And the Punchline Is…You’re Adopted (Adoption in Media)

Dawn Davenport

43

Adoption and TV, Movies, and Commercials

How does the media affect adopted kids?

Yesterday, as I was cleaning the kitchen, the nearby TV was tuned to sports having been left on by one of the males in my family.  (Apparently, they are incapable of making a sandwich without watching some game.)  I was mindlessly listening, when I heard a gravelly voice say “You’re adopted”.  I hadn’t been following the commercial, but could tell a punchline when I heard one.  I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, and I instinctively looked to see if my adopted daughter had heard.

Ha-Ha-You’re Adopted

The commercial is by Sony advertising a new golf video game. The mom of the family is playing the game and kicking butt.  Her family is trying to distract her, so she will make a mistake.  They try various tactics, including running the blender, rattling keys, and blowing vuvuzelas.  At last the grandfather, presumably her father, says “You’re adopted.”

 

Punch in the Gut

My gut reaction surprises me on some level.  I’m the one who preaches that over sensitivity to words results in less talking about a subject, which is usually a bad thing.  For example, some of you may recall my blog on The Debate over Adopt-a- Programs where I took the controversial position that it wasn’t inherently an insult to adopted persons to use that slogan.  I also caution adoptive parents to not take offense with every comment they receive about their child’s adoption.  Life’s short, and I prefer the “assume good intent unless proven otherwise” approach.  But all my platitudes to the contrary, my first reaction to the Sony commercial was as if I had been kicked.

It seems from a quick perusal of adoptive parent forums that I’m not alone in my reaction, but most seem to assume that the phrase “you’re adopted” was said as an insult.  My take on the commercial when re-watching it is a little different.  Maybe I’m making too fine a distinction, but the point of the grandfather saying “You’re adopted” was to distract, not to insult.  I assume, and I realize that I am spending way too much time analyzing this commercial, that this was suppose to be new information to the mother.  No doubt being told you’re adopted for the first time when you are 40+ would be a shock and a distraction.  I understand that it was meant to be funny—see how far the grandfather would go to try to win at this game.  LOL [laughing out loud]!  However, the subtle subtext is that being adopted is an inferior state—something worth being shocked and distracted by.

Similar to a Racial Slur?

Many adoptive parent commenters say that using “you’re adopted” in that context is no different than making a derogatory statement about a person’s race or sexual orientation.  Our society would not put up with an outright racist statement made as part of a national commercial.  (Although I well know that subtler forms of racism are still prevalent.) Homosexual slurs are still pretty common, although becoming much less acceptable with the great Public Service Announcement campaigns focusing on making people think before they use the phrase “That’s so gay”.  (If you are unfamiliar with these PSAs, they are worth watching.  I particularly liked the one, obviously produced by an amateur and starring high school students,  which begins with two girls complaining about a hard test.  One of the girls says “That test was so Asian.”  Another scene is a boy saying to a kid that biked to school, “I can’t believe you rode your bike. That’s so Mormon.”  Another one worth watching stars a very funny Wanda Sykes.)

Since I think that the line “You’re adopted” was not intended to insult the woman, but to shock her, the racial and sexual orientation analogies are not directly on point–no one would be shocked or surprises by their race or homosexuality.  I couldn’t come up with a good analogy of something that is intrinsic to a person that they wouldn’t know and the knowledge of which would shock them.  (That says volumes about the need to tell children about adoption and egg, sperm and embryo donation from the very beginning.)

Are We Being Overly Sensitive

I also wondered what others outside of the adoption community might have seen in this commercial.  Was I hyper-focusing on the adoption theme and perhaps overreacting just a bit?  I went searching for comments made on non adoption forums.  Nope, it wasn’t just me; the adoption gag line garnered the most comments by far.  Here’s a sampling of what I found.

Tyler over at Hotbloodedgaming said: That commercial had just about everything. By the way, you’re adopted! LOL

supa_badman at Gamespot shared: ‘BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT’  ‘YOU’RE ADOPTED.’.Best two [words] ever heard in a commercial.

