Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lies the 80's Taught Us About Adoption

Anyone ever notice that the 1980's had a lot of television shows built around rich white men swooping down from their high rises to rescue lowly orphans and whisk them away to a lap of luxury?  Maybe it was the importance placed on wealth and amassing material possessions that bled into pop culture from the Regan era.  Certainly it was a time where the gap between the haves and the have nots grew wider than ever, and it was definitely cooler to be one of the haves and be on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" than it was to be on "COPS," for instance.  But the sit coms of the day gave kids a glimmer of hope that we could be saved from our shitty, broke-ass lives by those good-doing rich, white business men.  Truth be told, aristocrats of that era wanted all kinds of things, be it yachts, the finest champaign, sports cars, and much younger women - but rarely did they seek out their very own poor, orphan Black children.  If you knew guys like that at the time or even today, that's not something they coveted, but the 1980's TV shows would have you convinced otherwise . . .

Phillip Drummond was one such saintly tycoon who took in inner city siblings, Arnold and Willis, into his condo, and that seemed to work out great on TV's Diff'rent Strokes.  Arnold was a wise-cracking kid with adorable big cheeks and a growth defect so he stayed cute for a lot of seasons.  In real life, there are families that want to adopt inner city kids, but usually only babies, and very rarely are bachelor males doing that deed.  Phillip was a special guy.  In reality, if he undertook this endeavor without the proper care, his kids may have turned out like their actor counterparts did in real life: Willis would have a drug problem, Phillip's birth daughter would have had an even bigger drug problem and rob a video store, and Arnold would take a job as a mall cop and punch a woman in the face, or whatever.  It seems to me that Phil just got bored easily and made rash decisions that would greatly impact his family, the least of which would be exemplified by how rapidly he went through maids.

"Watchu' mean I can't stay in the penthouse?"
Punky Brewster's father abandoned her, and then her mother snuck away from her at a Chicago shopping center, which left Punky to fend for herself in an abandoned apartment where she would be found by Henry, a photographer.  Now, that story would likely have a more grim ending with some really awful photographic evidence, but in this case Henry is a very kind old man who takes Punky in to give her a better life.  My question is why didn't Punky ask anyone at the shopping center for help?  Nope, instead she immediately just fended for herself and hunkered down in an abandoned apartment.  The actress who portrayed Punky, Solei Moon Frye developed gigantic boobs and eventually opted for a breast reduction.  This has nothing to do with anything at all, or does it?  She abandoned those giant hooters like her mom abandoned her at that Chicago shopping center?  No, it is not on topic at all, and I just found a way to talk about boobs.  Let's just move on to . . .

I bet you can guess which one is Punky (pre reduction)
. . . Webster.  This plucky youngster was the son of a professional football player who pawned his son off on his teammate, offensive lineman George Papadapolis.  Webster suddenly lived with a couple of well-to-do socialites with a cool secret passageway where you could sneak out of your bedroom and out of the grandfather clock downstairs if you needed to make a super sneaky escape of some kind.  Webster also had a growth deficiency and was even smaller than Arnold.  It seems to me that if you're bouncing around foster homes as a child, your chances of getting a foster home were greatly improved if you had a rare condition to never look older than 10-years-old.  That affliction certainly helped Emmanuel Lewis remain friends with Michael Jackson all those years when you think about it . . .
Awwww.  He's perched up there like a little parrot!  
The absolute biggest fairy tale if you were child of the 1980's was the life of Ricky Stratton on Silver Spoons, the boy who meets his father for the first time only to find that he is a super rich toy designer with a house full of video games and a toy train that takes you all over the house.  There was no one on television I was more jealous of than that damn Ricky Stratton.  I wanted everything he had, even the obnoxious duck phone that would quack incessantly instead of ring.  But even as a kid I didn't like the idea of the remote control door that they would pop open without checking to see if it was a murderous rapist who would tie them up, torture them, and play all their video games.  Other than the poorly conceived remote door, I wanted it all.  That lucky bastard.  And all the girls in my class swooned over Rick, and that only further fueled my jealousy.

"Yee haw!  All aboard to Awesome Town!  We got it all, Ricky!  Screw those broke losers!"
The 1980's made it look like taking in orphan children was no harder than rescuing a dog from the local shelter.  The harsh reality is that almost never have broke orphans been saved by random acts of kindness from rich people, but the 1980's sit coms tried to keep that glimmer of hope in the back of our minds.  Hell, I wanted to be "rescued" into that awesome house in "Silver Spoons," and I didn't even need saving because I had a middle class family that loved and cared for me.  The 80's made kids want stuff they didn't need just as it convinced the adults of this.  The poor inner city kids and orphans had just as tough of life as they do now, but being plucked out of the ghettos and orphanages and directly into mansions was never a realistic option.  The truth is the real life Arnolds and Websters of the world grew up poor, hungry, and really, really short.      

8 comments:

David Oliver said...

I don't recall ever seeing any of those shows except bits and pieces of Different Strokes. There was nothing that reflected reality to me. It was just a vehicle to show cute kids. Of course I wasn't 10 years old at the time.

I never thought about the impact the shows were having on kids. Now that you have pointed it out, I don't think the shows were entirely harmless. That said, both kids and adults need entertainment. Obviously there are worse forms of entertainment than having an unrealistic view of some fantasy family lives in the U.S.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Ah yes, I remember Arnold and his "Wachu talkin' about?" catchphrase. Him saying that was the main reason for watching the show, wasn't it? What did you think of 'The Cosby Show'. I thought it should have been called 'Different Shades' rather than 'Different Strokes'.

Just telling it like it is said...

now you are talking my language...I still do'[know why punkie bruster changed her bust line...I am all in when it comes to big boobs just incase you don't understand why...muwahhh

Kenneth Noisewater said...

David: Well said. You didn't miss a whole lot. And if you did, I think this post should just about catch you up to speed.

Gorilla: I loved the Cosby Show as a kid, and there are still some classic moments. But like every other show, it seems, they held on way too long and then brought in random new cute kids out of nowhere.

Just Telling: I agree. I mean, back pain and discomfort and blah, blah, but come on! God gave you those. But, her body, her choice. "Punky's Choice" would be a terrific film . . .

Mr. Shife said...

Good post Dr. Ken. Did something happen at work to inspire this? The only one of those shows I watched on a regular basis was Silver Spoons. I have been trying something a little different with adoption, and that is I'm trying to get adopted by a black guy. I had my sights on Michael Jordan for awhile but he just didn't find me cute enough I guess. I'm hoping Derrick Rose gives me a chance.

Kenneth Noisewater said...

Shife: I can't remember what inspired this one. I just got thinking about 80's adoption television. If you want to get adopted by a Black guy, maybe the appeal of Webster and Arnold would pan out if you got adopted by a really huge guy so you looked small, like maybe Dwight Howard?

Cocaine Princess said...

Given the shows popularity it's sad how the actors from Different Strokes never achieved success after the show but only a case of bad luck.

Kenneth Noisewater said...

Cocaine: They racked up really impressive numbers of arrests and stints in rehab.