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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the idea that these kinds of shows ought to be a platform for open records. About all you can say about them (the shows) is that they don't work against them. But I do know that when conceived, a show like this has to be tightly focused. It's just the cardinal rule of production or publishing, for that matter. One thing. One note. That simple.

Open records deserves a really powerful documentary following 3 - 4 people. Could open a lot of eyes.

5:35 AM  
Anonymous legitimatebastard said...

I used to be hooked on all types of adoption in the moives and on TV. Until I realized it plays on emotions. An you are right --- the non-adopted toy withthe concept for the length of the show, close off the feelings, and open them back up to fantasy next week.

Good line: "the fact that our governement creates and regualtes the crisis just complicates things..."

6:26 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

Well, mmmm...interesting. While I was not impressed with the show either, I have to say that your take on the whole thing is interesting.

I don't however believe a child of 15 has the legal capacity to sign a legally binding document. At least that is what I learned in Contract Law and Legal Ethics. So, how is that binding to anyone?

9:03 PM  
Blogger Lori Lavender Luz said...

These are some astute observations:

"Adoption gets represented in mass media in two contexts; sensational or sentimental" well as the label Reunion Porn for innermost emotions displayed for public consumption.

Thanks for your tweet about the PW book tour. I have appreciated your respectful and insightful points left on some of the blogs.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Lori Lavender Luz said...

Oh, and did you see this:

1:19 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

Hi Lori,

I find adoption law fascinating, since it's a creature of statute rather than common law. Among the anomalies is the ability for minors to legally relinquish, in some cases in states that have parental notification laws for things like tattoos... or abortion.

8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:27 PM  
Blogger 日系娃娃 said...

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9:13 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

I'm turning off comments to this blog for a while until I post a new blog entry. I don't have enough time to deal with the Chinese spammers. This may finally push me to WordPress

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love wordpress. I use it for my blogs, and they catch pretty nearly all the spam. - Rupa

12:11 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

I know, Rupa, I know... If I did day-to day BB Church blogging I'd migrate to WordPress in a heartbeat.

12:56 PM  

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