Comments made on the video of the commercial on YouTube:

  • ‘YOUR ADOPTED!’ that line should go down in history! ~T3rM1n8TOr
  • I have three words to say to you.   YOU…ARE…ADOPTED. ~pm41224
  • LOLOL [really laughing out loud] you’re adopted ~fusedpower

At this point I was on a roll, so I checked some of my favorite blogs by adopted persons to see what they were saying.  Most weren’t saying anything, and those that did comment did not always agree.   In a blog about another adoption themed commercial, Amanda over at The Declassified Adoptee said: “Until becoming a mother and paying more attention to the influences that are around my son, I never realized that no matter where I go or look, I am hardly able to find any outlet that provides a positive view of the “adopted” part of my identity. …There is scarcely anything in the media that does not exploit or make fun of that part of who I am.”  However, in the comments to the video on YouTube, LegendaryHasha responded to an adoptive parent’s negative comment: “I think you’re taking it too seriously. It’s meant to be funny and as an adoptee I don’t find it insulting, merely entertaining.”

An interesting side note:  In a Sony commercial for the same product aired early this year, a character said, in a veiled response to an internet rumor of a big price reduction in the video platform, “You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet; otherwise, I’d be a Nigerian millionaire by now.” This prompted Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Communication to demand an apology from Sony, calling the commercial an “unwarranted attack on the reputation and image of the country.” In response, Sony issued an apology to the Nigerian government and immediately pulled the commercial from the air.  Now, in truth, I thought the line was pretty funny and thought the Nigerian official and Sony had overreacted.  I guess the line between reaction and overreaction and sensitive and hyper-sensitive is in the eye or ear of the beholder.

I don’t want to walk through life looking for insults.  I certainly don’t want that for my children.  But I also don’t want the world to view their adoptive status as inferior or subpar or shocking.  I don’t want something so important to them and to me to be used as a cheap, not-so-funny punchline.

I ended my post on adopt a highways saying I hoped we were raising our adopted kids to be more like hardy asters rather than hot house flowers.  My kiddos seem to be pretty darn sturdy, but at times I still want to be their greenhouse.  They may not need protecting, but I still need to protect.

If you want to write to Sony to express your opinion on the commercial, send your comments to scea_media_hotline@playstation.sony.com

 

Image credit: notashamed

16/11/2010 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 43 Comments



43 Responses to And the Punchline Is…You’re Adopted (Adoption in Media)

  1. John says:

    I have seen the commercial and, as an adopted person and adoptive parent, it never occurred to me to take offense. I think in the context of the commercial, which was introduced by a comical pitchman (Kevin Butler) and made to promote a less than serious product, a video game system, the line was meant to be funny and in no way degrading. If the context had been different, maybe a serious discussion about someone’s shortcomings in a formal forum, I may have a different reaction to the idea of adoption being used as a way to hurt someone.

    As we raise our four year old adopted daughter, we realize she will be bombarded with media messages her entire life and it will be up to her to know how to react to them. We are open with her about her adoption history and also discuss things she sees in the media to try to give her a solid, rational framework in learning how to react to TV, books, and movies.

    Had we seen this commercial together with our daughter, we would have discussed that the commercial is silly, the people in it are doing and saying silly things, and it’s meant to be laughed at, not taken seriously. If we were to interpret everything we hear to be something negative and worthy of our scorn, we wouldn’t have much time left to enjoy life.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for posting this! I just wrote to Sony, asking that they not make light of a very serious matter. Adoption is a sacred life-event, just as marriage, birth, and death are sacred.

    I agree with you completely… I don’t want to “over-react.” I don’t want to be hypersensitive, nor do I want to censure everyone/everything. I was adopted, and we are trying to adopt. However, if we can’t talk about Nigerian millionaires, then we should not be allowed to mock the blending of a family.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Dawn, I’m here from the adopt korea board. Being that we watch TV only through our DVR, I rarely see commercials–neither do my 3 and 4 year old, and today I am glad about that. I am not usually overly sensitive about these sorts of things….the adopt-a-highway things don’t really bug me at all, but this DOES seem hurtful. There are good and bad ways to shock people.

