In a recent post on NPR’s decision to revise the terms in its coverage of abortion rights, Laure Essig talks about the symbolic violence of “pro-life” language (“Who isn’t pro-life?”) in ways that bring to mind some questions from Lee Edelman’s No Future. Halfway through the introduction to that book, Edelman describes his reaction to a billboard proclaiming, “It’s not a choice, it’s a child”: “No more than the right will the left […] identify itself with abortion; instead, as the billboard noted with scorn, it aligns itself with ‘choice.’ Who would, after all, come out for abortion or stand against reproduction, against futurity, and so against life?”
If No Future offers one kind of answer to Essig’s question, in the form of a queer polemic against the pervasive “reproductive futurism” that keeps politics beholden to heteronormative visions of the future represented by the Child, Essig’s piece also reminded me of another such answer, highlighted in January by Kelsey Wallace at Bitch: a Milwaukee PSA against teen pregnancy, created by Serve Marketing, which involved a fake horror movie called 2028. When teenagers in Milwaukee responded to the extensive ad campaign for 2028 by showing up for the much-hyped “premiere,” what they got instead was a longer, scarier ad—the trailer below—which, as Kelsey says, is “not for the faint of heart.” It’s certainly stuck with me since I first watched it, and there’s something truly striking in its capacity to upset everyone. When I saw it two months ago, my first reaction was to think that this video—precisely because it erases abortion as an option, while evincing a general disgust for human bodies and the material world they inhabit, consequently implying that any and all teen sex resulting in pregnancy is going to fuck things up irremediably and forever—this video, I thought, is actually what “anti-life” looks like:
The complete title of the YouTube clip is “2028. It Finally Ends.” Just what “it” might be is left interestingly unclear, but there seems to be no doubt that 2028, this phantom movie whose name merges 2012 with 28 Days Later, belongs not only to the pulp-horror genre but also, somehow, to the recent abundance of post-apocalypse films that are concerned so directly with futurity, or, as Edelman might say, with “thinking of the children.” (The film version of Children of Men, based on a novel subjected to particularly strong criticism in No Future, is set in late 2027.) Why would you name a movie 2028, after all, unless it was a scary movie? What’s depicted here is a personal apocalypse, curiously inverted so that it’s the figure of the child itself, the monstrous child, bringing that apocalypse about. This little demon literally stands for the “end” to “a life,” the negation of the future in and through motherhood. And not just teen motherhood: it’s remarkable that virtually none of the details of Colleen’s experience that we’re meant to find so horrific (morning sickness, labor pains, a son who gets into trouble, a younger version of the same son who cries so much that you wish he would shut UP!) is specific to the situation of a young single mother. (The important exception here would be the rage of Colleen’s father—whose violent and abusive behavior is presented, infuriatingly, as the natural or understandable consequence of his daughter’s pregnancy.) At first glance the ad appears to be performing a kind of mystifyingly intense, radical opposition to reproduction, futurity, and life itself.
But of course its inversions are incomplete, and of course “the children” as “our future” are still there: in fact what makes the video so fascinating, I think, is the way it captures the oddly vexed, the almost queered, variety of reproductive futurism that’s embedded in the national discourse on preventing teen pregnancy. This is summed up perfectly in the name of the website we’re urged to visit at the end of the video: Baby Can Wait. If the words immediately preceding that name (“Get pregnant as a teen and the next 18 years could be the hardest of your life”) implicitly posit that “life” begins at conception by disavowing the possibility of any action taken after a teen “gets pregnant,” then “Baby Can Wait”—especially in combination with the earlier footage of this particular baby—conjures up a world in which life begins before conception, and in which Baby is both incredibly creepy and undeniably in control, from the future, of the present. Baby can wait, and Baby is waiting. And Baby’s world is the real show: ours is just the trailer.