I know, you probably don’t expect this title in a child welfare blog. And you probably don’t expect these two topics paired together. I didn’t expect a Seinfeld rerun to unblock my writer’s block either. Stranger things have happened, I’m sure.
So why Seinfeld and adoption? I was passively watching Seinfeld yesterday (that’s code for multi-tasking), and was surprised and dismayed. Surprised that I missed a reference to adoption in a Seinfeld show that I know I have seen before. And dismayed at the context of the reference. It was the Joel Rifkin episode, when Elaine is dating a man with the same name as serial murderer, Joel Rifkin. In the show, Kramer makes the statement, “You know why Rifkin was a serial killer? Because he was adopted. Just like Son of Sam was adopted. So apparently adoption leads to serial killing.”.
In the past, this type of statement would invoke one of two reactions, possibly both, from me. One is that I would attempt to contact the producer or network to express my discontent. The second is that I would boycott the program. With technology being what it is today, I can add a third response…blog about it.
For some reason, adoption often is a target for vilification by the media. Case in point, the 2009 movie, Orphan (which I boycotted). Obviously, I didn’t see the movie but from what I understand, it portrays a young girl that had been adopted and turns out to be an evil monster who harms others. I can’t provide more details than that as I’ve deliberately avoided learning any more about it.
The media can be a friend or foe to child welfare, and in the case of adoption it is a little of both. There are great programs like ‘Home for the Holidays‘, produced by the Dave Thomas Foundation which highlights adoption successes. Conversely, there are programs like the movie, the Orphan and negative references to adoption in sitcoms such as Seinfeld that fuel the fear and misconceptions that often are associated with adoption. Some may say this is fictionally and harmless. I would disagree. The notion of children who have been adopted as being somehow flawed or even dangerous has its roots deep in the psyche of society. Negative images in the media serve to fuel the misunderstanding that can accompany limited information of adoption and foster care.
I am reminded of an offhand comment made by a colleague years ago. This was a college educated, otherwise intelligent person working in a professional position. She and her husband chose to live in a small, rural community, thinking the education and environment would be desirable for their young children. One day, she expressed dismay that a foster child had just started in her daughter’s class. She went on to say that she was concerned because ‘those foster kids are naughty’. She said it half in jest, I believe, but there was an air of sincerity, and anxiety, to it.
It is this kind of sentiment that concerns me. The media often reinforces this kind of thinking with statements like that made by Kramer in the Seinfeld episode. Children in foster care face enough obstacles and challenges as is; it is irresponsible to feed the stigma and paranoia associated with this already difficult situation.