Pop Culture – Why The Deaf Need It.

Our most recent article that was written by Julie Phillips, disability advocate, challenges us all to think about why Australia is lagging behind the world in disability support. ( http://the-rebuttal.com/?p=1886 ) This is particularly so when it comes to the deaf. Julie suggested that some of our priorities might be out of kilter. What she suggests is that access to interpreting at hospitals and deaf education should be areas that we advocate for as a matter of priority and not so much issues such as cinema captioning. Julie had this to say,  While it’s been great to see a lot of work get put into the cinema issue, I would have thought that the rights of deaf children to an education would be higher on the agenda. The lack of an interpreter in a hospital situation could mean death – a bit more important than open captioning.”

Julie also, deliberately provocatively, suggested that the government really doesn’t care much about deaf people, “If I was in government, or any other service provision, and had to make a choice between cutting something for hearing people and cutting something for deaf people, I would cut services to the deaf. Why? Because I can.” But more importantly she suggests that this is because the deaf and their advocates have their priorities wrong and do NOT demand enough. “There is a reason that in other countries the rights of deaf people are far ahead of those in Australia. Because they demand them.”, said Julie.

For the most part I agree with Julie. Deaf advocacy in Australia is poor. It tends to try and align itself with Governments. It fears upsetting the apple cart. Rather than advocate it diplomaticates. (a made up word) But sometimes what we require is good old fashioned RA RA RA Advocacy. We need to show passion and the need for change. Too often we take the diplomatic path that leads to nowhere but the lands of double speak. Sometimes saying it bluntly and a dose of good old fashioned passion are what is needed.

BUT as much as I agree with Julie’s sentiments I disagree that cinema captioning, or any captioning, is less a priority than say hospital interpreting, deaf education or even saving the Auslan course at Kangan TAFE. Why? Because it provides access for the deaf to Popular Culture and Popular Culture is more powerful than we think.

Nixon, 2006, in an article printed on Yahoo Voices defines Popular Culture, or Pop Culture as, “a contemporary life style that is generally accepted by a large population of people.”  Nixon provides examples of Pop Culture as, “…broad based literature, movies, and music genres …” By this she means block buster movies and books like Harry Potter, TV series like Revenge, the music of Lady Ga Ga and, dare I say it, the very sad and pathetic Twilight series of books and movies :-D. You can add to the list radio, sport and in fact anything that is known to stir the masses. Even Opera can become Pop Culture if the masses decide that it is in.

What Pop Culture does is bring people together. Many people turn their nose up at Pop Culture. They claim it is a bad influence, that it is disrespectful and tramples all over our traditional values. It is blamed for everything ranging from violence among youth to graffiti. Just about everything that is wrong with the world can be attributed to Pop Culture. Nixon notes in her Yahoo article, “….children are exposed to a tremendous amount of information fed to them by the pop culture world. This influences and shapes the identities of our children.” Tellingly Nixon explains, The good thing, however, is not all of it is negative and if parents are educated and aware of what their children are doing pop culture can be used positively to help mold the children of the future.”

Undeniably we can not get away from Pop Culture. In fact Pop Culture is the centre of most of what we all talk about. Dr Ron Taffel is a family therapist. He has been described as, a genius addressing all the issues of family life” Dr Taffel has written about Pop Culture and its influence on children. He acknowledges that it can have a negative influence and can cause friction in families. But he also has explained that Pop Culture provides kids with access to what he calls the Second Family. This is the family of their peers and it is this family that Dr Taffel describes as, A social structure for teens that provides a type of intimacy, support, communication and honesty he or she can’t find anywhere else.

In an article published at The Rebuttal, just before Julies article, the wonderful Korrina Goodwin eloquently tells of a situation where she is watching a TV documentary with her deaf daughter. (http://the-rebuttal.com/?p=1870). Korrina is hearing and as she watches the documentary a range of emotions hit her. She laughs she cries and she is inspired. As she watches she notes that her deaf daughter is in intense concentration, showing no emotion.

There are no captions on this TV show. Why is not clear. Most likely they were watching Austar or Foxtel which both provide the most appalling access to captioned shows, particularly documentaries. At the end of the show she decides to question her daughter about what happened in the documentary. She asks her daughter what she thought of the funny bits, the sad bits and the serious bits. To all of these questions her daughter had no answers.

Now imagine if her daughter had been watching a movie at the cinema. Perhaps Breaking Dawn from the Twilight Saga, it seems to be the in thing for girls. Perhaps she had gone to the cinema with a group of girls from school. The movie is not captioned, some guys may argue that this is a good thing 😀  The movie ends and the girls, like a gaggle of geese, all make their way to the exit chatting excitedly about what they had just viewed.

