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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hollywood, Here I Come!

Where are all the freakin' infertile Hollywood writers? If 12.5% of the population is infertile, then shouldn't it somewhat follow that 12.5% of the writers and newscasters are also infertile? So why aren't they influencing what flits across my television set? Where are the movies that show the reality of fertility treatments? The television shows that don't reduce pregnancy loss to a 52 minute storyline that falls off the screen by the closing credits, never to be brought up again? Where are the news stories that discuss advances in treatments without the scary mood music welling up in the background?

There's a television show that used to be on in Israel called Florentene and the distributors have packaged the episodes to be shown at film festivals around the world--both Jewish and GLBT festivals. It was a groundbreaking television show that paved the way for gay characters to stop being tokenized and appear instead as just one piece of an ensemble cast. With homosexuality one piece of a three-dimesional character rather than the defining characteristic.

There was an Eytan Fox retrospective at the film festival last week so they showed the first six episodes. The show is set in the Florentene district of Tel Aviv (an artsy section of the city--think Rent crossed with Friends) and follows the lives of a bunch of twenty-somethings about two years after they left the army (army service in Israel is compulsory--about two years for women and three years for men. So you don't go to college until after service, and many people take a year off after the army). At the core of the show are three characters who went to high school together, all three still mourning their friend (and in one case, boyfriend) who died during army service.

I went to a discussion where Eytan Fox (and his partner, Gal Uchovsky) were discussing how they went about creating their television shows and films. They were never looking to "convince the convinced" but were instead trying to reach the greater population by, as Gal says, "telling stories that are very important to us, close to us, stories of our lives. There’s always something in the movie that is about us."

So where are the freakin' infertile writers who are putting a bit of themselves onto the screen, giving the outsider a greater understanding of what we're going through? That we're not psychotic baby stealers or type-A personalities demanding a child NOW! It's the difference between Florentene viewers getting an insider's perspective on coming out to your parents and the Friends viewers receiving infertility wrapped up in a laugh track.

Friends tackling infertilty: Phoebe will serve as a surrogate for her infertile brother! She can take a pregnancy test a day or two post transfer! And carry to term without complications! And have three healthy babies in the easiest labour ever! many stirrup queens do you think Friends had on their writing staff?

When Florentene tackles homosexuality, they do it with subtle realism. The son who can't connect with his father after he is told that his medical discharge from the army makes him a "nobody." The turmoil of wanting to cling to who you were and wanting to embrace who you are. And, hands down, the best coming out scene of all time. It is Rabin's funeral and the son sets up a video camera on top of the television to capture his family's reaction. So as they are watching Rabin's granddaughter Noa give her famous speech about her grandfather ("Grandfather, you were, and still are, our hero. I want you know that in all I have ever done, I have always seen you before my eyes. Your esteem and love accompanied us in every step and on every path, and we lived in the light of your values. You never abandoned us, and now they have abandoned you, my eternal hero--cold and lonely--and I can do nothing to save you, you who are so wonderful.") he tells his father--every son's hero--that he is gay.

Homosexuality isn't presented in a neat box that we can leave the theater believing we understand. Instead, Fox gives the viewer a springboard to jump from as homosexuality is painted as a complicated, messy, wonderful element of this main character. He wasn't just presenting homosexuality to the convince the convinced--he was aiming at presenting homosexuality to the outsider without dumbing it down or reducing it. Fox takes the viewer as close as he possibly can to viewing in context.

I want the Eytan Fox of the infertility world to step up and not just convince the convinced, but present infertility as the complicated, messy, and...well...not so wonderful thing that it is. A regular thirty-something woman who works in advertising. And has crappy insurance. And a sister who gets pregnant at the drop of a hat and always put her foot in it. Who gets her beta results right before a big meeting and needs to pull it together to present (but has a boss with a heart-of-gold who covers for her even though this boss has never experienced infertility herself). Who sometimes fights with her husband because they're not on the same page. And who's conflicted about holiday gatherings--both drawn to the Christmas lights like a moth to flame and repelled by the constant baby-making questions from Aunt Margaret.

And on the other hand, she's also on the company softball team. And she goes on vacation. And she drinks sometimes a bit too much. And she never returns her library books on time. Her whole life isn't about infertility--it's just one enormous piece that sometimes overshadows the rest. But the rest is still there.

For that, I would pay for cable or follow the episodes through the film festival circuit. Hell, I would even start my own infertility film festival if there was anything else to put up on the screen.


Anonymous said...

sounds like you've got the premise for the next show that will convince me to turn my t.v. on!
thanks for sharing good friend has always raved about i know why!
a show that deals with infertility sensitively, with humour and with no shmaltz?!?!?! now that's reality t.v.!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if it is because the majority are men? I'm not going to generalize and say that all men going through IF are like my husband, but if a lot are then they don't have a clue! Sure he knows what is going on, but I don't think he really GETS it. If he worked in Hollywood he would probably sugar coat things for ratings rather then portray the down and dirty truth.

I have a question that goes along with this:
If 12.5% of the population is infertile wouldn't that mean that a pretty similar number would work in health insurance or be policy makers that could knock some sense into the insurance industry? Why aren't they influencing ART be covered?

TeamWinks said...

The anwer to aah0424 is they are watching the bottom line, and if they don't they could loose their jobs. Not that it makes it right.

Anonymous Infertile said...

