Saturday, November 28, 2009

Washington Post Reviews Reunion Porn

I haven’t followed the Washington Post much since last year’s election. At any rate, I didn’t see Tom Shales’ review of ABC’s latest offering of reunion porn, “Find My Family” until this morning, and only then because Elizabeth Samuels, a law professor whose written several trenchant histories of sealed records adoption, got a comment/letter to the editor published and Bastardette tweeted the link. Samuels’ letter contains a link to Shales’ piece.

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.

Monday, November 23, 2009

They're Baaaack!!!

The last word from CARE was a poison-pen memo from Executive Director Stephanie Williams, dated May 18th, blaming the failure of AB 372 on others, sort of a prequel to "Going Rogue". The CARE website has been deader than a door nail since then, the last update was a announcement for the hearing date at the House Appropriations Committee in May, the hearing at which AB 372 was quietly slipped into the suspense file.

CARE was never particular interested in keeping California adoptees abreast of its activities, that's where I came in. And here I go again. The AAC is bringing its annual conference to Sacramento next March, and plans to kick it off with a reception with Assm. Fiona Ma and a walk, "time permitting", to the Capitol... This will be followed by a keynote by Jean Strauss and they'll show her film. The "time permitting" is a nice trope, an action as a throw-away... It's this sort of support that's the reason I'll never, ever, become a member of the American Adoption Congress. Let's just say that if you're in a foxhole and the shells are falling all around, you can count on the AAC to have your back, "time permitting"...

Now, I haven't gone to a lot of AAC conferences, but I've gone to enough of them to know how they operate. In 2008 they held their conference in Portland, OR, with a theme celebrating the 10th anniversary of Measure 58 (the successful ballot measure that affirmed the right of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates). So far, so good. However they scheduled the panel workshop on M58 on late Saturday afternoon, the last day of the conference, when half the attendees were heading for the airport. The panel was scheduled at the same time as my workshop on LDAs and Fred Greenman's (the person in the AAC who had the most direct role in M 58's success) panel on birth fathers. They celebrated M58 by burying it and excluded persons with a direct role in its passage. Oh, and Helen Hill, the chief petitioner, the person who devoted time and treasure to M58? The AAC said they couldn't locate her. Bastardette bumped into her on a Portland streetcar the day before the conference and told her about the conference. An organization filled with search angels couldn't be bothered...

Next year they are "celebrating" CARE and AB 372 by scheduling a reception with Fiona Ma on Thursday afternoon, when the bulk of the attendees will be checking into their rooms at the Sheraton. This is what is known as "damning with faint praise".

The adoptee who forwarded me the announcement was alarmed by the vision of several hundred AAC activists marching to the legislature demanding passage of AB 372. The way the event is scheduled guarantees that it will get a light turnout. AAC conferences, which are top heavy with adoption professionals and wannabes, are not exactly hotbeds of activism. There are few things more dampening to direct action than an AAC conference, because they don't want to UPSET ANYONE!

I've been asked if I'm going to attend. I might, just to keep them honest. I'll be the one on top of a table, spitting venom and wearing a "AAC doesn't speak for me" T-shirt...

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