Adoption law scholar Elizabeth Samuels has a letter in Saturday’s Washington Post in response to TV critic Tom Shales scathing review of Find My Family: The family weep-stakes. I agree with his broader critique of the show and its reality porn genre, but did Shales have to muck up his cultural criticism with a cheap shot at first parents Sandy and Scotty Steinpas:

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?

WTF??? Of all the complaints I could raise about Find My Family, some alleged breech of contract is as far away from my radar as Antoine Vermette’s reaction to the latest Columbus Blue Jacket’s loss. To show how far away that is, I had to look up the Bluejacket’s roster to come up with his name to write that last sentence.

Shales sees himself as a latter-day Gilbert Seldes. He treats TV like it’s theatre or film–an admirable, but in the case of Voyeur TV–absurdist endeavour. Reality porn is not Man of Aran or Hour of the Furnaces. It’s not even The Truman Show. Shales seems to object that Find My Family is bourgie melo without Douglas Sirk artfully lifting the rock. Actually, the rock is lifted, it’s the artlessness of the whole thing that gets to him. The sordidness of teen sex. The intrusiveness of tiny cameras. The copious public tears. The commodification of private space. The ungrateful bastard.

The media is the message.

The media is the cheap massage the public craves.

BB Church writes:

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…

Find My Family, Shales says, reminds him of the pioneer creepie peepie gendered shows Queen for a Day, It Could Be You, This is Your Life, and the “shut-in” favorite Strike It Rich with Warren Hull, popular daytime shows full of tears and cool consumer shit and reunions with long lost family members, teachers, and lovers. As a child Bastardette voraciously consumed these shows. I once, no kidding, saw Joan Rivers reunited with her sister, a lawyer. They didn’t seem real long-lost. Only bi-coastal. Everything is phony.

Shales moans:

It really is amazing how far back in television history these for-profit invasions of privacy go — and depressing to face the fact that they’ll probably never go away.

Of course, it’s depressing, and of course they’ll go on. Adoption records remain sealed. and the public loves melo as long as they’re not the subject of it. Significantly, Shales forgets…the government created the mess that is sealed birth certificates that created Find My Family. And he forgets…

There is no “invasion of privacy” when all parties willingly forgo their “privacy,”an act of autonomy. Shales, the cultural critic of privilege, can’t comprehend that Find My Family contestants (and that’s what they are) WANT to, dare I say, find their family. Due to moronic identity stripping laws that de-identify families and anonymize its members in the name of a state-convoluted and enforced “privacy right” to protect the adopted from themselves and their biological families, they can’t. So when a show like Find My Family or its progenitor, The Locator comes along they jump through hoops to get on. To the political bastard, searching is a subversive act. Searching is a political act. Unfortunately, the contestants so far seem to prefer sentimental reunion to political action. Too bad, since a bastardcentric show could be politically energizing. Screw you, Wisconsin!

Shales, the TV intellectual, doesn’t see adoption like the rest of us who live it. He worries himself over a spurious breach of contract he pulled out his nose, when the real problem is government confiscation and sealing of our birth records and the state’s continued interference in our personal relationships, something you’d think a cultural critic could get his teeth in. As Bastard Nation writes,

Generally, however, the courts have determined the right to privacy to mean protection of individuals from government intrusion, not the right of one individual to remain anonymous from another.”

But, it’s not as if the producers of Find My Family bring it up, and nobody asks and nobody tells.

Here is the Sirkian irony Shales so needs to revisit. Elizabeth Samuels opened the door in her WaPo letter:

They [contract promises] were a condition imposed upon the birth parents, without consideration for the future wishes of the child. The birth parents surrendered all rights and would not even know whether the child was adopted or kept in long-term care. After adoption, documents in the hands of adoptive parents often contained the birth mother’s name.

Now, in a piece of cruel irony, when birth mothers overwhelmingly support proposed state laws to give their adult children access to their original birth certificates, the mothers are told that the certificates were sealed to protect their anonymity. It is not a whim to grieve the loss of a child and to long to know whether the now-grown child is alive and well.

There are plenty of reasons to genuinely dislike Find My Family The show manipulates exploits, and weeps. It sentimentalizes adoption “dysfunction” as a personal and individual “problem” not policy rot. It perpetuates the ideology of adoption secrets and shame by remaining silent on sealed records. It leaves the adoption industry and its political lobby untouched. It would probably be too much, though. to expect a reality show to be anything other than what it is: inexpensive, easily-made entertainment in a time of political and economic uncertainty. One person’s incarceration is another person’s escape.

Still, Find My Family (and The Locator) are visual documents well worth studying and deconstructing for what they say about adoption and the relation of bastards to the state. If your issue gets made into a reality show, then you’re in serious trouble.

