Avengers: Why Is Making Fun Of Adoption Still A-OK?

[Updated 05/19/2012: I’ve written a response to the many, many comments I’ve received to this post. You can find it on my fantasyworld blog: An Angry Adoptee Fangirl Responds To Avengers Adoption “Joke”]

Ah, adoption. Is there anything you can’t spoil? My husband took me out on a very nice date to see the Avengers movie. You’d think that would be safe from adoption triggers. You’d be wrong.

Background: Avengers is a group of kickass superheroes who, uh, kick ass. They’re in the same universe as the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. In the Avengers, Thor’s god of thunder. Loki’s his brother – adopted, a point which becomes crucial – and Odin’s their God father. They’re Asgardians, a supposedly more advanced race (whom you’d think would be more civilized than to have sealed records, but there you go.)  The rest of the Avengers, for the purposes of the movie, are Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Black Widow, with Nick Fury (everybody’s favorite badass Samuel L. Jackson) as the leader of military organization S.H.I.E.L.D.

[Very minor spoilers ahead…]

So there I am, forgetting my woes, laughing at the gang and drooling over Chris Hemsworth, when we get this lovely little tidbit. Thor is trying to explain to the others that Loki is his brother and his responsibility.

Black Widow points out, “He killed 80 people in 2 days.”

Thor explains, “He’s adopted.”

Cue entire theater laughing…. except for me. (And my husband, who knows better.)

I missed the next 15 minutes of the movie because I was seething. Joking about adoption isn’t funny. Joking about being adopted isn’t funny. Making fun of a late discovery adoptee is especially not funny.

Because that’s what Loki is. In the movie Thor, Loki finds out he was adopted as an adult. Odin All-Father (ha!) kept the truth from him, because he thought it was better for Loki, because he wanted adoption not to matter. Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? And it always, always backfires.

What bothered me is that this is a prime example of how adoptees are one of the last fair sources of discriminatory humor. We can have a black Nick Fury, we can have a female assassin, but the bastard remains the accepted butt of any joke. Think about what that one dismissive little line says: “He’s adopted.” In other words, it’s not Thor’s fault that Loki is such a jerk. Loki’s not a real member of the family. He knows it. His brother knows it and feels guilty. His father knows it and wants to make sure his “real” son is the one to inherit his throne.

Worse – Loki is not only adopted but he’s actually a Frost Giant, the Asgardians’ ancient enemy.  In other words, his birth family is the sworn enemy of his adopted family. His birth father is the enemy leader. His birth mother is nonexistent. His birth family are ugly monsters whereas his adoptive family are beautiful, blond, and godlike. Stereotype City!

Loki is also a textbook example of “bad blood”. He’s destined to turn evil, and he can’t get away from it no matter how much he tries. Think Damien from The Omen, another textbook example.

“He’s adopted.” Why is this joke acceptable? Why did the audience laugh? Why didn’t they rise up in HULK SMASH anger like I wanted to and scream, “Hey! That’s not funny!”

Because they don’t get it.

Why don’t they get it?

Because the adoption industry doesn’t want them to.

Look at Loki’s character from another perspective: You’ve grown up all your life with this strange feeling that you don’t quite belong. Your older brother is literally the golden boy, the one who will inherit your father’s legacy. You’ve lived all your life in his shadow, struggling just to be acknowledged by your family. Then suddenly one day your dad lets drop that you’re adopted. Would you, perhaps, be upset? Would you, perhaps, be angry?

It’s far more difficult to sell the idea that adoption is perfect when there are human faces on the victims. If we felt sorry for Loki, that might imply that not telling him the truth of his origins was wrong. If we accept that, we have to accept that concealing the truth from all adoptees is wrong. People might start to put themselves in the shoes of adoptees and their first families. They might start to question why adoption agencies are so vehement about keeping the records sealed. And if adoption isn’t perfect, and if families are hurt by it, then maybe there is another reason why the agencies want the records sealed – something they want to hide.

If Odin had told Loki from the start, the plots of Thor and Avengers would never have happened and Marvel would have been making money off Dazzler or Longshot or some other unfortunate Marvel superhero. If the adoption industry allowed people caught in the adoption trap access to information, the world might find out what they’ve been hiding: the coercion, the corruption, the lies.

Did Marvel think of all this when coming up with that joke? Of course not. The problem is that nobody ever thinks about it. It’s not even on their radar. If I had tried to explain this to the majority of people in that theater they would have thought I was nuts. How could that silly little joke possibly be upsetting or dehumanizing?

But it is. And mostly we just have to suck it up. I sat in that theater, furious, gripping my husband’s hand and growling under my breath. It’s like being under surprise attack. You never know when your enemy, Adoption, is going to jump out at you with a nasty-looking weapon and try to take your head off. And the people around you think you are fucking crazy because you keep ducking all the time.

Until our society as a whole decides these supposed “jokes” are unacceptable, we are not going to make any headway fixing what’s broken about adoption.

Resources For Late Discovery Adoptees

As a followup to my previous post, here are some resources for late discovery adoptees (those who discover their adopted status as adults).

Media Bias And Late Discovery Adoptees

Another Chicago Tribune article that, on the face of it, does not appear related to adoption until you take a closer look. It’s about a doctor who is helping a homeless man get back on his feet. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see how this is related to adoption:

A talkative man, Atkinson [the homeless man] traces his downward slide to a defining event of his youth: finding out at 18 that his parents had adopted him as an infant. His father had died eight years before; as an only child, he was extremely attached to his mother, who passed away in 1973.

“[She] used to tell me: Whatever you do, Everett, tell the truth. And then I found out, she never told me the truth [while I was growing up] about who I was,” he said, sighing. Atkinson said his drinking and drug use started after he found his biological family — a father who was abusive, a mother who got hurt, and a dozen frightened brothers and sisters.

While I can’t claim to speak for Mr. Atkinson, I understand how he feels. Although I was always told I was adopted, I didn’t find out til my mid-20s that my adoptive father knew the complete details of my adoption including my birth name. I know how much that rocked my world. Imagine what you’d do if you found out as an adult that the people you called parents lied to you your whole life. Your life might take a turn for the worse too.

What annoys me about this article is the skewed way in which it is presented. Little mention is made of his adoptive family, yet many negative details are included about his birth family. To me that second paragraph implies that Mr. Atkinson’s problems stem from the “bad stock” of his birth family rather than from being lied to by his adoptive family. This, despite Mr. Atkinson himself tracing the “defining moment” back to the lie. In fact the reporter makes a point of mentioning that Mr. Atkinson was “extremely attached” to his adoptive mother, as if issuing an apology to any adoptive parents who might be reading, as if excusing the fact that he was lied to. This kind of biased reporting perpetuates the myth that all birth families are teetering on the brink of destruction and to find them is tantamount to destroying your life. Is there any family out there that is perfectly unblemished? Instead the article could have explained that lying to your adoptive child sets them up for emotional difficulties later.

Now, if original birth certificates were available to adoptees in Illinois instead of being sealed, it would not be possible for adoptive parents to lie about their childrens’ origins. People justify sealed records by saying the child should be “protected” from the truth of their biological families. But if this man had grown up knowing he was adopted and knowing about whatever problems his birth family might have had, he would have been able to deal with it slowly and with support rather than having to deal with it on his own when it was dumped on him at the age of 18.

Let this be a lesson for all adoptive families: TELL THE TRUTH! I wish Mr. Atkinson much success in his fresh start on life.