The Cheerios Effect: André, Jonathan & Raphaëlle’s Story (+Response)

By now, I’m sure most of you have seen this new Cheerios commercial starring a Canadian couple, Andre and Jonathan, and their beautiful daughter Raphaëlle. Touching, beautiful, and heart-warming are only some of the complimentary adjectives this video has received. When I watched this commercial, however, I was not moved. I take issue with the over simplification of adoption and the use of adoption at all to sell this product.

The commercial begins with a charming story of how the two men were set up by friends and wanted to share the love they had with someone else. I see absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I do see a problem with their total disregard for their daughter’s birth family. With the statement, “we just cuddled her and became a family,” the two men erase the significance of their daughter’s mother, who carried her for nine months, and their daughter’s extended family, who may have wanted to support her but didn’t have the means.  Additionally, this statement downplays all of the losses needed for this adoption to take place.

The two men do acknowledge the window of time mothers are given to change their mind about the placement by saying, “With the program, there was the risk that Raphaëlle can go back in her family – she can go back to her biological family” Since this is a national commercial, now shared internationally, I wonder what her first mother’s reaction would be to hearing her daughter’s fathers talking about their hopes for the finalization of the relinquishment and adoption? Would that be triggering? Would she be upset hearing about their fear of losing Raphaëlle when their fatherhood is dependent on her loss of Raphaëlle?  Understandably, the fathers were hopeful for an outcome that would solidify their family, but I think a less public expression of that would have been more considerate.

After addressing the concern about her possibly going back to her biological family, Jonathan says, “Now she’s really cool. She has love. She’s confident.” While it’s wonderful that Raphaëlle is extremely loved, these short thoughts have larger implications – suggesting that she didn’t have love before and that she wouldn’t have been confident had she not been adopted. In the brief two minute window into their adoption story, viewers don’t know the entirety of the situation. We don’t know that her biological family didn’t love her or that they wouldn’t have been able to foster confidence in her. Even though her biological mother chose to give her up for adoption, taking healthy care of her body while pregnant could have been a way of showing Raphaëlle love. Choosing two loving fathers to care for her daughter was a demonstration of love. Two minutes is simply not enough time to show an adoption story without disregarding imperative aspects.

When pointing out the harmful pieces of this commercial, many have said something along the lines of “it was just a cheerios commercial!” And that is exactly the problem. This intimate story about love and adoption has nothing to do with the health benefits or flavor qualities of cheerios, and I am baffled as to why adoption is being used to sell a breakfast cereal.  To those who have said “it’s just a commercial,” that is not entirely true. Commercials sell a product, but they also sell an image. The image this commercial sells of adoption is one where race is ignored, adoptive parents are prioritized (and are the sole party given voice), and love conquers all. In reality, race is a critical piece of how the adoption and foster care systems operate, adoptive parents have been given power, privilege, and voice in the adoption community over birthparents and adoptees for too long, and while love can do a lot, love does not negate all of the inherent losses required for an adoption to take place. While I am so glad that there is some media showcasing a loving same sex couple who have adopted, a commercial for breakfast cereal that promotes static, one-sided views of adoption is not the place for that.

What’s even more disturbing to me is people’s reaction to any critique of the commercial. In response to a comment I posted simply stating this video is not as beautiful as it’s touted to be, one man said, “I feel like it’s obvious here that [RTB] is an idiot. Perhaps even at “expert” levels. Keep typing, you’re only going to prove me more correctly.” Another woman agreed, “lol, what a moron.” Recently Frank Ligtvoet wrote a Huffington Post article titled, “What’s Wrong With The Cheerios’ Gay Adoption Commercial.” He and I address many of the same posts, and like me, he has received significant backlash for the piece. Comments range from blanket refusals to think about Ligtvoet’s points to downright hostilities, telling him to “be quiet” or “stop whining.” Of the comments I scrolled through, only two were in support of Ligtvoet. While I understand not everyone will agree with Ligtvoet or me, the massive support of comments dismissing his thoughts is unbelievable.

As much as I want to agree with news sources like Mic.com and Jezebel and call this commercial beautiful, I absolutely cannot. This commercial has highlighted some of the largest problems with mainstream dialogue on adoption by contributing to a long line of adoption media that ignores biological families and loss for adoptees as well as privacy issues, prioritizes the feelings of adoptive parents, freezes adoptees in time as infants or young children (rendering them voiceless), and commodifies adoption. Moreover, this commercial has exacerbated hostility towards those with non-conforming ideas (which is not new in the adoption community), resulting in vile reactions, personal attacks, and a lack of critical thinking. While the Cheerios company may think they have come a long way in showcasing a same-sex couple and interracial family through adoption, this commercial is not a beacon of progressive thought.

