Monday, October 16, 2006

Madonna's baby blues

Madonna's attempt to add an African baby to her collection (project codenamed "In your face, Michael Jackson") has run into more grief. Not only have some of David's family spoken to the BBC saying how they want to be sure they can continue to see their relative, but now it seems David;s father didn't realise he was handing his baby over for good:

"I had taken David to the orphanage because my wife had died and he was sick and we could not care for him.

"My other two sons had passed away from malaria while they were still young.

"When David became sick, I didn't know how to cope.

"I' have no experience of these things. My in-laws did not want him and my extended family are too poor to take him in.

"I was scared he would die like my other children so I took him where he could be looked after.

"I felt very sore in my heart but I could think of no other way.

"He was one month and seven days old. The orphanage made me sign a letter to show I was handing him over to their charge.

"I suppose deep in my heart I always imagined that when he was better, or I had another wife, I would go and take him back. I did not think anyone would want to take him away for good."

To make matters worse, it seems people haven't been straight with him about who is exactly adopting the child:

"I was told she was a good Christian lady who does a lot of charity work and supported the orphanage."

They didn't mention that actually she was a member of a cult who was such a good Christian she managed to piss off the Vatican and the entire Russian Orthodox Church?

Still, at least you had time to think things through, properly, didn't you, Yohane?

"It has all been very crazy. Everything has happened so fast. I can't believe what is happening."

Of course... the whole waiving of the usual rules sped up the process to something like 100 times faster than normal.

It's interesting that someone's finally managed to think of asking the "orphan's" father if he's happy about the adoption. It might have stopped The Observer's Carol Sarler from making herself look quite so awful yesterday if she'd thought to do the same.

Why vilify Madonna's generosity? wailed Carol, confusing "generosity" with whatever it is Madonna thinks she's doing.

Sarler starts out by using the orphans of the Romanian revolution as an example of what international adoption really means, thereby inadvertently proving the point a worried mother made on Channel 4 News at the weekend: Madonna's grubby child grab is going to make all cross-border adoption seem seedy. Romania had been a country full of children with nobody, without the means to care for them, living in terrible conditions. It's not quite the same case as here, where the child has family who can't quite cope, who had only put the child into care as a way of finding breathing space.

No sooner did we learn of her plans to adopt an African child than the bitching began - just as it did with fellow adopters Mia Farrow, Angelina Jolie and Meg Ryan before her. Even Jon Snow, who should know better, inquired whether this is a 'fashion', as if the labour involved in nurturing babies is akin to that of carrying a new handbag, and the consensus, from right and left, is that there is something sinister in Madonna's decision.

But surely, with Jolie, Ryan and Ciccone queueing up at developing world departure gates with a charming carved giraffe under one arm and a mewling bundle of local child under the other, asking if there's a fashion impulse to all this adoption is precisely the right question? It's not as if asking a question suggests the answer, nor if Snow had come up with the idea himself. He was reflecting a question that a lot of people are asking. Which is sort of the point of his job, isn't it, Carol?

The willies from the right, as vigorous now as when Virginia Bottomley helped to staunch the flow of Romanian orphans in the mid-1990s, appear to stem from a suspicion that this is just another route for foreigners to 'flood' into the country and be a 'drain' on resources; too monstrous to address, save perhaps to point out that the kind of parents who pursue these adoptions are precisely the kind of parents who will produce the most efficacious taxpayers of the future.

We might not read the thoughts of the right-wing as closely as Sarler, but this seems to be an unfair vilification - the sort of thing you might say they'd think if you were going for a lazy caricature. If there are any rightwards leaning commentators of any credibility who really believe there are hundreds of would-be immigrants preparing to disguise themselves as orphans to be smuggled past customs under Madonna's bustle, they must have the good sense to keep quiet. Likewise, even the most rabid of BNP supporters would find it hard to argue that Madonna's just after the tax credits and the baby bonds.

The liberal left is at least as shocking. Pundit after pundit drones on about the perils of 'snatching' children from their 'culture'.

