Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Wonder Years" Gets More Complicated

This story just gets more unpleasant. So of course, I have to write about it again.

You may remember thirteen-year-old Alfie Patten, the four-foot-tall British Fred Savage-lookalike who impregnated his fifteen-year-old girlfriend. Well, it turns out now that there is some question about paternity. Apparently, Alfie's girlfriend, Chantelle, may be something of what the British refer to as a "slutter." Indeed, there are already two other young men (ages 16 and 14) who claim that they could be the father of Chantelle's baby. And it looks like poor Alfie will have to take a DNA test. If only these kids lived in the US, then we could get Montel to settle the whole thing in one hour.

Of course, whether or not Alfie is the father, he's already won over this blogger with his intelligence and charisma:

Once indoors [Alfie] gave a series of clipped answers to a long list of questions by an eager reporter from The People.

When asked if he loved Chantelle he said: ‘Dunno.

Did you get her a Valentine's card? ‘No!’

Did you know how babies were made before you had sex with Chantelle? ‘Course’.

Do you like changing the baby's nappies? ‘It's OK but getting it back in the clothes is hard - the arms are the worst bit.’

Are you looking forward to getting back to school soon? ‘No, school's dead boring.’

What are your favourite subjects? ‘Dunno. Haven't got any. Not maths.’

What would you like to do when you grow up? ‘Go in the Army, but Mum says she won't let me.’
I'm going to guess that he will be begging to return to school in a few weeks. Something tells me that life with Chantelle and a baby is going to make school look like Free Cotton Candy Day at the carnival. He also sounds exactly like the kind of boyfriend that you'd expect for a thirteen-year-old boy; clearly he wooed Chantelle with his pillow talk:

CHANTELLE: Oh Alfie, do you love me?
ALFIE: Dunno.
CHANTELLE: Isn't my new jumper [sweater] pretty?
ALFIE: [shrugs]
CHANTELLE: Did you remember today is our anniversary?
ALFIE: Can I have a biscuit [cookie]?
CHANTELLE: Will you ring [call] me later?
ALFIE: Maybe. I'm playin "Halo."

And lest you think that conservatives (even the British variety) would let this story pass without making it into an exemplar of crumbling social morality:
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: 'It exemplifies the point we have been making about broken Britain.'

‘It's not being accusative, it's about pointing out the collapse in some parts of society of any sense of what's right and wrong.'
Of course, the first problem here is the question of the exemplarity of the Alfie Patten case: does this one occurrence really signal a collapse of an entire society? Or, to put it another way, is this kind of thing happening all over Britain? This is an empirical question (and I don't really want to bother doing the required research); however, let me bet that Iain Duncan Smith hasn't done that research either.

The second problem here is the assumption that this incident has anything to do with "any sense of what's right and wrong"--at least in the way that Smith seems to mean it. I think we can all agree that it's better when teenagers don't have babies; but there will then be a disagreement over the best way to make sure this doesn't happen.

On the wrong side, we have the sexual moralists (the "any sense of right and wrong" people). These are the folks who want to teach abstinence-only sex ed and sell purity rings. Which is all well and good--except for the part about how instilling a strong sense of "right and wrong" doesn't seem to have anything to do with teenage pregnancy rates (just ask Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol). If Iain Duncan Smith and the British conservatives find this hard to believe, I think we can arrange a nice tour of Wasilla, AK, or of the more Evangelical parts of the American South for that matter.

Is Fosco claiming to have the answer for preventing teenage pregnancy? Not quite--although contraceptive education is probably part of the solution. As for the problem of thirteen-year-olds having sex (with or without contraception), I think we have to consider the ways in which our culture sexualizes young people. If we are going to continue to conceptualize adolescence as the beginning of full sexuality, we cannot be too surprised when even little Fred Savage does the nasty.

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