    Good: You just won a million dollars!
    Bad: You’re adopted!!!

    It does seem cruel to me, and I will be writing Sony to express that. Thanks for bringing this up.

    • Dawn says:

      Elizabeth, I also seldom watch “regular TV” so had missed this commercial. Also, since it is advertising a golf video game, I assume it is primarily aired on sports shows, which I also seldom watch.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I read this blog post before I watched the commercial. I am also a big believer in not being too sensitive about comments, for the sake of life being too short and open-dialogue between people. From the blog post alone, I felt this was maybe an over-reaction to a mediocre commercial ad. After viewing the commercial on youtube, I decided the comment seemed derogatory and put-down-ish because of the tone in the grandfather’s voice and the general context of the statement.

    No offense to others, but I also did not find the commercial funny. I don’t get why being adopted would be funny? Besides the point, I found the commercial offensive.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    You people need to lighten up, its a damn commercial and a funny one at that. I mean if a commercial can piss you off this much than I would love to see your reaction to a real problem. [Next line deleted by blog owner.] You’re also kind of late to the party, this commercial first aired over a month ago. Quit your bitching and learn to laugh.

  6. lol says:

    lolololololol

  7. Game Guy says:

    Hi everyone, I appreciate the blog as always. I have seen the ad quite a few times and until I read this I never gave it much thought and didn’t find it offensive. I am not an adoptive parent but we are having trouble getting pregnant (how I became a fan of your site and show). I don’t know if it is intended to be offensive but I can see the point that you are making and I appreciate the point made in the comments.

  8. Nanci says:

    Cherie mentioned television programs where parents tell others that their misbehaving children are adopted, but I think she missed the point of the punchline. It’s actually much worse than just making excuses for their behavior, as if adopted kids cannot behave right. The joke is meant to create a remove from the offensively behaving person. It would be like an adult friend acting inappropriately and the other person saying “No, I don’t know her. I’ve never seen her before in my life.” It’s a removal of guilt by association and a removal of embarassment by disowning the person in question. They are seperating themselves from the kids by saying “we’re not at fault for this behavior, because they are not *really* ours.”

  9. Sherri says:

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I had not seen the ad, but I’ve already written a letter to Sony.

  10. Cherie says:

    Its a sad day when adoption becomes the punchline of a joke rather than a beautiful experience. This is not the first case though as I have seen other television shows where the kids misbehave and the parents will say, to other parents.. “sorry, they’re adopted” as if that would excuse the behavior. As an adoptee, I can tell you that my feelings would definitely have been hurt and were in fact hurt when my adoptive mother would say those type of things to her friends. In the case of my sister and I, it was true but still unnecessary to say. Truthfully, she could have just said “We don’t know why she is behaving that way”. Sony could have come up with some other catch phrase.

  11. Bary says:

    I think this commercial walks a very thin line: the simple intent of grandpa’s comment is to distract and yet the source of the distraction is in attacking his child’s family identity. This attack is where the kick-in-the-gut feeling comes from. Sony shouldn’t be held to too high a standard here – without consulting an adoptive family member, they just wouldn’t get it. I don’t believe that anyone could predict the level of emotion that this could evoke for adoptive parents. (I suspect that adoptees are a lot less sensitive to this commercial) That being said, they are in the entertainment business and should be REALLY aware of their audience. As advocates for adoption, we do need to keep our protective emotions in balance with the need to educate the truly insensitive.

  12. Sharon says:

    My husband and I (along with our kids) saw this commercial and we looked at each other and said, “What did he just say?” I do think it is distasteful, but fully recognize as an adoptive parent, at times I am too sensitive. It took me by surprise, for sure.

