In most aspects of life, we have some sense of where the lines are, even if we decide to cross them. So comedians tell racist jokes, magazines publish sexist stories, and TV programs offer increasingly unsettling glimpses into just how far human beings will go to make a buck or get their 15 minutes of fame. The purveyors of such off-color fare invariably understand that they're pushing the limits, that they'll make some people cringe and others angry.
The producers of an upcoming Fox special, "Who's Your Daddy?" apparently didn't have a clue that they had wandered so far beyond the line that it was no longer in sight. But it would be hard to exaggerate the level of near-uniform disgust and outrage they have engendered within the diverse segments of the adoption community - a potential audience of tens of millions whom the show's creators presumably had hoped they would attract with their oh-so-clever concept.
In the program, scheduled to air Jan. 3, a woman adopted as an infant interviews eight men to determine which is her biological father. If she guesses right, she receives $100,000; if she fails, the contestant who fools her wins the money.
The very idea is perverse and offensive. By turning adoption reunions into a game show, "Who's Your Daddy?" takes an intensely personal and complex situation - and an increasingly commonplace one - and transforms it into a voyeuristic display. This manufactured reality inevitably alters the interpersonal dynamic for those involved and fails to take into account the emotional consequences for them; both experience and research tell us this isn't a formula for long-term success.
Moreover, the program exploits the adopted person and her biological father, even though they reportedly were willing participants. Think about how we'd react if some other aspect of one's being, such as race or gender, was being similarly trivialized; would the presentation be any less racist or sexist simply because the person volunteered to be used?