I realize that it might seem a little misleading to start off a blog called Why Do I Watch This with a post about why I DON’T watch a certain show, but that’s just how I roll, you guys.
So. I have a confession to make. I don’t watch Once Upon A Time. I consider this to be a somewhat shameful confession because most of the TV-watchers I know -by which I mean, most of the people who actually follow specific TV shows, have opinions on them, etc, whose judgment on the subject of television I usually trust - love Once Upon A Time. It’s got a solid cast, lovely scenery, it’s dynamic and fun, and it’s got fairy tales! What’s not to like, aside from the fact that one could argue it’s basically just a conceptual rip-off of The 12th Kingdom?
My problem with Once Upon A Time isn’t one that I’ve really seen addressed that much in reviews and fan reactions - I mean, I saw it brought up once, and it was then immediately shot down by fans doing their usual “It’s a STORY!!!!” routine, and so I put my hands up and slowly backed away. But no more! I’m just gonna come right out and say it, all right?
Once Upon A Time is FUCKED UP when it comes to the issue of adoption.
Look. We’ve got this kid, this ten-year-old kid. He’s grown up more or less in the lap of luxury, in a charming little town with an adoptive mother who, as a single mother who apparently works a lot, has still managed to make sure that her son always has whatever he needs. It’s clear that mother and son have a hard time relating to each other - she’s kind of distant, he spends too much time in his own head - but as families go, they’re far from dysfunctional.
Then he finds out he’s adopted, freaks out, and runs away from home. At TEN. He steals his mother’s credit card, tracks down his birth mother, and goes to her home in a large city he’s never been to before.
And his birth mother brings him back, swears up and down to his panicking mother that she’s going to leave town - the kid’s obviously having some issues, he’s confused, and what confused, hurting kids need is stability, not some figure from their distant, long-forgotten past hanging around, throwing everything he knows about his history and world into doubt.
But she DOESN’T LEAVE. She sticks around, MEETING THE KID IN SECRET, playing into his fantasy world (which, all the adults in his life agree, seems to be a delusion that he’s created for himself for some reason), fucking up the adoptive mother’s property, and generally behaving like an unstable stalker because she’s determined, after ten minutes of talking to the adoptive mother, that the adoptive mother doesn’t “really love” her son.
And the adoptive mother is supposed to be the bad guy here?
I have to admit, there’s a really personal reason why I can’t seem to suspend my disbelief for this show, the way I can do for shows that contain equally problematic shit (Gossip Girl’s “serial rapist gets a dog, becomes completely reformed” plotline; pretty much everything about the Debra/LaGuerta rivalry). And that reason is that everything I wrote just now is pretty much exactly what happened with my family when my brother’s adoptive father showed up out of the blue. The money theft, the secret meetings, the convincing my brother that our family doesn’t “really” love him. The only difference is that instead of a bail bondsman (er, bail bondsperson), my brother’s birth father is an abuser and a drug dealer.
It’s not as ~enchanting~ when it’s happening to your family in real life. Because the legal protections for adoptive families? Well, to be tactful about it, they’re lacking. They’re lacking for birth parents, too, and MOST OF ALL they’re lacking for kids. (If I was going to not be tactful, the rest of this entry would just be a string of profanity.) And community attitudes towards adoptive families and adopted kids are terrible. As Harriett J puts it (and if you have some time, please go read that whole article there, it’s really incredible and I cannot recommend it more, as someone whose family includes “local” and internationally-adopted kids):
Adoptive parents? People – really and truly – will tell them to either give the kids back or shut the fuck up, as if they are nothing more than a headache you are obnoxiously complaining about. Because these children aren’t theirs, the pain caused by raising them is optional. Which means adoptive parents don’t get to complain, because in the minds of non-adoptive parents, they could always take the ibuprofen. Every time an adoptive parent attempts to vent – a very normal and necessary human interaction – they have to first step back and judge What This Will Say About Adoption. The other person – the ventee – may decide that what the adoptee does is so wild, so perverse, so outside the norm that all adoptees are damaged goods. They may go around espousing this, out loud, to others, a la “Oh, no, don’t adopt! My brother adopted and all adopted kids totally fuck cats.” Or, the ventee may decide that any adoptive parent with a difficult child has brought this upon themselves. You chose to adopt, and you choose to keep this kid that’s not even yours, so you don’t get to complain anymore. Take the ibuprofen, or shut up. If your biokid was fucking cats, you could probably find somebody who knows you and respects your abilities as a parent and will say, “I don’t even know how this could have happened, I know you always did your best. They must be so angry or hurt to do something like this; did something happen that you don’t know about? You’ve got to get them some help.” But if your adopted kid fucks cats, it will be, “What is wrong with that kid? They should count themselves lucky that you’re willing to put up with that. I don’t know why you are. Are you going to keep them? I can’t see why you would, the grief they give you.”
People think that adoptive families are easy to tear apart. The adoptive mother can’t REALLY love her adopted son, after all, it’s not like he’s her REAL kid, so why should it bother her that his birth mother refuses to leave town, is talking to his therapist and his teachers, etc? It’s clear she barely puts up with him, why can’t she just turn him over to his birth mom, anyway?
And yes, I know that Regina isn’t just an Adoptive Mother, she’s the Evil Queen who has put a spell on everyone and blah blah blah. But the thing with fictions like this, is they have a real impact. The stereotypes and bullshit they carry is so insidious, so pervasive in our societies that it just seeps into our minds, and we don’t even stop to question the implications of it. How could there be any? It’s just a TV show.
But these implications, they mean real things. To a lot of people - people like my mom, and my brother - they mean real-life danger and crises. They’re not just reflected in TV shows, they’re reflected in the lack of legal protections for adoptive families and for birth families and kids; they’re reflected in the lack of community support for adoptive and birth families and kids. They’re reflected on major, systemic levels.
Adoption isn’t a fairy tale. It’s real. And it often gets fucked up.
And that is why I do not watch Once Upon A Time. Because I can’t bear to watch something so real to me right now get turned into a trite little fairy tale where the biokid ends up with his biomom because his adoptive mom was an evil witch. I just can’t. It’s too offensive.
And that’s coming from a rape survivor who watches Gossip Girl, and a former sex worker who watches Dexter. So. Uh.
I don’t watch Once Upon A Time. That shit’s fucked.
Edit: So this post was up ten minutes before a buttmad fan reblogged it and chewed me out for daring to write about the show after saying that I don’t watch it. For the record, I watched the first four episodes, and every one of them was like having my teeth pulled. I do not care about your feelings about Emma, I do not care that “she saw a lack of love in Regina’s eyes” (once again, after talking to her for just a few minutes! EMMA IS PSYCHIC ENOUGH TO TELL IN FIVE MINUTES THAT A MOTHER WHO SHE’S NEVER MET BEFORE LOVES HER OBVIOUSLY DISTURBED SON - yeah, I’m sorry, that’s a really weak plot point, it just is), what I care about is the lives of my family members and other adoptive families, kids, and birth families. So if you don’t know anything about those things, please sit the fuck down.
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