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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Is the Portrayal of Adoptees/Adoption on These TV Shows Offensive?

"Oh wow...did that character just refer to orphans 'dumplings'?!" I thought to myself when watching one episode of Futurama. "Dumplings" as in "dump...lings." Do things like these just stick out to me because I'm adopted or would anyone have taken notice? I wonder. Adoption is everywhere in television shows, movies, and even commercials. I discussed a while back on my blog the kids show "Dinosaur Train" with its nauseating "its healthy to learn more about who I am while making it exhuberantly clear that my adoptive family is my one and only real family" theme. But television shows with bizzare adoption themes are not exclusive to kids shows. There are quite a few shows for older audiences that use adoption themes for humor. Do shows like Futurama and American Dad cross the line when it comes to using adoption themes to poke fun

Turanga Leela, one of the main characters in Futurama, grew up in an "orphanarium." Abandoned as a baby and treated as an outcast in the "orphanarium," Leela spends a considerable amount of her adulthood searching for who she is and where she comes from. She believes that she is an alien and thus searches far and wide throughout the galaxy for her people. She finally discovers that she is not an alien but a mutant. As mutants themselves, her parents are banished to living in the sewer system. Believing that Leela could pass as human, they abandoned her in a basket on a doorstep where she is taken to the "orphanarium." They have watched her wherever she has gone throughout her life; she just didn't know it.

(From episode 4.5, Leela and the "warden" at the "orphanarium")

Leela:  Mr Vogel?, Remember me ? 
Warden Vogel:  Leela., You're worthless and no one will ever love you. 
[both laughing and hugging] 
Leela:  You used to say that all the time. 
Warden Vogel:  Those were happier days. 

The show features Leela's emotional breakdowns, poor and rash decisions, and her suseptibility to being taken advtangage of whenever her past as an "orphan" or her search for her roots and people are brought into play.

American Dad, another cartoon, also has a main character who spent part of her childhood in an orphanage. Francine Smith, wife, mother of two, and caregiver to an alien the family is hiding and a talking goldfish, is adopted.  She also became a surrogate mother as a favor to the neighbors. Francine was adopted by Chinese parents who saw her at the orphanage and wanted to adopt her immediately but waited until the price went down so they could get her cheaper.

Scenes featuring Francine's adoption are heavily saturated with Asian stereotypes. It is difficult to tell if Francine doesn't see eye to eye with her parents simply because she's adopted, because she's portrayed as a "dumb blonde," or because of how they are so heavily stereotyped in the show.

We have our own jokes in the adoptee community as do we women amongst ourselves. As Von stated so well on a past post on her personal blog, a sign that a group is doing well is when they have the ability to make fun of themselves and incorporate some humor into their movement. But what about when it isn't adoptees making fun of themselves but other people doing it? Shows like these leave no topic untouched. Is it funny? What is the difference between "being able to take a joke" and feeling disrespected?

There's a fine line between the two, I suppose.

"All I really wanted was a mom and dad, to hold me and stroke my hair and tell me they love me."  --Turanga Leela, Futurama


  1. I have seen things about adoption that adoptees might find offensive and honestly I have thought it was comical but I haven't lived in an adoptees shoes. Maybe if the tables were turned and it was jokes that were geared toward something more that I can relate to that I would find it coming off as rude. I think one hard part of life that I have had to tried to come to terms with is that this is my life and my story of adoption and not everyone is going to feel the same passion about how I feel about my daughter or feel the same loss from adoption loss from my side of things.

  2. Yikes.

    I thought it was bad on the dramas that I watch (or check into because of the known adoption theme) but I had no idea it was infecting the cartoon world. I something think this will not stop until the entire world is redistributed among people not related to anyone close to them. Then will this stop?

    Catelynn and Tyler, etc...

  3. Some adoptive parents with Chinese children will refer to them as Hunan Honeys, Spicy Sichuans or Dongwei Dumplings, lovingly letting others know where their child is from. I personally used darling instead, but it's bit like finding out my daughter was called the *N* word in a foreign language.


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