Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Avengers and Adoption: My Official Take

Some people don’t seem to understand the problem with Thor’s “He’s adopted” line from 2012’s The Avengers movie, so I’m going to explain it as concisely as I know how.  I’m also going to deal with some common responses and explain why they’re wrong.  Here goes:

Context:  Black Widow has just finished criticizing Thor for Loki’s actions, arguing that because they are from the same family, Thor might be just as dangerous and evil as Loki.  Thor’s response is, “He’s adopted.”  Now, there are about three different possible meanings to this so-called joke:
  • First:  “Loki is not truly part of my family because he was adopted.”
  • Second:  “Loki is a murdering fiend because he is adopted.”
  • Third:  “Blood will tell, and Loki’s race is responsible for his evilness.  I am not of that race, so I am superior.”
Every single one of those responses is used enough in relation to adoption and adoptees that they are old and tired clichés--clichés that have lost any so-called “humor” value--for many in the adoption community.  Just like not every racial joke offends every member of a given race, this joke does not offend every adoptee or adoptive parent.  However, that doesn’t make it inherently inoffensive or funny.

Imagine another tired cliché applied to any other long-suffering minority group.  Would that have made it through the movie without comment?  Could Captain America have noted that the helicarrier was infiltrated and nearly destroyed and then “jokingly” blamed it on Nick Fury with the words, “He’s black”?  Could Iron Man have noted that Black Widow sat cowering after being assaulted by the Hulk and then “jokingly” blamed her “cowardice” on the fact that “She’s a woman”?  When the dim-witted Hulk ended up trashing half the helicarrier, could Hawkeye have gotten away with dismissing the destruction with, “He’s retarded”?  Would any of those jokes, which make negative comments on an entire group’s very nature for “humor” value, have made it into the movie without some kind of comment?  some kind of outrage?

Keep those vile jokes in mind as I address some of the responses to the adoption community’s dislike of the line:

“Thor’s just making a joke.”

Okay.  Free speech and all that.  It’s important.  Granted.

But this wasn’t just any random person “just making a joke.”  It was Thor, who in many ways is the Marvel Universe’s answer to Superman.  Should we have Superman making jokes about race?   The Holocaust?  Gender?  Homosexuality?  Jesus?  The Prophet?  Abortion?   Would that go over well?

Also, Thor has spent one-and-a-half movies insisting that Loki is his “real” brother, adopted or not.  I have to say, I really appreciate both scripts’ approach in those scenes.  Why, then, does he all of a sudden turn his cloak here and make an adoption joke?  Aside from the offence that I feel, it’s a terribly inconsistent character moment.

“Thor’s just separating himself from Loki’s actions, that’s all.”

And he does this by emphasizing Loki’s adoption?  That’s his defense?  Not “If your brother sins, are you responsible?  Is your family?”  Not “Loki is seriously disturbed.  Helping him and protecting others from him is a family matter.”  Both of those responses would separate and defend Thor from association with Loki’s actions and be perfectly in character for Thor.  Instead, this line is hideously out-of-character for him.

“Loki’s a frost-giant!  It’s Norse mythology!  He’s naturally evil, and the joke is about THAT, not about adoption!”
If that were true, then the joke would have been, “He’s a Jotun” or “He’s a frost-giant.”  The joke as played in the movie isn’t a joke about Norse myth.  Virtually NONE of the back-story from Thor is presented in The Avengers.  It’s a testament to the overall quality of Joss’ writing that it doesn’t need to be--the movie stands on its own perfectly.  And yet, audiences are consistently cracking up to the line, which specifically uses the word “adoption.”  Conclusion:  It’s an adoption joke.  Figure it out.

“It’s just a comic book movie!  It’s just entertainment!”

You find jokes like this entertaining?  Comic book movies should be immune to social criticism?  Really?

“I’m adopted, and I’m not offended!”

Good for you.  Not every member of every group is offended by every joke.  Does that make the jokes not offensive?

“People are taking this way too seriously!  Grow up/Get thicker skin/Deal with it!”

I do have to wonder what would offend those who use this defense of the line.  SOMETHING would, I’ll bet.  I’ve met a lot of people who say, “It’s impossible to offend me” only to find out later that what they really meant was, “I only get offended when it’s IMPORTANT.  If I’m not offended, then it’s not important.”

It’s also necessary, I think, to recognize that few people are saying, “Joss has single-handedly ruined my life!  It’s all his fault!”  Instead, a lot of people are calling the line what it is:  a needless, throwaway, out-of-character joke at adoptive families’ expense.  They’re bothered by it, and they’d prefer the line not be in the movie.  They’re also surprised that a writer with an ear like Joss’ didn’t catch the negatives of this line, and they’re criticizing him for that, as well.

I hope that clarifies a few things.  As for me, I’m a little tired of talking about the whole issue, but people keep trotting out the same old excuses for this kind of junk that they have since… ever, and I’m tired of those excuses.


Amanda said...

Epic post! Thank you for writing this. If you don't mind my asking, are you adopted?

Eric Teall said...

I'm not, but my children are.

Anonymous said...

Im coming rather late to this but am glad i found it. Thank you for articulating what I have been trying to explain to people. As you said, Im not going to run around and scream that no one ever mention adoption in a movie again, but I have been dismayed by how easily it is dismissed as inconsequential, although I dont know why I should be dismayed - it happens continually, and I always feel silenced by this attitude...ANYWAY, thank you for writing this - I just saw Thor for the first time since it came out on DVD (I missed seeing it in the theater) and thought how SENSITIVE a portrayal it was for an adoptee who had just discovered who he was, and the kind of war that goes on internally...it justifies my reaction to reading about teh throwaway line that everyone thought was so funny...there IS a reason why it is such a crass and thoughtless attempt at humor.

Sharon Ferguson

Guitar Toolbar said...

1. It's a global issue. When countries like China allow couples to have only one kid, this is the result.
FYI, hundreds of kids abendoned in China every day.
2. Adopted is not a bad word. People can't help it if they were adopted, they didn't have a chosie or say, this is where the course of life took them.

Tags: Superheroes