The day after landing in Uganda, Adam and Mata traveled to her village. They thought they were giving an orphan a home. Her oldest brother took her by the hands and broke out in dance, swinging her around in celebration. Said Giroux, "I place myself on the left, in the tradition that extends from Jefferson to Eugene Debs.
What of the issues of class and race, as taught by Aladdin and The Lion King? What do children learn from lyrics like "I come from a land. What is the take-home message from the fact that Scar, the evil upstart in The Lion King , is darker than the good lions? That the hyenas talk jive? As Giroux writes, "Children are taught that characters who do not bear the imprint of white, middle-class ethnicity are culturally deviant, inferior, unintelligent, and a threat. It's a story, and it's a doll.
It's a TV show and a computer game. It's a set of sheets and an emblem on a backpack. It's Halloween costumes and candy wrappers. It's sand buckets and sunglasses and ball-caps and T-shirts and dinnerware and lunch boxes and book covers and billboards on the buses and the walls of the schools.
It is their America. When kids raised on Disney are asked to define "democracy," Giroux reports, they tell the pollsters that democracy means the freedom to buy whatever I want. For those kids who do not look like Tom Cruise, who do not live in a split-level in the suburbs and ride around in a minivan, who do not have a mid-Western accent, the only way to join "American culture" is to buy the product.
It has no language for community outside of consuming communities. In corporate culture, the bottom line is what matters. Fantasy is a marketing device. Citizenship, Giroux writes, "is portrayed as an utterly privatized affair whose aim is to produce competitive self-interested individuals vying for their own material and ideological gain.
The one with the most toys wins. Some 20 million American children are growing up poor. They can't afford an Aladdin doll or a Lion King lunchbox. At the same time, corporate culture "makes a constant spectacle of children's bodies. Youth, Corporate Power, and the Politics of Culture, "Corporations such as Calvin Klein trade on the appeal of childhood innocence by exploiting its sexual potential in order to sell cologne, underwear, and jeans.
Slick, high-end fashion magazines offer up Lolita-like year-olds as the newest super-models and sex symbols. And most American adults think nothing of it. Instead, at beauty pageants across America, children like the late JonBenet Ramsey learn "about pleasure, desire, and the roles they might assume in an adult society," Giroux writes.
Upon the child's tragic death, "Night after night the major television networks aired videotapes of little JonBenet Ramsey in a tight, off-the-shoulder dress, bright red lipstick, and teased, bleached blond hair pulling a feathered Mardi Gras mask coyly across her eyes as she sashayed down a runway. Playing the role of an alluring sex kitten, JonBenet seemed to belie the assumption that the voyeuristic fascination with the sexualized child was confined to the margins of society, inhabited largely by freaks and psychopaths.
Beauty pageants are a billion-dollar-a-year industry, Giroux reports, with sponsors like Procter and Gamble, Black Velvet, and Hawaiian Tropics. Yet, notes Giroux, "Self-esteem in this context means embracing rather than critically challenging a gender code that rewards little girls for their looks, submissiveness, and sex appeal.
But there have always been beauty pageants, you may say. Viewing a Sixty Minutes program contrasting clips from a pageant and one today was "both obscene and informative," Giroux writes. Not so with the more recent pageant shots. The contestants did not look like little girls but rather like coquettish young women whose talents were reduced to an ability to move suggestively across the stage.
And what will these sexualized children grow into? Racism, the Media, and the Destruction of Today's Youth. Today's role models are the "sticklike, expressionless, and blank-eyed" fashion models currently selling cologne by baring their belly buttons. Or the teens seen in popular films like River's Edge, My Own Private Idaho, and Natural Born Killers , in which, Giroux writes, "white youth are framed and presented through the degrading textural registers of pathological vio-lence, a deadening moral vacuum, and a paralyzing indifference to the present and the future.
From beauty pageants to perfume ads to cinema, such images "purge desire of its constitutive possibilities desire as more than pathology and as an enabling force for love, solidarity, and community ," Giroux writes, and "celebrate an excessive hedonism that rejects personal and social responsibility. Race, Violence, and Youth, "whereas self-promotion and violent action remain two of the few options for exercising human agency.
Again, you protest, there have always been bloody films. Think of Clint Eastwood. Yet in his Unforgiven , like in Schindler's List , the violence is "symbolic," Giroux explains.
It "probes the complex contradictions that shape human agency, the limits of rationality, and the existential issues that tie us to other human beings and a broader social world. Pulp Fiction , on the other hand, presents "an endless stream of characters who thrive in a moral limbo and define themselves by embracing senseless acts of violence as a defining principle of life legitimated by a hard dose of cruelty and cynicism.
The form and content of the new hyper-real films go beyond emptying representations of violence of any ethical content; they also legitimate rather than contest, by virtue of their documentary appeal to what is, the spreading acts of symbolic and real violence rooted in and shaped by a larger racist culture.