  13. Frank says:

    I understand how at first glance some people might take offense at this commercial. However, it seems saying the words “You’re adopted” speaks more to the the secrecy around adoption than to adoption being a negative thing. It is true that if you are 40 years old and were never told you had been adopted, you would be shocked and possibly become distracted from playing the game. However, if you already knew you were adopted, this phrase would do nothing. Saying, “you’re adopted” seems more equivalent to saying, “you just won the lottery, I’m not sure I see any negative message about adoption beyond this in the commercial, but certainly see how it points out how uncomfortable people are discussing adoption.

  14. paula says:

    Since I am an adult adoptee with fertility issues who has explored the avenue of adoption, I think I can offer an opinion from both sides of the fence: GET A LIFE! Stop micro-anaylsising everything to figure out if its PC or not. I find it offensive that someone who is NOT adopted felt the need to write Sony and tell them how I should feel about there use of the word adopted. It is NOT the main focus of the commercial, if you notice she continues playing unfazed as if to say” adopted, please you better come up with something more shocking than that!”
    Just my opinion but I am much more offended by hearing someone use the phrase “like a redheaded stepchild” that truly does insult the status of being a stepchild than this commercial says about adopting or being adopted.

    • Dawn says:

      Paula-interesting point that the woman was completely unfazed, so perhaps that’s the message that will stick. “So, I’m adopted. So what.”

  15. Karen says:

    The problem goes beyond the specific ad. When Sony makes adoptive families the butt of a joke, they are condoning and even promoting others to do the same. There are hundreds of responses applauding the “you’re adopted” line in the ad. This might seem like a success in terms of product promotion, but the number of people in online forums who took the time to write about their gleeful response to this specific line is clear affirmation that every kid and adult who sees this ad is being sent the message that it is okay in our society to make fun of people who were adopted. Which means that it is ok to target adopted individuals that they know. And that the children and adults who are the butt of the jokes should just “lighten up.”

    As we roll into the holiday season, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of it this ad. I have written to and called Sony and Deutch Advertising specifically asking them to remove the “I’m adopted” line by Thanksgiving. I encourage everyone else who agrees to do the same.

    PS 3: scea_media_hotline@playstation.sony.com,
    Deutch: Peter.Gardiner@deutschinc.com

  16. Michelle says:

    I don’t think it is funny at all. Adopted or not the attempt at humor is very odd to me. Maybe the humor appeals to children who unfortunately are the ones most likely ones to repeat this and cause hurt to their adopted peers.

    We usually not easily offended by insensitive adoption comments. I have sent en email to Sony that you provided Dawn. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  17. RaeAnn Pfeiffer says:

    My husband and I watched this commercial several times and discussed it. We are bothered by it and wrote the e-mail to sony below. They could have used another phrase. Also, kids and adults repeat things they hear on T.V. and now this is going to be the lastest catch phrase which will be misused and abused.

    To whom it may concern, we would like to communicate a complaint regarding your current commercial that uses the phrase “you’re adopted” in extremely poor and distasteful context. You have a responsibility not to hide behind what sells, or what may seems funny to some of your consumers. We buy your products. As well, we are ashamed of the lack of thought for your customers who are part of adoptive families, and take this matter very seriously.

    We are not the only ones who feel this way. Please consider a formal apology to your customers, and editing this commercial.
    Thank you.

  18. kaitlin says:

    I think it is a funny commercial and all this fuss is a huge overreaction. I think Sony will sell a lot more of the Tiger Wood game because of the attention and also because the commercial is funny. Lighten up.

  19. karen bonetti says:

    I find this so sad. I will write Sony and tell them how I feel.Life is so brief,why make comments to hurt a persons soul,no less on tv. How could a company as big as sony run an ad so nasty.I too felt as I was punched in the stomach. Karen Bonetti

  20. Betsy says:

    My husband (not adopted, has adopted siblings) and I (adopted with an adopted sister) saw this commercial and looked at each other in shock. We are not ones to overreact and make something out of nothing, but it was surprising to hear them use that phrase in a commercial. The intent was probably not derogatory, but it has the potential to educate those without an adoptive experience in a negative way. As someone who is adopted and is in the process of adopting, I hope there would be more attention paid in the media and arts (particularly movies) to portraying adoption as a special life experience, not something over which to be shocked.

