I don’t plan to see The Avengers. Not because of the now-infamous line that has given many in the adoption community significant pause but because it’s simply not a movie I would enjoy.
But it is a movie that my children will probably one day want to see. They’re young now–too young for a PG-13 experience; but all too soon, given their current penchant for all things superhero, it will be on their short list.
And as their mother, I feel it is my responsibility to think through the line in question. My sons are adopted. How they see and feel about themselves is and always will be of paramount importance to me. And anything that might interfere with their sense of self-worth I question. I have to. Any parent would.
The line that has caught the attention of many adoptive parents and adoption professionals amounts to effectively two words: “He’s adopted.” The character who speaks this line uses it as either a way to explain the violent actions of another character or, as some have suggested, as a way to distance himself from this character. Either way, it is a line that is supposed to be a joke, supposed to be funny.
In our culture, saying something is “just a joke” seems to grant that something certain privileges, amnesty even, that cannot otherwise be achieved. Say something offensive in one context and you might get fired; say the same words someplace else, call it a joke, and suddenly you get to peck at anyone who might deign to be offended. The person offended is suddenly condemned as “too sensitive” or not knowing how to pick his/her battles. Many people expect comedy to be inappropriate if not offensive and defend its right to be so. We’re told to “laugh at ourselves” and “learn how to take a joke.”
As a 44-year-old, I know how “to take a joke.” I can take it in the context it is delivered. I can run it through my own personal filter; attach it to the schema borne of decades of reading and viewing and observing; form my opinions; and make my final determinations.
Children cannot do this. Not yet. And while one can certainly argue that young children should not be viewing a PG-13 film, many are.
Whether a viewer is adopted or not, offended or not, it is comments such as these–joke or not–that contribute to society’s perception of people who are adopted. Yes, there are plenty of positive representations. Plenty. But sometimes it’s the one negative comment–whether about adoption or something else entirely–in a sea of positive that sticks–to your child, to mine.
The Avengers may be garnering attention today, but tomorrow it will be something else. Here’s hoping that though there is occasionally a misstep along the way that we continue moving forward.