Take the characters Marcellus, the black drug czar played by Ving Rhames, and Butch, the white boxer played by Bruce Willis. Could those roles have been reversed? Could the white character have been the one tortured and degraded and the black one the hero? Tarantino has said, Violence in real life is one of the worst aspects of America. It's a false assumption, Giroux argues, that violence can be distanced from reality. It's what he calls "cinematic amoralism. They are "teaching machines.
Michael Eisner, the president of Walt Disney, for instance, has suggested that "American entertainment" was responsible for the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. But it may not be such an exaggeration to appreciate the role of the American entertainment industry in helping to change history.
The Berlin Wall was destroyed not by the force of Western arms but by the force of Western ideas. And what was the delivery system for those ideas? It has to be admitted that to an important degree it was by American entertainment. In the same way, Giroux argues, violent and racist entertainment like Tarantino's Pulp Fiction "offers viewers brutal and grotesque images that articulate with broader public discourses regarding how children and adults relate, care, and respond to others.
Yet as a teacher of artists, Giroux does have sympathy for the filmmaker himself. For Tarantino, too, is a product of his culture. As Giroux told me in an interview, "Many artists are trapped. They're trapped in the tradition of the genius.
They look at their work in the tradition of 'freedom of expression. They believe the genius of their work doesn't have to be responsible to the public. I believe artists are best when they're accountable to the world. The work they do is part of a public space. It must be honest. Said Giroux, "I place myself on the left, in the tradition that extends from Jefferson to Eugene Debs.
I'm somebody who takes seriously the promises of liberalism: They think you're dictating a particular moral stance, as opposed to saying you have to assume responsibility for what you do, to link the consequences of what you do to questions of democracy. Do your actions expand or close down democracy? We have to revive that. Eric Weiner, Giroux's research assistant, has three silver hoops in his left ear, a silver stud in his right.
He came to my office one afternoon in a black silk shirt and jeans, high black motorcycle boots. He rolled up his sleeves to reveal a handsome silver bracelet stamped with Native American patterns. He has a stubble beard and mustache; his dark hair is tipped with blond streaks.
He'd never pass at Disney World, I joked. He wouldn't even get an interview. Both of us had read in Giroux's book The Mouse That Roared about the restrictions Disney put on Penn State students hoping to attend an "informational session" on campus, preparatory to applying for an interview.
Men like Weiner were to wear suits in a fabric "traditionally acccepted for business. It said that EAC had exhibited " a pattern of serious, willful or grossly negligent failure to comply " with standards for international adoption and that it failed safety procedures that prevent "solicitation of bribes" and "fraudulently obtaining birth parent consent.
It told CNN in a letter that the orphanage had been closed for "trafficking of children," "operating the children's home illegally" and "processing guardianship orders fraudulently. The government also found that all of the guardianship orders processed for children from God's Mercy were done through a Ugandan law firm that was dealing directly with EAC, according to the letter, which was signed by Pius Bigirimana, permanent secretary for Uganda's Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development.
CNN was unable to reach anyone from the orphanage. CNN spoke to Mirembe by phone, and she insisted that children are not being trafficked in Uganda through orphanages and that neither she nor EAC ever trafficked children. She also said Mata's birth mother knew that her daughter was being adopted and taken to America, despite the Ugandan court's finding that Mata's mother had been lied to. According to the Ohio attorney general's lawsuit, about families had paid EAC for international adoptions that were in various stages when the agency was debarred.
The State Department said that those cases would have to be transferred to other approved adoption providers and that it was helping guide a number of families through the process. Mata plays with her adopted sister Cole said she already had four children, but after the death of her fifth child, a girl, she established the adoption agency and soon flew to Russia to set up contacts for adoptions, the start of what she said was her new life mission.
In a Cleveland Magazine story in which several families raised questions about their EAC adoptions, Cole was asked how she avoided crooks amid the shadowy business of international adoptions. CNN tried to interview Cole at seven properties associated with her, but she could not be located. Was EAC purposely deceiving families as part of a scheme to traffic children for profit?
Or was it simply negligent, unaware due to a lack of background checks that the children it was getting from Uganda were being trafficked? Could EAC also have been a victim of this apparent trafficking scheme? CNN made repeated phone and email requests for comment to Cole, with no response.
We visited seven properties associated with the EAC founder -- six locations in Ohio, one of which was raided by the FBI, and one in Florida -- but Cole was nowhere to be found. CNN reached out to one of Cole's daughters about speaking with her but never heard back. Anderson Cooper talks with Randi Kaye about her investigation However, we tracked down Parris, the woman who notified the Davises about Mata, who had identified herself to Mata's adoptive parents as the director of EAC's African adoption program.
In YouTube videos, Parris speaks of life-changing moments, of traveling with adoptive parents to Africa to meet children for the first time. But on a recent summer day, Parris was in no mood to talk. We asked whether we could talk to her for a moment about Uganda adoptions. We continued to press, asking whether the adoptive and birth mothers had been lied to.
