Chasing Life, ABC Family’s new
soap opera drama premiered last night. (Did you watch?) The show stars Italia Ricci as April, a 24-year-old aspiring journalist who just as her life was starting to fall into place discovers that she has cancer.
I have, just, so many things to say. Let’s start with the show’s poster:
Is she seriously sitting on a coffin filled with lemons? What is that? Is she supposed to turn them into cancer-kicking lemonade or something? Seriously!? Is noone else outraged by this?
Chasing Life undoubtedly resonates with many viewers, and I can empathize. If done properly, cancer as a storyline on a major television network can provide important education and awareness, and since the show has partnered with StupidCancer.org, a non-profit supporting young adults with cancer, the characters have a real shot at authenticity. The risk is if ABC Family gets it wrong, and the network’s litany of failed attempts at tackling the “tough issues” (like childhood obesity in Huge or teenage pregnancy in The Secret Life of the American Teenager — both cancelled) doesn’t exactly bode confidence that they’ll get this one right.
Ricci said in an interview recently: “It’s a show about a girl with hopes and dreams. It’s a show about a girl who’s confused about what she wants in relationships. It’s a show about a single mother with two daughters. It’s a show that’s about so much more than just a girl with cancer.”
The second her character is slapped with a diagnosis though how can the show be about anything but a girl with cancer? That’s not to say twenty-somethings affected by cancer in real life are defined solely by their illness, but if the show is “so much more” as Ricci claims it’s publicity department doesn’t seem to mind exploiting the girl-with-cancer motif to generate buzz (and judging by last night’s live-tweeting frenzy they felt no shame in trivializing a serious situation with vapid requests to “RT if you agree #cancersucks!”).
So what is Chasing Life’s message exactly?
Although the show seems well-intentioned — chronicling one young woman’s journey through life after diagnosis — I worry it will spew false information, that it will perpetuate the romanticism of the cancer patient with a can-do attitude, the misguided notion that all you have to do to survive cancer is NEVER GIVE UP. What does that say about those who die from cancer? They didn’t try hard enough?
For the millions of cancer survivors, patients, and caregivers tuning in, the show will certainly revolve around how relatable April’s story is to their own. It’s bad enough April is Hollywood standard pretty and thin, but now she’s handling cancer better too? Cancer is complicated, but, so far, the show treats cancer as nothing but a sub-plot easily swept aside in favor of April’s budding career and her hot new love life all the while remaining a pillar for her outrageously stereotypical family.
If Chasing Life means to bring awareness to the fact that young people get cancer too, I just hope StupidCancer’s involvement will lead to real discussions about the unique challenges young adults with cancer face, otherwise the show is in danger of becoming a cancersploitation fluff piece.
Did you tune in last night? How do you feel about making cancer into entertainment? Do you think the show accurately portrays the reality for many young adults with cancer? Please share your thoughts in the comments!