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14 responses to “The Cheerios Effect: André, Jonathan & Raphaëlle’s Story (+Response)

  1. Consider the following:

    1. There are morons and rude people everywhere, and the relative anonymity of the internet gives them plenty of opportunity to shine

    2. Without having read the comments, I wonder if ANY criticism of the substance of this commercial, i.e. a gay couple adopting a child, is anathema in this day of political correctness

    3. People, to the extent that they think about it at all, regard adoption as a Good Thing, and having somebody discuss why a portrayal of it is “harmful” is bound to cause backlash

    4. Finally, the concern for the birth mother (nobody ever seems to talk about the birth father; I guess he doesn’t count) is over-emphasized. Yes, she MAY have cried bitter tears over the child that she couldn’t keep. Yes, she MAY have agonized over whether the baby would go to a good family. But, then again, maybe she didn’t. The inescapable fact is that she gave up a child. That doesn’t set well with most people, and therefore they may be expected to be somewhat less than understanding of why a child with loving parents is “harmful”.

  2. This commercial is disturbing and saddens me deeply. The sentence “prioritizes the feelings of adoptive parents” is so true. I’ve noticed a common theme with adoptive parents going on and on about how adopting a child and becoming a parent has filled a huge void in their lives and brought them so much joy. They never acknowledge the fact that the void they have been able to fill has transferred to the adopted person and the natural mother.

    • ‘…They never acknowledge the fact that the void they have been able to fill has transferred to the adopted person and the natural mother.’

      Absolutely spot on.

  3. Absolutely excellent analysis and criticism of the commercial. People who ignore birth-families and, particularly birth-mothers probably have never had any contact with them and thus have a simplified view of adoption. I have been reading birth-mother and open-adoption bloggers for over ten years now (some of the main blogs I read have since been closed down, unfortunately, or I would link to them). I have been really enjoying your blog since I discovered it a few months ago. You’re doing an amazing job discussing thorny issues. I was particularly touched by your fierce and spot-on analysis of Miss Saigon. Thank you and I’m sorry you’re getting negative feedback and backlash for your criticism of the commercial. Keep up the good fight!

  4. “…The image this commercial sells of adoption is one where race is ignored, adoptive parents are prioritized (and are the sole party given voice), and love conquers all. In reality, race is a critical piece of how the adoption and foster care systems operate, adoptive parents have been given power, privilege, and voice in the adoption community over birthparents and adoptees for too long, and while love can do a lot, love does not negate all of the inherent losses required for an adoption to take place….” you nailed it!

  5. Hi there,
    I am a DC from Belgium and posted your blogpost on our facebookpage + also put on an adoptionfb-page. I got the same backlashing as you got when pointing all the things out that are wrong with this commercial. No ,it is not about gays being suitable parents. It is about putting a little child in a commercial, giving it no voice what so ever, portraiting an image that we all should be ok with it because adults obtained the ability to raise a child nature couldn’t provide them.

    You also need to be aware that by ‘chosing’ French speaking gay parents, they are also referring to the situation in France (it is really absurd over there for gay couples). A lot of gay couples are crossing the border to fulfill their desire to become a parent: lesbians by spermdonation (is forbidden in France), guys come over here with a surrogate. It is child- and spermtrafficing really.

    It is just a strange and scary evolution that how more we evolve as a society/race, we think it is ok to cover one discrimination/breach in human rights by even a bigger breach in human rights or insensitivity: ignore (or try to ignore) the biological heritage of a person.

    And this all just to sell more bowls of cereals.

    Kind regards,
    Steph

  6. A thoughtful response, as always. Sorry for the ignorant comments you received. I would be interested to hear the “long” version of their family’s story – not the watered-down version that fits inside a commercial. And I suspect that if we’re going to stop perpetuating stereotypes in adoption, most other people would need to learn from the detailed version as well.

    • If you inquire about the “long” version, they’ll probably plead “we’ve got to respect her privacy” after they posted her image and parts of her story for everyone to see permanently, all without her informed consent.

    • I’m sorry that both of you get so much criticism on HuffPost. I used to comment a lot on HuffPost, defending voices I wish to defend, but since they changed their commenting policy to requiring FB account access, I don’t comment on their articles.

  7. Thank you so much for your sensitive consideration of the first mother’s feelings in your piece, and for writing so eloquently and thought-provokingly about this subject.

  8. Well-written, as always. And so very true. And disrespectful of the mother who must have chosen them to parent her daughter. Also, since we all know that that babies experience this kind of loss of mother same as if the mother died, I find it horrible the way it was all presented. I hate the whole idea of losing one’s parents being used to sell breakfast food.

  9. I have written a post for Lost Daughters that will run tomorrow. I’ll post the link here when it runs. It concerns an adoptee’s right to privacy but not this commercial.

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