Nice work, Carol - the liberals are "droning", are they? And African people don't have culture, you'll note - they only have something that requires speech marks.

To that I say, go and stand in the poorest orphanages of the world's most dispossessed; look, sniff, smell and don't - don't you dare - tell me that, in such a context, the word 'culture' is other than an obscenity. Any identity problems the child might develop are risibly slight beside the certain problems that would otherwise have been their lot.

Well, perhaps. But are you saying this orphanage was like that, Carol? Or are you just assuming because it's in Africa it has to be? Nobody would pretend that the place is Hampstead, but to just dismiss someone's home because it's not as nice as yours is a little sweeping, don't you think?

Yeah but, no but, continue the pundits:

Do you see? Like Vicky Pollard! Off the television. Ho-ho. They're not just droning, these liberals, but they're inarticulate too.

the money would be better spent in donations to the child's place of birth. To that I say, whoever suggested this as an either/or? In fact, Madonna - like many inter-country adopters - has also donated lavishly to baby David's community. Yet she knows, as we know, that sometimes no amount of financial support will persuade a local family to rescue a child from an orphanage (think, for instance, of baby girls in China); furthermore, by the time the money has filtered down, it might help another David, another decade. But not this one.

Two things here - the money that Madonna is giving to this orphanage seems to be part of the quid pro quo for the fast-track adoption; secondly, Sarler clearly has no idea how economies outside of her own work. Putting money into a small village has an almost instantaneous effect; it's not like in the UK, where the payment would kick-start a process of planning, procurement, trusteeships being established and blueprints drawn up. In poor places, money tends to get spent quite quickly. For example, for the cost of the five thousand pound rocking horse Madonna has bought for David according to this morning's Sun, she could have paid the wages of two nurses for the village.

It might not have given David a showy toy, but it could have helped save lots of children.

I hold no particular brief for Madonna, her music or her faith. As a mother, however, based on what we know, she is diligent, hot on proper food and the banning of, say, improper TV, and I have no reason to suppose that her motives for this adoption are different from my friend's on the plane from Bucharest. The only difference is that Madonna's fame, as with that of Misses Farrow, Jolie and Ryan, has made her an easier target for the snipers, even though it is also the means by which she can afford to do it in the first place...

Well, it is only her money which has meant she's so far been able to ignore all the rules and laws which are in place to protect children from spur-of-the-moment adoptions and precisely the sort of situation we seem to be in now, where a child has been promised the world and might not get it. And, of course, there's all the world of difference between adopting a baby which has no choice, no family, no future and one which seems to have a family who hoped to welcome him back when they were able.

There's the other important difference that your "friend" who adopted from Bucharest probably couldn't have rustled up a million or two by selling one of her London homes ; offering a home to a single child probably meant as much sacrifice as she had to give. Madonna, on the other hand... well, Madonna does have a London house to spare, if she was serious about making a difference.

and - precisely because the cameras will continue to monitor her and her family - the means through which she might even be able to help to keep the scandal of the needs of Africa in the public eye.

Yes, I must admit I hadn't heard of this Affycar until Madonna went there.

Incidently, does anyone else find the provision of an expensive rocking horse reminds them of the first episode of Diffrent Strokes?


Mikey said...

Predictably funny & incisive: The only point missing was that the money that the Jolie-Pitts promised on their trip to a little ethnic orphanage as - reputedly - yet to be paid.

Which rather deflated Observer-lady's assertion that these trophy babies are just an outer sign of a wider charity.

Cobardon said...

Well put.

I think anyone with half an eye on this can see that Madonna has turned up, waved promises of cash about (rather than the cash itself of course) and the locals have reacted as pretty much any impoverished people would do in seeing what they can get and what they have to do to get it.

If Madonna is so heart-set on helping the poor, there are probably plenty kids in London or New York nearby some of her homes who are in just as much need. Though those kids probably aren't quite as newsworthy, are they?

The whole thing sickens me actually, as does the publicity slut herself.

eyetie said...

I second that emotion. Great well-argued piece. Thank you for the effort!

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