May 8, 2011
Movie Monday: Sound and Fury
I never thought of "deaf culture" and "hearing culture" as being separate, or even opposed. But apparently, at least to the families in this documentary, they are.
Have you ever heard of the Cochlear Implant? I can't give you a technical description, but it's a device that can be implanted inside the head to help deaf people - completely deaf people - hear. I first heard of it years back when Rush Limbaugh got one, after his hearing started to decline. Today he is almost completely deaf, and even though he has the implant, he got it as an adult, and so he has to lip read or have incoming calls to his radio show transcribed.
Sound and Fury is about two families with deaf children - one deaf family, one hearing family - who are considering getting Cochlear Implants for their children. Just the decision, the consideration, shakes up their lives and strains their relationships in ways I honestly would not have expected.
The deaf parents considering a Cochlear Implant for their 5-year-old daughter, Heather, are very hesitant about pursuing the implant. Heather found out about it (I believe from her hearing grandparents) and started asking for one. Heather's parents are very devoted to deaf culture and deafness. They do not see their deafness as a handicap, but rather as a different skill set and a different culture.
They take Heather's (and their parents') interest in the Cochlear Implant almost as an insult, because they take pride in being deaf and believe this implant will cause Heather to see herself (and them) as handicapped, as defective, as not part of the "normal world." A hearing friend brings up that she would never be able to hear music, for example, which is a big concern I would have. Their response? "We don't care about music. Who needs it?"
The impression the docu gives (and who knows how accurate this is) is that Heather is being coerced by her grandparents to want the implant, and pressured by her parents to not want it. Both couples insist Heather "made her own decision" to either want or not want it. And it causes a huge rift between the generations.
The hearing parents are the brother and sister-in-law of the deaf parents. The sister-in-law is from a deaf family, and their infant son is also deaf. They want to implant him as a baby so that his speech and hearing skills will develop as he grows. The deaf grandparents are hurt by this. Again, they view it as a rejection of part of their identity, and battle with their daughter over it even in the waiting room during the implant surgery. They are told by their deaf friends, deaf families, and even their doctors that they should expect judgment and rejection from the deaf community because they chose to implant their son.
Watching this documentary was very interesting, but also very uncomfortable. I guess, without realizing it, I had a lot of preconceptions of what I would do if I had a child born deaf or hard of hearing. And this really made me question a lot of those preconceptions. It also made me really reconsider how I view "handicapped" people
One thing they brought out I thought was very interesting. The doctors and speech therapists told the deaf family was that, once Heather was implanted, she had to stop signing completely, because children who sign are less likely to develop speech skills at a normal rate and it can either delay or totally inhibit speech development, because they already have a means to communicate and really don't need to work on their speech skills.
You can take that for what it's worth, but I thought it had interesting implications for the current trend of hearing parents teaching hearing children sign language before they can speak.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this documentary because it let me step into a culture I didn't have any personal experience with, and it caused me to consider many things from a new perspective. Can't ask for more than that, right?
Did you watch this week's documentary? What did you think?
Honorable Mention: The Third Jihad. A self-described moderate Muslim investigates the current war against the West by what he styles "Radical Islam," and how there is a fully-functioning battleground in the United States most people are not aware of. I debated whether or not to do a whole post on this one and decided not to. I'd rather you just watch it yourself.
Next week's documentary: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.