The FBI declined to comment, saying its investigation is ongoing. Around the time the Davises realized that their adoption was a sham, a family in West Virginia made a similar discovery. Like Jessica Davis, Stacey Wells described Parris as aggressive on the phone, demanding an answer right away as to whether they'd take the child.
For the Wellses, questions began mounting in the year Violah lived with them. Things didn't add up. As her English improved, she'd talk about walking with her mother to church and cooking dinner with her -- not the story of abandonment the Wellses had been told by the agency. Violah spoke of the day she and her sister were ripped away from their mother, with the girls screaming and crying. It had the story of a woman who said her children were taken away against her will.
Shawn called his wife over to the computer. Stacey Wells adopted Violah, thinking she'd been abandoned by her mother. It's not uncommon in Uganda for American adoptive parents to be in court with a biological mother -- proceedings that happen quickly, often without translators, the birth mother not fully understanding what she's agreed to and the American parents equally confused about what's transpiring.
Such was the case with the Wellses, who were devastated after seeing the Facebook page. They already had two children when they took in Violah. They thought they were giving an orphan a home. Instead, Stacey says, "she was made an orphan. Like the Davises, they began the extraordinary step of returning Violah, who hailed from the same Ugandan village as Mata and had been sent to the same orphanage, God's Mercy. The Wellses reached out to Reunite's Riley, who said Violah's birth mother was also lied to by local traffickers using the same false promise of education in America.
Violah was one of four girls taken from her mother. One was previously reunited with her; two others remain missing, believed to be in homes in America. A market's been created," Stacey says.
They said they spent their life savings on the adoption. In November, Stacey Wells brought Violah back to her home village, an emotional moment that is forever seared in Stacey's mind. Violah's mother emerged from a little shop where she worked and sprinted toward them.
She wrapped her arms around Stacey and then gave Violah a giant hug. Violah is reunited with her family. Violah's mother embraces her daughter and Stacey Wells, the woman who adopted Violah and then returned the girl to her Ugandan village. After her return, Violah, right, met with her sister, Resty, center, and Mata, left. Mata was taken from the same Ugandan village and also adopted by a US family. Like Violah, she was returned to her birth mother. Stacey Wells and Violah show villagers images on a smartphone.
Violah's description of her mother raised a red flag for Wells. Violah said her mother cooked for her, made her fish and walked to church with her. The paperwork Wells had been given told another story. Wells and her husband discovered the truth when they found a Facebook page for Reunite and saw a photo of a woman who claimed that her children had been taken.
Back in her village, Violah was also reunited with her great-grandmother. Wells and her husband thought they were giving an abandoned orphan a home. Instead, Stacey says, Violah "was made an orphan. Violah also was greeted by jubilant siblings. Her oldest brother took her by the hands and broke out in dance, swinging her around in celebration. At her home, Violah was greeted by jubilant siblings. Her oldest brother took her by the hands and broke out in a dance, swinging her around in celebration.
After learning about Mata's background, Jessica Davis says, her mantra became "I want the truth for my child, because living a lie will never work. Jessica said that at one point, the department told her, "you can just keep her if you want. She urged government officials not to notify the adoption agency, fearing that something could happen to Mata's birth mother in retaliation.
After a nearly three-year saga, Jessica and Adam Davis were exhausted, physically and emotionally. The Davises in court the day an Ohio judge made Mata's adoption official. Mata bonded with her new siblings quickly, Jessica says: At first, adopting had seemed the right thing to do. It was in line with their strong Christian beliefs, and it allowed Adam to practice what he preaches as an associate pastor at a Methodist church in St. Blessed with four children of their own, they believed that adopting an orphan who was in a desperate situation was a way of making something good happen in a difficult world.
They opened their home and their hearts, only to suffer the crushing blow of what really transpired. Mata leaves for Uganda The Davises filed paperwork to have Mata's adoption vacated, and in September, the Ugandan government gave parental rights back to her birth mother. The family threw her a goodbye party before leaving America last fall.
The Davises told their four other children to put on happy faces -- and try not to cry in front of Mata. Home videos provide a glimpse into the emotional scene. Mata is reunited with her family. Mata was reunited with her mother in their Ugandan village. Adam Davis, right, accompanied Namata on her return journey to Uganda while his wife, Jessica, stayed home with their children. Mata, as she's known, shows village children a photo of her playing in the snow while she lived with the Davises in Ohio.
Mata holds her baby sister, whom she first met via Skype while talking with her mother from Ohio. It was during that call that Mata realized her mother hadn't given her up for adoption. Mata back home in her village in Uganda. As her English improved during her time in the US, she spoke glowingly about her mother -- which didn't match the story her adoptive parents had been told.
Mata told her adoptive parents how she and her mother cooked together, went to church together and walked to school together. The paperwork from the adoption agency said Mata had never attended school. Mata's mother, left, thought she was giving her daughter a chance at a better education, not giving her away for adoption.
When the Davises learned of the deception, they knew they had to return Mata to her mother. Mata, left, and Violah were taken from the same village and adopted by two US families.
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