- The Consumption of Adoption and Adoptees in American Middlebrow Culture
Fraudulent practices are intertwined with modern adoption. From its early beginnings, and the rise of black market and gray market adoptions (Winslow), to coercive unethical practices to encourage birth mothers to relinquish their children (Siegal; Joyce), adoption cannot be understood simply as a benevolent practice of family formation. Modern adoption involves obscuring the biological biographical details of the adoptee (e.g., sealed birth records in domestic adoption; preventing adoptees from reviewing their full file in international adoption) (Modell; Terrell and Modell; Berebitsky; Herman), as well as other methods to make children more marketable in the adoption economy (Riben; McKee, "Monetary Flows"; Raleigh, "Assortative Adoption Marketplace"). Adoption files, thus, are an important technology crafted to facilitate twentieth and twenty-first century adoptions. Consequently, adoptees' lived experiences are highly mediated and reliant on the generosity of orphanage and/or adoption agencies in disclosing all information, as opposed to selecting what information to share with adoptees or their families upon adoption completion or when adoptees seek medical information and search for their biological families.
The misinformation associated with adoption reflects popular media and mainstream society's investment in producing a stock story for adoption—the loving family rescuing a pitiful orphan—even when this story elides truths about caring birth families or abusive adoptive families. This is not to say that instances of fraud, deception, violence, or other unethical practices are not documented; rather, the public's reaction to these practices remains uneven, and while some agencies or adoption programs may close, others spring up to fill the gap (Siegal; Joyce; Winslow). Frequently, the stories that garner media attention are sensationalized, but not all unethical adoption practices are given equal scrutiny. For example, when additional safeguards are implemented to protect the rights of children and birth parents, adoptive parents often bemoan that these new regulations hinder the [End Page 669] speed at which they can complete their adoptions in case countries suspend adoption programs (Raleigh, Selling Transracial Adoption). Such suspensions also result in headlines speculating on the precipitous decline of international adoptions, with little or no nuance concerning why regulations are implemented (Greenblatt; Mann; Voigt and Brown).
The movement toward more stringent requirements that protect both adoptees' and birth parents' rights comes after well-known documented cases of fraud, deception, abuse, and other unethical or otherwise dubious practices.1 The desire to protect the rights of all parties involved—and not just adoptive parents—is part of broader conversations within Adoption Studies and among supporters of birth family rights concerning adoption as a reproductive justice issue that emphasizes family preservation (H. Kim, Birth Mothers; McKee, "Adoption as Reproductive Justice"; Bae). This is not to say that this conversation places a primacy on biological families, or that it suggests violence is absent from biological families; rather, it acknowledges the violence of love associated with adoption in light of the multiple losses it inflicts on birth families and adoptees (Myers), as well as the fraudulent and deceptive practices associated with the adoption industry. Good intentions are not sufficient in remedying the lifelong implications of adoption in the lives of all parties involved.
Interested in how the media engages instances of fraud within adoption, as well as how adoptees negotiate the practices that led to their adoptions, this essay explores the reunion of Korean adoptee twins Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier. I also interrogate the broader societal and historical conditions of international Korean adoption that made their separation possible. Adopted from South Korea, Futerman entered an American family and Bordier entered a French family. Only in adulthood did the events that led to their reunion transpire, when Bordier's friend informed her that he saw a girl who looked exactly like her in a YouTube video. Their reunion and return to South Korea are presented in Twinsters (2015), a documentary released on Netflix that gained popularity in the mainstream and within the Korean adoptee community. News outlets featured the pair as a special interest story because they are one of the few known pairs of twins adopted to different families in South Korea's over sixty-year participation in adoption.2 The...