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10 Replies to “"FIND MY FAMILY" REDUX”

  1. great post!! i am not a fan of this reality show, any of them at all. you are right, when will someone speak out a mention something about our rights or OBC things of such. never, because tv is all scripted = bullshit.

  2. The problem with “intellectuals” like Shale is that they consider their assumptions to be a correct as their learned knowledge. WHAT CONTRACT???? I never signed anything that was a contractural agreement. I signed a surrender of parental rights and responsibilities and even that was a farce.

    Any prohibitions against searching ended when our children became of legal age.

    I also abhor much of reality TV (although I guiltily love watching d-list celebs stumble through ballroom dances.*blush)I decided, from day one, to avoid this dog and pony show. I get triggered enough by what happens everyday in my own life, since I am in full contact with my surrendered, adult children.

    I can’t help but observe, however, that everyone that can is jumping on the gravy train of adoption and reunion. Hey, that’s the American way. 🙁

  3. I didn’t apply for this show. I have to admit, I thought about it. But once I downloaded the application which would use 1/2 ream of paper to print out, I lost interest immediately.

    If I was ever to be on a show like this, I would go into a rant about sealed birth certificates. I know it would be completely edited out and filled with commercials. A big waste of time and energy, so I’m not filling out anything.

    If a show can pimp us (some more) without having the balls to tell it’s listeners the reason we are being pimped, then it’s bastards being used AGAIN for someone else’s benefit. Again, and again and again and again….

  4. Thanks for cuing me on the continuating saga of Find My Family. But you can bet your bippy I will be tuned in on Monday at 8 p.m. when we get the next installment. So Tom Shales is carping about the effin “contract?” We so unwillingly signed? when we gave up up babies?

    Unfortunately, he spewing the liberal (ha) manifesto of the rich adoptive parents he knows in the liberal media. I ought to know, because some of them are my acquaintances. My feeling is if the show makes one person rethink his sense of the “contract”–actually the paper I signed made no mention of no contact, it was a simple relinquishment from –anyway, if Find My Family changes one person’s mind, or gets under the skin of those happy dappy adopters and their friends, I’m all for it.

    I need some fresh air.

    lorraine from http://www.firstmotherforum.com

  5. The contact carp was so strange, I figured it could on come from somebody he knows. I started to write abut that, but thingsweren’t flowing right so I cut it. Thanks for bringing it up.

    I’m a fan of reunion shows myself. I mean, I’ve been watching them since I was a little kid. They can be annoying, but basically harmless. I still see these shows as soft propaganda and I hope it does change people’s minds. The problem is, the minds that need changed aren’t watching the shows.

  6. I echo what Lorraine says that if one person changes their mind about adoption because if this show then I am all for it.

    “Contract” as in buying a car, buying a house, buying a baby.

    I didn’t sign (gosh, I have no ides what my 15 year old unrepresented self signed) a contract. That would imply that I entered into a legal agreement with my son’s adoptive parents who were not even in the picture until months after I gave birth to him.

    I hope that someone more eloquent than me will write a rebuttal.

  7. a relinquishment is not a contract and doesn’t come under contract laws. we didn’t agree to never know.

    further, many of the sealed records were not sealed until after BSE mothers relinquished in many states, so many mothers were expecting their children tof ind them when they turned 18,as they had been told their children could get their obc at that time, which was the truth when the surrenders were signed.

    guy needs to check his facts before spouting bogus crap like this. i am sick to death of being damned if we do and damned if we don’t!

  8. I love the chicken cartoon! That is exactly my view of reality TV. I also love Elizabeth Samuels’ letter that shoots down the stupid “contract” comment.

    I won’t be watching the show as I do not enjoy those things, but predict it will run out of steam and be gone in a few weeks or months. See one TV reunion, you’ve seen them all after a while.

  9. I commented on ABC’s “Find My Family” message boards. The first posting was deleted by their “moderators”. I copied and pasted it again. Here is the link: (Close up space first)

    http://abc.go.com /shows/find-my-family/discuss?cat=334979&tid=760099&tsn=1

    I could use some back up. I’ve already had one delusional AP comment. Wow, how mindless people are allowed to adopt never ceases to amaze me. But, they have money, so that’s really all that matters, huh?

  10. My husband and I adopted our son Steele five years ago at birth, we have a biological 13 year old daughter and we just last January adopted our 7yr old son Abel from Ethiopia. I think Find My Family is such typical TV crap. I hate TV, watch it maybe once a week (The Office and 30 Rock and LOST when it’s on) so as someone who isn’t into the stream of manipulation that IS MOST TV now. I think this is just par for the reality TV course. What greater, more complicated topic then adoption to stir people up emotionally? ugh!!

    ps, love the term “Reality Porn” I hadn’t heard that before.

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