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404: Deafhood and the Media
Have you been followin…

404: Deafhood and the Media

Have you been following the commentary about that Law & Order episode online? It’s interesting seeing what people’s reactions are… I notice a lot of aggressiveness in the Deaf community, with people clamoring “Everything must conform to MY idea of the Deaf identity” – or to some imagined ideal Deaf person. To me this is like someone saying the same thing about Black identity and woman identity: “Everyone must be like THIS to be Gay, like THIS to be Christian”, and to me people are saying this for much the same reason: fear. People are afraid, so they seek control. But this is counterproductive. Bernice Johnson Reagon* once said “There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Give it up.”

She also said, “If you’re in a coalition and you’re comfortable, you know it’s not a broad enough coalition.” The American Deaf community is nothing if it’s not a coalition, a melting pot of people of complex ethnicities and identities and diversities united by the common bonds of experience as Americans, a language, and a history. It makes sense we would deal with being Deaf in different ways. To really understand Deaf people and Deafhood, you have to let go of your personal illusions. These illusions are made by the baggage which forms our lives–the attitudes we encounter from doctors and priests and family members and each other which we react to, take in, accept or reject. We’ve moved, in human understanding, from the religious perspective to the medical perspective to the sociocultural perspective, and garnered our very own cultural and personal baggages from each. By understanding ourselves we get rid of this baggage. We discover our Deafhood. We find out what’s been packed away. Like those exhibits at the Museum where you start with the Universe and end with enlarged microscope photographs of atoms and electrons. The outer to the inner.

But by focusing too hard on other people we are counter productive. So many of us have our own set beliefs delineating what it means to be a Deaf person–I’ve got my own, I’m honest about it. They’re sometimes helpful, because they’re part of our personal identity constructions. For example, I believe a Deaf person should stand up for Deaf people’s rights, because by extension I stand up for my own. That’s part of my identity construction of a Deaf person. And a lot of what I’m reading online is anger about the identity construction of specific Deaf … television characters. What we saw on Law & Order was a well-researched and FICTIONAL story about a crime, one that broke some stereotypes by portraying a Deaf person as an active antagonist. Much criticism of the show was based on the fact that people couldn’t see the situation happening in real life. The fear, apparently, is that hearing people will watch Law and Order and automatically think all Deaf people are hiding automatics. People fear this episode will create another stereotype for us to have problems with as Deaf people. I am not so sure. People know this is fictional. I watch the Sopranos, but I certainly don’t think every Italian in a track suit is a mobster.

I think a lot of people were looking for this show to validate their identity construction of Deafness, and unfortunately that’s impossible. Everyone has their own identity construction. The question should be, did you relax and enjoy the movie like you enjoyed the even-more-unrealistic Continue

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