    • Dawn says:

      Betsy: Well said!! I have been thinking about how adoption is so often used in screen writing as a foil or shorthand. If I can pull my thoughts together, I’ll write a blog on it. I’d love to have your input on that one as well.

  21. matt says:

    I initially thought this was a bunch of overly sensitive people, but after reading the comments I’m not sure. I liked that you were surprised by your reaction. Kinda like you also thought you were over reacting. I like how you do that in your blogs. You can not always have all the answers and can show that you are trying to understand things while in the middle of them. The comments made me think. We don’t know whether our future child will be adopted or come from my wife’s egg or be an embryo created by someone else. I don’t want our future child to have to worry about this type of stuff. As always thanks for opening my eyes even if you don’t tell me what to do.

  22. Rachel says:

    I will watch for the comercial!

    Happy ICLW #44

  23. PM says:

    My husband and I saw this ad and our jaws dropped. I just sent a short email to Sony to complain and to let them know that Xbox games are now on our holiday shopping list instead of PlayStation ones. Thank you for posting the email address.

  24. RAD Mama says:

    I had not heard of this ad, but then I don’t watch sports. I have 3 kids who do watch sports so I am very thankful to be aware of this. I asked my eldests if they had seen the commercial and they had. One said he didn’t think anything at all, but the other said he was kinda surprised, but not really bothered. When I first watched it I thought it was horrible, but then I kinda see your point that it was supposed to surprise the lady into missing a shot. And like you said, telling that to someone when they are an adult would make you miss a shot. I loved the comments to this blog. It was the comments that really made me change my mind. I don’t mind the commercial now. Thank you and thank you mostly for what you do and especially for your show. I never miss one.

  25. Anonymous says:

    If a father, like the one in the commercial, were that rude to announce a daughter’s adoption in that manner, my response would be, “Thank-God!”, because I sure-as-heck wouldn’t want to inherit his dumb genes!

  26. GranPa Chuck says:

    I feel some are making too much of an issue. For all of us the important thing is that a person feels they are part of a Family. Actually, just read that 61% of our families are not a family of Traditional Marriage. In other words, we are becoming families of many mixes, ie natural, adopted, foster, etc.

    Hey, I am a granpa in a multigenerational family, best family I ever had and none of my family is naturally related to me, just from marriage of my late wife, Gloria. So one might say I adopted my family through marriage only.

    So, yes we can pursue the “Political” Correctness of this, but really, it is the Strength of the Family that counts.

  27. Carrie says:

    I am glad I am not the only that feels disappointed in this commericial. I am not the type of person that makes a big deal about things like this. But, when I heard this commericial it really bothered me. We have two amazing children given to us through adoption and to hear adoption referred to as the punchline to joke (on national television through a major company)was disrespectful and very disappointing. I am just glad that my children are too young to understand what it meant.

  28. Steve says:

    The use of the phrase in an effort just to be funny is biased and reinforces an ugly stereotype that adoptees have to deal with from the day they are adopted to the day they die. It *wouldn’t* be funny if it were *not* biased.

    We should *not* have to desensitize our children!; it is sad we have to.

  29. Suzanne says:

    I feel this is much ado about nothing. The commercial actually PROMOTES responsible adoptive parenting, i.e., not waiting til your child is in their 40’s to tell them they’re adopting. It’s merely dark humor; using a very intimate issue to distract the woman. I think we need to not sweat the small stuff.

    Suzanne in Chicago

  30. I’ve seen it a couple times and tend to be in the same camp as commenters like Hollie, John, and “Adopted.” I noticed it, I figured out the intent behind it, I wasn’t terribly bothered by it. But as I said in the Facebook conversation on Dawn’s page about the “Adopt – a – …” programs, I just choose not to allow that kind of stuff to get under my skin.

