Paternity Sweat

And whose little girl are you?

Our society (such as it is) hit bottom the other day. Y'all might not have noticed it because it happened at around 9:30 in the morning on a weekday, so you were probably at work or at school. I noticed it because I was on the couch at home. I even felt the thud as we in the Great Ship America settled roughly onto the floor of the Mindanao Trench.

It happened on The Maury Povich Show. Povich is Mr. Connie Chung in real life and he has a long-running talk show that started out trying to be Donahue, but eventually settled for being Jerry Springer Lite. The show generally features one of five main topics. They include: Former Geeks Confront Their High-School Tormentors (and Show Off Their Plastic Surgery); Guys Who Cheat on Their Ignorant Girlfriends and Then Fail Lie-Detector Tests on National TV; Is This Refugee from La Cage aux Folles a He or a She?; and Please Send My Punk-Ass Kid to Boot Camp before She Kills Me/ODs/Gets AIDS.

However, by far the most popular topic is the one where the teenage mothers force the guys whom they think fathered their children to take paternity tests.

It goes like this: Povich introduces the girl, who comes out looking raggedy and contrite. The audience invariably applauds, which I don't quite understand since the only accomplishment she has displayed thus far in her 17 years or so is the ability to spread her legs apart. Then Maury questions her in the faux sympathetic manner that has become his trademark.

Maury: "So, tell me what happened. And don't be nervous."

Girl: Well, "I was wit' Rayshawn for like 13 months, you know. I mean, it was almost a year! Know what I'm sayin'? It was cool at first, but when I told him I was pregnant, he was triflin'. He said he'd be there for me and the baby, but then he started tellin' his friends that he didn't think he was the father. His mama thinks little Rayshawnda looks just like him, but he hasn't been to see his daughter ever!"

Then they show a picture of the kid on a giant monitor and the audience always oohs and ahhs even though some of the kids look like what would happen if Ol' Dirty Bastard had a kid with Steve Buscemi.

Finally, they bring out the guy and the audience boos! This part I really don't get. The audience acts like he somehow impregnated her from across town without her consent and apparently without her even knowing it was being done. I can't be certain, but I'm bettin' they were both there at the time.

(Of course, there was that old Ojibway legend about a girl who was out in the field picking corn. The wind blew her buckskin dress up and the sun got her pregnant. But that stuff hardly ever happens anymore.)

Now, if you want to argue that the guy is as big a slut as the girl, fine. Porking every woman who's willing should not be considered a sign of manhood. Likewise (barring cases of rape), in this post-feminist world, women should take full responsibility for whom they allow inside their bodies and under what circumstances. The phrase "He got me pregnant" should become as obsolete as "Drunk driving accident." If a driver's drunk, then whatever happens is no accident. And if a woman becomes pregnant, it's a 50-50 deal.

If the women look horrible, the guys look pathetic. They come pimpin' out, wearing big, stupid-looking, baggy clothes and looking like Eminem. What were these women thinking? I mean, who would want to have sex with Eminem, except maybe Dr. Dre to thank the skinny white boy for rescuing his career?

Anyway, they get the two (or more) people on stage and the various sex partners yell at each other for a while. Sometimes the mother will get up and point to the kid's picture on the monitor and say something deep like, "See, my baby's got two eyes and [the guy I'm hoping is the father so I don't look even more ridiculous on TV] has two eyes, too." Then the guy comes back with the brilliant retort, "That don't even look like me."

Finally, Povich pulls out the paternity test results and spills them. About half the time the female is correct. When that happens, they jump up, point a finger in the guy's deer-in-the-headlight face, and shout, "I told you so!" as though having guessed right about who your baby's biological father is allows you to occupy some moral high ground.

The other day they had the ultimate episode. A young woman went on the show with five guys! She said she was "pretty sure" that one of them had sired her kid. When one of the five guys started saying something to her, she jumped up and screamed, "I'm not a ho!"

What, did they change the definition? Were the standards for ho-dom upgraded when I wasn't looking? You have to figure that if a woman can think of five different guys with whom she was intimate during the 10-day-or-so window of fecundity, she ought to at least consider embracing the title. Heck, she needs to stay by the phone because the people from Encarta will be calling to tell her that they're using her picture next to the definition of "ho" in the New Dictionary of American Slang.

Oh yeah, one of the five guys was named El Camino. That's just not right.

When it's all over and the "father" has been identified, Povich asks the guy what he's going to do. Invariably, the response is, "I'm going to do what's right. I'm going to be a man. I'm going to take responsibility."

This, of course, means that as soon as the show is over, he's moving to Atlanta and changing his name.

It's all very depressing.

And, oh yeah, the woman with the five guys? Turns out it was none of the above.

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