Getty Images; Twitter
Getty Images; Twitter
The Teen Mom cruise has been canceled!
The news of the cancellation may not be the best way to start a conversation about the MTV franchise's popularity, but the real takeaway is that there was going to be a Teen Mom cruise.
Which, one, means that you can at least try to build an excursion around pretty much anything. And two, interest in these women's lives still rages going on eight years since 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom first premiered.
Amber Portwood, Maci Bookout and Kailyn Lowry—none of whom are teenagers anymore—had announced in November that they'd be hosting the first-ever Teen Mom-themed cruise, the itinerary taking them around the Bahamas with Royal Caribbean. Just days ago the deal fell apart, with a source telling Radar Online that all three stars weren't surprised because they felt that fare prices (starting at $743 a person) were too high.
Intrepid fans—who were reportedly warned not to book airfare when they first bought passage aboard the cruise until they received further confirmation—are said to be getting full refunds, so no scandal there. But once again: A Teen Mom cruise.
Why not gather an all-star team of reality TV personalities from all of the most inexplicably watchable shows and call it Going Overboard?
Obviously the Teen Mom stars are hardly the only ordinary people who became famous for dealing with real life on camera to start making headlines almost daily and turn pages as if they were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Initial success of all of these types of slice-of-life shows—Teen Mom, 19 Kids and Counting, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Kate Plus 8 and Duck Dynasty, to name just a few, as the list now goes on and on—can easily be attributed to curiosity and fascination with how people from other places or different backgrounds live, or an interest in how people are coping with the cards they've been dealt, cards that might look familiar or downright foreign, depending on who's watching.
But the continued fascination with these personalities after their time in front of the camera has ended—or reasonably should have ended—is another question.
Not all of them are natural born stars with the type of magnetism that you often see in the celebrity world. Does their fame endure because we're just that interested—or because the Internet has willed it so? Is there so much space to cram so many people onto the pop culture radar that their sliver of the zeitgeist appears bigger than it really is?
The continued obsession with this genre of reality TV—as opposed to competition shows or the ones that show a slice of fancy life that far fewer people have experienced, such as any Real Housewives series or Keeping Up With the Kardashians—is presumably due to a combination of all of the above: Ubiquity, curiosity, a desire for escapism, regular old human interest and, yes, a touch of schadenfreude.
Not that we believe that everyone watching is doing so to pass judgment or snicker at the lives that aren't their own playing out onscreen. Nor do we think, however, that all the people tuning into the likes of Teen Mom are enjoying themselves in the truest sense of the word.
It wasn't pleasant to watch Amber Portwood smacking Gary Shirley, the father of her daughter Leah, around on Teen Mom. But it was a memorable plot point, one that made national headlines, led to criminal charges against Amber—and made her an enduring face of the franchise.
On paper, it doesn't seem as if this sort of behavior should be considered a star-making performance, but years later Amber remains a star of Teen Mom OG and, well...she was gonna co-host that cruise!
"You realize this relationship has spanned through crucial [parts] in their lives, highs and lows, and it is a unique and interesting relationship that only develops when a show can go this long and when a show can keep all those people," Teen Mom executive producer Morgan J. Freeman told TVGuide.com when MTV was bringing Portwood, Farrah Abraham, Catelynn Lowell and Maci Bookout back for Teen Mom OG in 2015. "The producers want to keep telling these stories."
Perhaps the key to the lasting interest in any of these real people after however-so-many-years on TV, or even after the fact, is that they were so effectively painted as heroes or villains in the first place, just as if they were on a traditionally scripted show.
Amber = villain. Farrah = villain. Jenelle Evans = villain. Chelsea Houska = hero. Kate Gosselin= villain when Jon Gosselin was part of the equation, hero (with a lingering trace of villainy) after her divorce. Jill and Jessa Duggar = heroes. Sadie Robertson = hero. Phil Robertson = villain (not everyone would agree on that). Honey Boo Boo = hero. Mama June = hero turned villain turned redemption-seeker.
Not everyone has to be brought low by blatant scandal; just a bad day can feel like an epic struggle sometimes. And any of the above (we'll leave Honey Boo Boo out of it, as she's still only 11) could be a person in search of redemption on any given day, for whatever reason.
That feeling certainly seems like one a lot of people, from any walk of life, could identify with.
"Daily life skews our perception, but art holds up a mirror of behavior that allows us to see ourselves clearly and act on it," Kareem Abdul Jabar wrote in an essay for Huffington Post in which he extolled the cultural importance of The Real Housewives franchise, and made some sweepingly astute observations about non-competition reality TV in general. "Anyone who's seen a movie, read a poem, or heard a song that inspired them to make a positive change in their lives knows what I mean. So, if we look at certain reality shows as art (like a novel) rather than a source of gossip or feeling superior to others, we can not only enjoy them, but learn from them as well."
Aside from "be grateful this isn't your life," no matter which show you're watching, there don't seem to be that many lessons to take away. But perhaps the sheer act of rooting for people—whether you're hoping a young mom's baby is born healthy, or this couple manages to stay together, or this guy gets hired, or this show gets canceled and that star but not this one goes on to have a nice life—is enough of a unifier.
Regardless, watching people bouncing back from misfortune or scandal—or trying and failing to—became mass entertainment long ago. None of these series (or the ones focused on the 1 percent) exist to show off perfect, enviable lives all the time. If there's no drama, there's no narrative thread and no cliff-hangers—and, soon enough, no renewal for another season.
This form of entertainment may resemble more what Russell Crowe taunted the blood-thirsty crowd with in Gladiator, but it's true that no one is tuning in to be bored.
That being said, as much as we need to admit that we simply dig drama and rolling heads—whether we're getting them literally from Game of Thrones or metaphorically from The Real Housewives—just as we root for our favorite characters to survive the battle of Winterfell, don't we ultimately want good things for the deserving souls of reality TV? (Of course, not everyone has earned the "deserving" tag, but that's another story.)
We aren't so far gone that we're desiring happy endings for fictional characters while throwing real people to the hounds, are we?
Surely viewers want things to work out for the reality stars, too, preferably in a way that benefits the most innocent bystanders of the bunch (which on almost every show are the kids who happened to find themselves on TV one day).
And though some people's ratings heyday may be behind them, or they only graced our screens for a short while, their lives continue to fascinate because, after seeing their stories begin, we can't just abandon them before finding out how it all ends.
Luckily, thanks to the fame extender known as the Internet, they don't even need to have shows anymore for us to follow the plot.