Reality television leans toward the unreal. Whether the cameras are focused on housewives or Armenian-American sisters, the drama is often obviously contrived. The table-flipping conflicts of Real Housewives and the shade slinging of Vanderpump Rules are cartoonish. There’s little danger that the average viewer of those shows will truly empathize with a cast member behaving implausibly in an implausible situation. This is what makes the current season of MTV’s Teen Mom OG so striking. The show, a spin-off of their Teen Mom franchise following the now grown teen mothers, has added Bristol Palin. In doing so, it has become a documentary about the dissolution of Bristol Palin’s marriage to former Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer. The show doesn’t have villains or heroes. It is deeply sad and the conversations seem deeply felt.
The conflict in the Palin-Meyer house seems to be largely a product of Meyer’s mental health struggles. Meyer, who lost five friends and squadmates during the Battle of Ganjgal while personally rescuing 12 soldiers and providing cover for 24 Marines, suffers from PTSD. With trauma comes the anxiety and depression. This has affected both him and his wife, with whom he has two children.
At no point is Meyer’s suffering played for drama and at no point does the show trade in dramatic irony. Meyer is keenly aware of the situation and Palin is supportive. These are — or certainly seem to be — nice people. Still, though Meyer admits his mental health has added strain, the…
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