    However, Mike and David and Kaitlin’s comments bugged me more. Assuming we’re all grown ups here, and assuming we’re on this site to further educate ourselves and our families about the complicated issues surrounding adoption, fertility, infertility, etc. I can’t help but think that those comments are out of place. Surely there is a way to express that you are not offended by the commercial without such harsh condemnation. “Get over it” and “Get a life” diminishes the reality that some folks may actually feel bothered by the commercial. It may be true that the commercials aren’t offensive enough to warrant such examination for you, but obviously they are for others. I’d have thought there’d be more of a baseline of respect for others at the starting point of this conversation.

  31. david says:

    Mike Hunt may offend, but he’s right on. Get the […] over it. the commericial’s funny. That’s all that meant. Funny. You’re adopted is a funny line. Kevin Butler rules. LOLOL

  32. Adopted says:

    “You’re adopted” has been used as an insult and a joke in everything from commercials to, practical jokes, to greeting cards for a long time. While at face value it might not seem as an insult–it is a phrase specifically meant as an insult. Just search the phrase on Google.

    It’s not about not enjoying life. It is about wanting to be treated with respect. We can either (1) make it the adoptee’s responsibility to “get over” society’s rudeness or (2) provide education as to what themes and words are marginalizing to others and how it makes others feel.

    The second option sounds better to me.

    This is not about political correctness or trying to control what other people say. This is about manners. Asking other people to refer to minority groups respectfully does not breed ignorance–not in the least bit. Yes, it’s perfectly possible to speak one’s mind without being disrespectful or marginalizing to another group or person. I practice it daily!

    There’s a difference between living your life looking for insults, and taking a stand where insults are oppressed upon you. To avoid adoptism, racism, sexism, or any other “ism” I wouldn’t be able to leave my house or turn on the TV or read the news. Why make the marginalized person feel like they’re just not ignoring the ignorance enough when we could be asking those putting forth the ignorance to please stop?

  33. adopted mom says:

    I am an adoptee and adoptive parent. I applaud those who are sensitive to the commercial because I would rather have a parent who over-analyzes adoption than one who is completely oblivious to things that might impact an adopted child’s self-identity. Personally, I did not see the humor in the commercial, but was not really offended. What actually kicked me in the gut was Mike Hunt’s comment above. Brands are constantly trying to push the envelope and live on the border of socially acceptable, which I think can be quite healthy…it breeds thought-provoking conversations like these, which in turn help move our society forward. What I find intolerable is the ignorance and insensitivity of people like Mike who cannot see or respect another person’s point of view — which is a REAL problem.

  34. Julie says:

    Adult adoptee and adoptive mother here. Those kind of “punchlines” make my stomach twist. However, they also open the door to communications between myself, my son, my family, etc. We can email, yell and boycott to our heart’s content but no matter what we do – we will always offend someone. I think we need to use our time more wisely by educating people because using adoption in this way is simply a form of ignorance. The more we educate, the less funny it becomes.

  35. Hollie says:

    I don’t find the commercial that funny, but I don’t find it offensive either. It obviously wasn’t intended to offend adopted people-why would they want to? It was meant to distract and shock the woman, not insult her or adopted people. Seriously, we are getting so politically correct it is scary. Everyone is afraid to talk about or mention anything now, and you know what that breeds? Misunderstanding, ignorance and intolerance. We need to bring back common sense and look at the INTENT when we are faced with these types of things. Otherwise, we will just cease to communicate with each other in fear of saying the wrong thing and offending someone.

    • Dawn says:

      Hollie, I hear what you are saying, and on some level I agree. But I still felt as if I had been punched in the stomach and worried that my kids would feel somehow lesser. My blog was intended to express my ambivalence. Fundamentally, adoption is a sensitive topic because many people still believe that adopted children/persons are somehow lesser, or not as much a member of the family. Given this reality, it seems that a certain amount of sensitivity (or political correctness) is called for.

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