Washington Post Reviews Reunion Porn
Shales doesn’t think much of “Find My Family”. Too weepy and a bit creepy for him. Intrusive mini-cams thrust up the nostrils of people in the midst of moments played for hyper-emotionalism are not his cup of tea. Me either, truth be told, but for different reasons. Shales thinks some families might be better off lost than found, but that’s his normie-wannabe-a-bastard fantasy. I’ve lived that one and it sucks.
Adoption gets represented in mass media in two contexts; sensational (think “Orphan: the Movie”, or every Lifetime Channel movie of the week with a psycho killer birth mom or adoptee) or sentimental (for instance, the recent film “The Blind Side”, which posits that remedying the social pathologies of African American youth is as simple as having rich white Christians adopt them).
And then there’s reunion porn. Reunion porn is real, as opposed to fictional, search and reunion narrative carefully edited and presented for maximal emotional response. Reunion porn used to be the province of daytime talk shows, Montel Williams, et al. Norms, that is non-adopted folks, seem to eat these up. Reunion porn produces a reliable ratings bump in daytime talkers. Reunion porn is like Paula Dean wrapped up the ham of sentimentality in the bacon of sensationalism, carelessly dropped them into her stovetop deep fryer and then went out on the lawn to chug mint juleps while her mansion burned down. It’s no wonder TV producers want to capture this lightning in a bottle and transfer it to primetime, where the real money is… They stumbled with “Who’s Your Daddy”, but began to hit stride with Troy Dunn’s half hour self-advertisement and now have perfected the formula with “Find My Family”.
None of these primetime reunion porn shows focus on the fact that folks can’t find their families because of our idiotic sealed records laws. These shows succeed by creating empathy with the audience, who are the not-adopted. The not-adopted can, for a half hour at least, imagine what it would be like to lose ones family and then find them. A neat bundle of instant catharsis. The fact that our government creates and regulates the crisis just complicates things…
Tom Shales doesn’t miss this point though. He writes of the Steinpasses, who initially hired a private detective to search for the adoptee they relinquished when Mrs. Steinpass was fifteen years old, “Then the Steinpases decided to forget about the legally binding agreement they'd signed in 1979, pledging not to search for their former baby or upset her home life. Why should Scotty and Sandy let a nasty old contract get in the way of their whims?”
This is an interesting point that Shales doesn’t probe too deeply. But I’ll do it for him, when are contracts signed by fifteen year olds legally binding? To whom or what are the Steinpasses bound? To the state, that’s who.