. Life’s a Tripp is much more Kardashians-like, with its temporary LA setting, sibling conflicts, and intimate portrayals of Bristol’s life, including cameos from her Alaska-based beau Gino (who, no, doesn’t moonlight for Jersey Shore) and her mom Sarah Palin (who comes across sympathetically in the Mom role).
I can think of three reasons why Bristol might agree to do a reality show like this, which runs the risk of airing her and her family’s dirty laundry: for money, for celebrity, and, simply, to tell her story.
With a family like the Kardashians, it’s pretty easy to see that they are doing the reality show gig for fame and celebrity. Their entire brand is celebrity. Kim Kardashian, like Paris Hilton, came to fame by being a socialite, and that’s not to mention her infamous sex tape with Ray J. If you’ve ever seen the show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, you know that money is not a concern of theirs, and that they really have little to no story to tell.
It’s different with Bristol. Bristol does have an interesting story to tell.
Bristol is of course the daughter of Sarah Palin, the very public face of family values (Mama Grizzly) and social conservatism–two weighty things especially compared to the frothiness of the Kardashians family brand. The contradiction of Palin’s values with the reality of Bristol’s decisions was, back in 2008, stark. Given that, maybe Bristol didn’t really have a choice except to tell her story. Maybe the only thing she could do as a pregnant teen with a famous conservative mom was to ride the wave of her accidental and embarrassing celebrity, and carve out a career of sorts for herself in it.
And Bristol’s done well on that front. Bristol has written a bestselling memoir, is on the speaker’s circuit promoting the message of teen abstinence, has appeared of Dancing with the Stars, and now she stars in her own reality show. Bristol is in a fortunate situation to not only tell her story, but to profit from it. Not too many girls who wind up pregnant out of wedlock at seventeen have the chance to tell their stories. Not too many live the life that she lives. Not too many earn the salary that she does.
Good for Bristol–I guess–but it does make me a little queasy when I compare her rather fortunate circumstances (living in a palatial Beverly Hills mansion and volunteering, not working, for a charity) to those less fortunate than hers, who also know what being a single teen mom is like. I’m thinking here of Amber Portwood from MTV’s reality show Teen Mom.
Last week, Portwood made headlines for deciding to serve a five-year prison sentence rather than check into drug rehab. Why did she do it?
Looking forward, Portwood said she doesn’t regret voluntarily leaving drug treatment in favor of prison where she believes she’ll have better success focusing on her recovery.
While behind bars, Portwood plans to get her life back on track.
“I’m going to take some classes, I’m going to get my GED, take as many programs as I can,” she said. “You know, just try to better myself for when I do get out and not stay in prison . . . I’ll be off the drugs, I’ll have an education to get me a job.
“You have to think of the positives in this negative story.”
When I read about Portwood’s gut-wrenching decision–a wise decision that reveals her self-awareness and a desire to be a better person–I can’t help but think that Bristol’s complaints about single motherhood are those of a spoiled and immature girl. She wants viewers to be aware that being a single mom is tough; she wants to be a cautionary tale against having sex before marriage; but she doesn’t realize how good she has it. Portwood, not Bristol, is the real face of teen motherhood. Maybe that’s something Bristol will discover as Life’s a Tripp progresses on through the season.