Monday, January 28, 2008

Out of the Cabbage Patch and Into the Fire

Last night I tuned in to one of my favorite NPR programs, Ira Glass' This American Life, which, if you're not familiar with it, is a collection of brilliantly composed vignettes highlighting bizzare, funny, poignant, often ironic aspects of life, told in true documentary fashion, where the storyteller never gets in the way of the subject. The third act of this episode, originally broadcast January 18, focused on the experience of workers in FAO Schwarz's marketing scheme to sell high-end dolls, its "Newborn Nursery Adoption Center."

From the doll manufacturer's website:
Twenty combinations of hair and eye color are available for adoptive parents to choose from, followed by the completion of the adoption application and choosing the baby's name. The doll arrives wrapped in a blanket and is then placed in the arm of the waiting mother. The center's "staff nurse" takes a photo of the mother and child, then receives an official adoption certificate, complete with footprint. Accessories for baby, including hats, booties and blankets, are for sale around the adoption center.

Ostensibly a story about prejudice toward racial minorities and people with disabilities with only a slight nod toward the adoption industry's commidification of children (a supervisor instructs staff never to mention the word"sell" in its "adoption interview" before it collects the "adoption fee"), the storyteller, in this case a sales associate ("nurse") recounts her experience of customer reactions when all the white babies sell out, leaving row upon row of minority babies lying unadopted in their "incubators."

Where to begin?
  • the obvious racism of customer's "adoptive" preferences?
  • the stereotypically gendered scripting of adoptive "little mommies?"
  • the callously accurate representation of the wholesale commodification of adoptees?
  • how about the normalization of generation falsified birth certificates?
  • how about the fact that the "babies" retail for over $100 (my one year old has a lovely baby doll we got for around nine bucks)?
If this little phenomenon isn't emblematic of everything that's wrong with traditional infant adoption, I don't know what is. And for me, personally, the image of the adoptive parent casually shopping the rows of infants of bassinets for the perfect chosen baby, is right out of my early childhood conception of "where babies come from." Ugh.

Now this stuff is probably old hat to most of you readers, but being that I'm an old school Vermont hippie, a bit out of touch with the wonders of American mass marketing, I hope you'll forgive my naivete. Can it really be that after all these years that nowhere in the chain of marketing command at either the doll manufacturer or retailer there was no one with a basic understanding of what's wrong adoption? *sigh*


Anonymous said...

Wow. I have no words. This is scary for so many reasons, including (as you pointed out) how much they got right.

I'm trying very hard not to assume that either an adoptive parent or a member of the adoption industry was somehow involved in dreaming this up.

debbie said...

as a mother who was lucky enough to adopt 2 minority children with disabilities, yes, yes, yes to all you just said.

Chris said...

I know what you mean,'s hard to not be conspiratorial minded...(readers should check out Sang-Shil's blog post where she takes the topic a few steps further)

Thanks for reading, Debbie...always great to meet adoptive parents who care enough to check out the adoptee experience from a variety of perspectives. I've got two boys with disabilities myself (autism spectrum), so I know how that goes...hope you're getting all the support you need...

Being Me said...

Just found you through the web of interconnecting blogs. I'm really glad you're here. I like your sense of balance.

Anonymous said...

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Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

Elle said...

Hi Chris, I'm a Swedish Korean adoptee. I found your blog a few days ago. I wonder if I might add it to my blogroll?

Delmer Valenzuela said...

Nice blog