Friday, February 18, 2011

Adoption as Mis-Represented by the Meda

Recently I returned as a guest on Mary Beth Wells' radio show Adoption: Journey to Motherhood. Mary Beth and I talked about "Adoption in the Media", and I'm sharing a few points of the discussion with you here because I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Mary Beth asked me, "How do you think the media portrays adoption and what affect does that have on adopted children?"

Summary of my response: The media, including movies and television, generally portray adoption as an aberration, and truthfully, it is. Adoption is not the “normal” course… humans are not biologically or physiologically predisposed toward adoption. Adoption was created, not organically instilled. However, it is a reality, and adoptive families have the same potential for love and bonding and affection and permanency as any family created biologically. [blog note: Yes, I am well aware that many adoptees are not raised with love, bonding, affection, and feelings of permanency. Many "bio kids" are not either. My point is that the potential exists for all parent/child relationships, regardless of DNA.]

So, there’s a paradox there, for the media and for the rest of us. How to speak authentically about adoption – that is to acknowledge that it is in some way different, yet not make “different” mean “less than, bad, inferior, weird”, etc.
Labels such as “adoptive parents”, “real parents”, “adopted child” are placed in news stories… but why? What is the value to the reader of delineating the biology or non-biology of a relationship? If it’s not germane to the story, it serves another agenda. It’s like identifying someone as “Conservative talk show host” or “Openly gay pastor”… it may be true, and it may be an important part of that person’s life, but is it relevant to the story? If not, using the label draws attention to the label rather than to the person or the point of the piece. And it begs the question of why use the label? I think too often the adoption label is thrown in simply because it's a "twist", an "ooh, there's some drama there",... it's used to alert the audience that "something's different here."

We talked about that horrible Sony tv ad where a woman's family is trying to distract her during her turn at a competitive game. They try making noises, etc., but her attention never wavers. Finally someone shouts out, "You were adopted!" [blog note: I blogged about that commercial when I first saw it, and that's what got Mary Beth and me talking about this topic.]

Mary Beth observed that "Parents can be over protective of their children. For adopted parents, do you think one of the reasons is that our children have already lost one family?"

Summary of my response: That may be, but really, I’m more concerned about my kids growing up in a society that sanctions any kind of prejudice. Think about it, Mary Beth, a few decades ago words like “fairy” and “homo” were fairly widely accepted as humorous put downs. And before that were blatantly sexist jokes and “your mama” jokes and racial slurs. But we evolved as a society and those things are no longer acceptable in most settings. But for some reason, too many people now target adoption as a punchline. You’d never see a tv commercial calling someone a “faggot” or a “nigger” as an insult. Why is it OK to do with adoption? It’s not.

My kids know they were adopted. There's no secrecy about it in our family. This particular conversation isn't about the ethics of adoption; it's about the ethics of
ridiculing someone - anyone - about their difference.

Mary Beth asked me how I think the "Hollywood adoptions" factor into this conversation.
Summary of my response: I think the media attention is more hurtful than helpful. What we see in the media are celebrities flying around in their private jets, throwing a ton of cash around and essentially buying babies and pawning them off on a team of nannies when they get home. Mary Beth made my next point for me, which is that we don't know what goes on behind closed doors. We don't really know how any celebrity parents or embraces their child's origins or anything at all. But the media paint a certain picture, and it ain't a good one.

The media focus on celebrity adopters is tragically skewed. Rather than judge and sensationalize and stalk celebrity adopters and their children,, the media could actually illuminate the very real horror of international child trafficking disguised as ethical adoption. I AM NOT SAYING that any particular celebrity has bought a child or children on the black market. I'm NOT saying that all international adoptions are unethical, illegal, or wrong.What I AM SAYING is that child trafficking IS A REALITY, and adoption provides a convenient cover for this horror. And I AM SAYING that the media could be a powerful force in tearing the shroud away from this awfulness, but it chooses instead to prattle on and on about the clothes, and shoes, and pre-schools, and diets, and play dates of celebrity adoptees. But that would require actual work and thought on the part of the media and the readers/viewers, so it's not likely going to happen.

You can listen to the whole interview at .

Click here to purchase Sally's , What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective, in softcover, hardcover, or e-book formats.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
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Reagan's Mommy said...

I mentioned the same type of frustration at the media in my own post yesterday. And I even wrote to the AP reporter who wrote a story on Oprah's sister. I encouraged him to use his position to further positive adoption language and got back some lame excuse that he was writing it in the same terms as the family expressed it to him. I even acknowledged that direct quotes couldn't be avoided but that the reporter himself should choose better words when writing around those quotes.

Nick Jacobs said...

I'm planning to travel with my family to Chicago for Thanksgiving, does anyone know the best way to get cheap tickets at such a busy time of year for a family of four?