Bump+: Finding Common Ground Through Reality TV?

Bump+'s Creative Director Chris Riley talks about the show's intentions to open a "common ground" discussion on abortion based solely on the stories of characters portrayed.

Last week I wrote a piece for Alternet about a new web series called
, a
"fake" reality show. Three actresses play women facing accidental
pregnancies, women who have agreed to be reality show contestants. The web
audience gets to weigh in on these faux contestants’ ultimate decision.
Needless to say, the format hasn’t endeared the show to either camp in the
abortion debate. I talked to Bump+’s Creative Director Chris Riley about the
writers’ intentions to open a "common ground" discussion based solely
on the stories of these characters, and whether the show’s reliance on reality
TV tropes is getting the message through. He stressed a desire to reach out to
pro-choicers, who are staying away from the site’s commenting forums. Here is
our full conversation for Rewire readers to weigh for themselves.

Tell me about how you came up with the idea for the show–was it actually 
inspired by Obama?

One inspiration was his speech at Notre Dame–a call for a more civil
conversation looking for common ground between people who have been shouting at
each other. I also read The Audacity of
, the part where he describes his views on abortion and his
interactions with people who disagreed with his position. I was struck by the
respect he had for people who disagreed with him. I thought that was
remarkable. And then I saw an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where
he had Mike Huckabee on and they talked about abortion. It was fascinating to
see people who saw the issue differently but were still able to talk about it.
So an idea occurred to me–why don’t we just follow three women, as honestly
and fairly as we possibly can, not have it be about politics, and neither for
or against any version of the law. Let’s just tell the stories of women and see
what kind of conversation we might be able to spark.

One thing I noticed about those examples
you just cited is all of these people having "civil" conversation
were men, and so are a lot of the visible writers and producers on your site. Do
you think it might be harder for women, whose lives and bodies are affected, to
step back and have that kind of detached intellectual conversation about it?

That’s a good point. First of all, we made sure we had a lot of women on our
team [producers, directors, and actors]. A lot of this show was scripted, a lot
was improvised. The actresses have been bringing a lot of their personal
viewpoints into this.  I readily admit I’m a man, and that can’t be helped. But I didn’t want to
disqualify myself because of that.
I have never been in the position our characters are in, but I’ve reached out
to hear real stories from people who have faced unintended pregnancies in
various ways. We certainly haven’t told every possible story, but the
interactivity allows us to invite anyone to tell their story on the website. We
may cut stories into future episodes. So we’re not the only storytellers.

Can you talk about the "their
choice is up to you" concept of viewers weighing in? That ruffled some
feathers in the pro-choice camp.

Their choice is up to you–we don’t mean it in the sense of a vote. We
have shot multiple endings, and we’ve shot 50 hours of which we’ll only see
about 75 minutes. So in post-production we’ll have a lot of latitude to shape
things in terms of what happens and the input we get, but as characters these women will fully make their choices on
their own
. We as storytellers will be listening to everyone’s voices. We’re
finding on our site, when we turn the volume down then different people do step
into the conversation.

If the characters are
"written" and fictional, why the real-fake reality TV?

We chose the format because it’s more interesting. We are a web series with a
very low budget. We had to be provocative in order to get noticed. This was our
way into the stories, and we felt it was an "of the moment" idea. We
knew it was provocative concept on all ends of the spectrum, but it was an
artistic choice–to tell stories and invite viewer reaction.
The most obvious controversy would be get pro-choicers and pro-lifers to just
argue on television. We decided we’d rather let the controversy be about us.

Do you think people will be able to
sympathize with these characters, these women who have agreed to let this
decision be out of their hands?

Yes, if this were real, it would be outrageous. For the women to volunteer to
be on the show, that’s not a likable move. That is a challenge we have. But we
as writers have a tremendous amount of affection for these characters. What
will happen over episodes is that viewers will come to see them as more and
more three-dimensional. You’re going to start to root for these women and care
about them. Nobody’s going to be hitting anybody over the head with a folding
chair. The more you hear their stories, you think "wow, that’s really
tough." Even Katie, who cheated on her husband. You’re going to get that
there’s no easy solution to their problems. From those who oppose abortion, I
hope it creates more sympathy for kinds of real dilemmas people find themselves

While looking over the site, most of the comments I’ve seen have come from one
side, which is the "pro-life" side. I have to wonder if that’s
because on that side, people are comfortable telling women what to do with
their pregnancies while on the pro-choice side, we believe it’s a private
decision that we shouldn’t have input in.

We have noticed that. It was not completely unexpected for the reasons you’ve
articulated. We want find ways to reach out to more pro-choice voices and
invite those kinds of stories to be posted. There’s stigma attached to those
stories, and people may be less willing to share one of those stories.
But  hopefully online there is enough anonymity for that to happen. We
have one [anti-abortion] commenter, "sister Mary Agnes" who keeps posting,
saying "please, even though I may not agree with you, I want to

Anything else you might want to say to a progressive, pro-choice audience?

Everyone involved said let’s be as honest as possibly be, as fair as we can
possibly be. At every decision point, we’ve stuck by that
doesn’t mean we know everything, been able to say everything. Whatever we’ve
missed, please bring it to the conversation. We all have so much in common,
communication would be impossible if we didn’t. Please don’t make the mistake
that Fox News readers [who condemned the site] made which was deciding on the
basis of a headline decide that we were completely partisan. Check it out, then
make your own decision, and by all means, if we’re missing something, tell us
your story because we desperately need to hear it.