Sunday, March 15, 2009

Review of Coraline and Perfection: Perfect Parents, Perfect Children

Last Sunday my husband and I saw Coraline, a 3-D film using stop action technology based on Neil Gamain’s book of the same name. It was a welcome break from finding and perusing the manuals needed to re-set the clocks on the micro-wave, the CD player, and loads of other gadgets.

Coraline is an 11 year old girl who moves with her loving but work stressed real parents to a new home, a large and mysterious mansion divided into three apartments. She discovers a birth canal-like passage which leads her to a fantastical world. There she finds loving, perfect other parents, appearing identical to her real parents except that they have buttons for eyes. After several visits to the other, button-eyed parents, they tell her she can stay if she agrees to have buttons sewn into her eyes. Horrified, she refuses. The other parents morph into witches and Coraline’s real parents become trapped in the button-eyed world. Coraline must rescue her real parents as well as three lost souls who had agreed to have buttons sewn into their eyes years before.

As a birth mother, my first reaction was that the story was meant to convey one of those trite pro-adoption messages. You know the kind; a seemingly wise character says to the confused adoptee “Your real parents are the parents who raised you. Don’t search for them that birthed you; you’ll just open a can of worms (or find a bunch of buttons.)

But I got to thinking. The characters identified as the “real” parents looked like Coraline and shared her interest in gardening. The button-eyed faux parents disguised themselves to look like the real parents but underneath they were evil witches. So maybe the message is that first parents are real parents and adoptive parents are false and untrustworthy.

Perhaps, of course, the story has nothing to do with adoption (the reviews I’ve read don’t mention adoption but then adoption themes are rarely seen by non-triad members unless adoption is spelled out in capital letters.) Coraline may be a modern version of The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland telling children that the magical land over the rainbow, down the rabbit hole, or at the end of a tunnel is scary and there’s no place like home.

I recommend Coraline. It has wonderful graphics and a thought-provoking story line regardless of how one’s thoughts progress.

While Coraline explores the search for perfect parents, Perfection, a play by Measure 58 mother Helen Hill, recounts the quest for perfect children. (Measure 58 was a 1998 ballot measure which gave Oregon-born adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificates. Ms. Hill largely funded the process.)

Perfection was produced in Portland and ran for three weeks in February. It takes place in 1934 when states routinely sterilized those deemed to be genetically inferior. In the play, a doctor at a state institution prepares to sterilize a resident who recently gave birth to a child which was taken from her. The woman is poor and uneducated but not mentally disabled. The doctor convinces her to submit to an operation (he does not disclose the nature of the operation) by telling her the operation is necessary for her child to be returned.

Thus, the play blends themes of eugenics and adoption. Helen Hill has experienced both. She was adopted as an infant and her adoptive father was a Creek Indian who had been sterilized under a eugenics program. She used money she inherited from him to fund the Measure 58 campaign.

Much of the dialogue in Perfection is in the form of an argument between the doctor and his nurse about the righteousness of eugenics, some of it bordering on a polemic, a method which never works well. The play as a whole works, however, because it has sympathetic characters and good drama.

My first thought, though, was “you’re beating a dead horse.” After the disclosures of Nazi atrocities, eugenics was thoroughly discredited. Being against eugenics is like being against slavery. No one is for it today.

As I thought about it, however, I realized the belief that tinkering with nature can create better human beings is very much alive today. Adoption, after all, is a form of social eugenics. Pre-natal testing gives prospective parents the option of aborting embryos found to have genetic flaws.

The counterpart to preventing the birth of inferior people is the creation of superior ones, something the Nazis also pursued. Spend five minutes on Google looking at egg donor websites and you’ll see how important genetics is to the process. From a March 15, 2006 article in USA Today:

“Advertisements in campus newspapers and on websites plead daily. ‘Egg Donors Needed. $10,000,’ says one in The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at the University of California, Berkeley. The ad, from a San Diego broker called A Perfect Match, seeks women who are "attractive, under the age of 29" and have SAT scores above 1,300.”

Conceive Abilities, a fertility business with clinics in Chicago and Colorado tries to soften the reality that fees paid to donors relate to the quality of the donor:

“Our agency compensates egg donors anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 and can be dependent upon a number of considerations some of which include location, number of previous donations and ethnic diversity.

Then there is The Egg Donor Program which boasts:

“The Egg Donor Program is the premier egg donation agency in the United States for solving female infertility by IVF donor egg treatment. Our Los Angeles based egg donor clinic has the most beautiful and accomplished donors in the country. Our egg donor center is also known for its extensive database of Superdonors, which includes hundreds of women from many diverse ethnic backgrounds. For over 15 years we have specialized in matching couples with exquisite young women whose motivations are heartfelt.

If you are interested in becoming an egg donor and want to be listed with the country’s most prestigious agency, we will ensure that your journey is safe and gratifying and we will reward you for your gesture with commemorating gifts and the highest level of compensation. We will treat you like the angel you are.”

In the end, the message of both Coraline and Perfection seems to be: let’s accept what nature has given us.
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PS: Lorraine here. Serious consideration is being given to changing the name of this blog. Stay tuned. All the old posts will stay but the only consideration is the links we have from other bloggers.

2 comments :

  1. Coraline sounds cute, I would like to see that. Thanks for the review.

    Yes, eugenics never really went away, but today it is personal, "create a designer baby" thing rather than a government social policy as under the Nazis. It is still scary, but now couched as a consumer issue and just another choice for those who can pay. There seems to be no ethical considerations at all in most of assisted reproduction, as witness the awful Octomom case.

    You wrote:"Adoption, after all, is a form of social eugenics." I don't think that "social eugenics" is possible; eugenics rules out the possibility of environment changing a genetically "inferior" person. Adoption would be pointless under that belief system.

    In fact it was the backlash against eugenics that brought us some of the worst of adoption policy and beliefs among the social work establishment, and also set back research into heredity as a dominant factor in human development. It is only in recent years with genetic DNA studies that this has begun to be rectified.

    Eugenics, especially as it was practiced by the Nazis, is racism at its worst. But the pendulum swung too far the other way in saying environment is everything, every infant is an innocent blank slate that can be shaped into whatever the parents desire.

    This took away the stigma of "bad blood" on illegitmate kids, at least superficially, and made adoption much easier to sell to the middle and upper classes. This helped sealed records get established as well, since heredity did not matter.

    Sealed adoption and eugenics are two different kinds of bad!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So surreal, I had the same thoughts when I was watching Coraline (but thought surely I was the only one).

    ReplyDelete

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