Amen! If more tv shows portrayed infertiles correctly (or at all) then our friends and family wouldn't have such a convoluded view of what we are going through. So many people think that they 'understand' just because some tv show they have seen has put something into their head. These are the same people who say that stupid insentive comments that make us upset.
You also didn't mention the Friends story line with Monica and Chandler and how they seemingly resolved their infertility so 'easily' with their decision to adopt. There were no tears or even discussion over whether it was the right thing to do or about whether they would pursue treatment.
I don't know how we are ever going to get 'representation' in television shows, especially when it seems like a lot of people in hollywood want to keep their infertility in the closet. But, if that day is to come I think it would be a huge step for the whole infertile community.

Piccinigirl said...

Amen, I think this is exactly what we need. A world that is more accepting and AWARE of the problem of IF. No sugar coating allowed.

Anonymous said...

Your last comment about the infertility film festival had me laughing...because of course, then the film industry would have to admit that OMG there are actual infertile actors, writers, and directors out there.
That said, have you heard of the new movie, "Children of Men"? Maybe Hollywood is coming around, just not the way we want them too...

Oh, and to aah0424 and teamwinks, the actual answer is because they don't have a single payer system, and haven't figured out that if they paid for IF treatment 100% they could also insist on better quality treatment and higher success rates, but with fewer embryos tranferred. This would result in fewer multiple births, and less NICU costs, less perinatal complications, etc.
Right now with multiple payers they have no incentive to reduce costs, because they each figure the other guy will pay.
I'm trying to convince the govt. in Ontario that they will save money, but it's hard slogging because they still really believe the myth that IVF has low success rates. They want to spend $200 million on a new NICU for example, but they don't even need to build it, because the total cost of IVF for all of Ontario with drugs for one year is $20 million, maybe $40 mill if everyone comes out of the woodwork.
Think about it, if you had endless free IVF with free drugs, free PGD to up your success rates and the only price to pay, was please only transfer a few embryos at a time? Yep, I might be able to live with it.

kathryn said...

Anyone watch House? There is a very, very small IF story line running through the episodes. One of the docs is a single woman going through IF treatments, so far unsuccessfully. This is the first TV/movie portrayal of IF that I find mostly realistic. It doesn't come up much because she's not "out" yet, which is to me a realistic portrayal. The show has shown her grieving and crying, but mostly in private. In fact, a few episodes ago, they had her in a situation where she was named temporary guardian over a patient (child) whose parents were not meeting her medical needs. Without going into too much detail, House (who disagreed with her choice of treatment and who isn't known for holding back his opinions) basically tells her that it's a good thing that she can't be a mother because she stinks at it. The show's portrayal of her reaction to this statement was pretty realistic. She was offended, torn apart, and wondering if he was right all at once. Maybe there's hope for more accurate portrayals in the future.

The Town Criers said...

Oooh, when is House on television? They may have gotten a new viewer.

Also, I forgot about the ER episodes until now, but the whole storyline with Carrie--when she was caught in the bathroom doing an injection, etc.

sarah said...

In response to anonymous infertile, the reason Monica and Chandler didn't persue treatment is because they were told they had very small chances of success -- they were told they had male and female infertility. I vividly remember the scene of them in their doctors office. And their short time spent greiving about it before coniving their way to adoption (lying to the birth mother about their occupations). I wonder sometimes how Courtney Cox handled those scripts given that at that point she's been through so much personal loss.

As for what is on tv, I'd be a much happier daughter if Days of Our Lives would just skip infertility story lines altogether. Screw trying to represent -- I'd rather they just pretended everyone gets pregnant the old fashioned way. At least then my mother wouldn't feel educated enough to give me advice based on the medical experiences of characters on a day time soap opera. Seriously. I once got, in response to my fear and grief about IVF, "well if Sean and Belle can do it and they are a mechanic and store clerk, certainly you can too. What about a surrogate? Wouldn't that solve everything?" Oh, where oh where to begin...

Karaoke Diva said...

There was a show on prime time not too long ago about an infertility clinic, called "In conceivable". If I remember correctly, one of the doctors was also herself dealing with infertility. I watched it, but I don't think anyone else did because it was canceled pretty fast.

Here's a link to the episode guide:

Anonymous said...

I'm all for that- if it's done realistically. A few years ago, I saw this article,2933,161608,00.html#
and I was really fearful this would happen. (I just realize karaoke diva mentioned it too. I never saw it come on). Anyway, I was worried they would make it too easy... that I'd hear from a friend "Oh, on Inconceiveable last night someone had your exact same problem and got pregnant in 30 minutes." I'm not surprised it didn't last... if it were realistic it'd be too depressing to watch.

Anonymous said...

Inconceivable was terrible--I watched the pilot and almost threw things at the television. House's treatment of IF has been really good (Mel, it's on Tuesdays at 9:00 in DC) especially since it's been going on since last season. The storyline only pops up every few weeks, but man, it's a GOOD storyline.

Anonymous said...

I concluded earlier in the year the reason infertility never got a realistic run was it's just so... damned tedious.

They have to rush to a resolution or their viewers get bored. Pregnant first cycle/too hard basket so let's move straight forward to adoption (and isn't that always so quick?) sure, fine - but how about eighteen months of infertility treatment and counting? Doesn't wash.

Might watch house, though - they've got enough going on that they can bring in the storyline just once in a while, which is realistic enough.

Also - did you say infertility film festival? Because in a strange twist of fate I was just about to post this on my blog.


Emmie said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I've seen so many poorly done IVF/IF story lines that it's no wonder I get faced with the funniest misconceptions about treatment from my parents, who probably watch too much Lifetime.

By the way, I think I am finally ready at 16 weeks to have my blog, Fertility Lost, listed under Pregnancy after Treatment on your blog roll. I'm currently listed under Male Factor. Thanks for all you do to bring awareness and share experiences!