They would be chatting about the music, “Wasnt it cooooool”, or Edward – “Isn’t he haaawwwwwwtttt.” Or perhaps they will be talking about when Edward and Whatsehername are gonna, “Doooooo ittttt” Or why Jacob’s personality and physique is more desirable and that Edward is a wimp. Who knows what they would be talking about but it would touch on many, many issues. These issues will be to do with sex, relationships and life. Most likely the girls will relate the movie to some of their own real life experience. Through this discussion they LEARN many things. More than a classroom can ever teach them.

Meanwhile Korrina’s daughter has not been able to access the movie in all its glory because of the absence of captions. How is she going to get involved in the discussions? How is she going to access the Second Family that is her peers? Communication with them is hard enough being deaf but it is even harder, as any lip-reader will tell you, if you have no idea as to what your peers are talking about. In short not only does the lack of captioning prevent Korinna’s daughter accessing information it isolates her from her peers. What access does Korinna’s daughter have to LIFE EDUCATION through her peers? Little wonder then, as Korrina notes, her daughter prefers to stay at home.

At school the smart teacher will have learnt that Pop Culture is a way to engage the student. They will compare Macbeth themes with Pop Culture movies. Perhaps Revenge had been on TV the night before.(I don’t watch it so I am only guessing here.) Perhaps some character in the story line has killed someone and has blood on their hands. A famous scene from Macbeth has Lady Macbeth washing imaginary blood from her hands as a way of demonstrating her remorse and guilt. Perhaps the character in Revenge is doing the same sort of thing, washing blood from their hands over and over. The smart teacher will relate Macbeth to this Pop Culture as a means of  engaging the students. Thankfully Revenge is captioned, but what if it wasn’t? What access would the deaf student have to this type of learning? At the end of the lesson the students all leave the classroom excitedly chatting of the comparison, exchanging views and expanding on the themes. Where does the deaf student fit in? What peer learning can they access?

PeersUnited.com suggests that, “Everyone needs to belong — to feel connected with others and be with others who share attitudes, interests, and circumstances that resemble their own. People choose friends who accept and like them and see them in a favourable light.” I would argue that much of this acceptance comes from being able to access Pop Culture. Pop Culture is the centre of much of what stimulates discussion and interaction among peers. Without access to Pop Culture your access to peers and their conversations is limited. Deafness is isolating enough, we don’t need to add another layer to it by limiting access to Pop Culture too.

PeersUnited.com also notes that, Teens who feel isolated or rejected by their peers — or in their family — are more likely to engage in risky behaviours in order to fit in with a group.”  It is here we have the seeds to destructive behaviours and ongoing mental health issues related to isolation and poor self esteem. Access to Pop Culture for the deaf is a huge part of the jigsaw. Captioning at all levels is essential.  It is all interwoven – captioning, interpreting, education and peer access – nothing is more important than the other.


6 thoughts on “Pop Culture – Why The Deaf Need It.

  1. Well written mate. This is the kind of stuff that creates the connections between adolescents who are living with deafness. Very difficult for a hearing professional in the field to understand the importance of this.

  2. Honestly, I’m with her. Deaf Education is a priority! So is hospital interpreting. People have access to the cinemas through Captiview which I don’t mind. It does it’s job. I am bored of people whinging about open captions. For example, today is my fiance’s birthday and we opted for lunch and a movie… We had a choice between 4 movies, at varying times. We wouldn’t have had that choice with open captions. Tv and DVDs are captioned a lot of the time and combined with Captiview- no reason why people can’t make pop references. Move on from open captions people and get used to it! It’s access and it’s fine. I wear reading glasses but can do without them with Captiview.. So the size of text or whatever.:: is not a valid reason to hate it.
    Not to mention, when we did have open captions- all people did was complain about the location, the times and choice of movie. Now we have a choice of more locations, more times and more choices of movies. Typical of people to complain and complain and then a solution is offered and suddenly, they appreciate how it WAS!

  3. Nonsense Katrina .. the amount of access we have is absolutley miniscule .. the amount of information we miss is absoluteley enormous… When 85% or more of deaf kids are mainstreamed and wamt to access what their peers are talking about its a huge issue .. Absolutely huge. And sure you like Captiview .. b ut the majority think its cack, sorry and still that only gives us access to a very small range of popular culture as compared to our peers .. Its not access if you miss half the mkovie cos the system crashes … ITS a HUGE issue .. Sure if all deaf kids were part of te deaf community i would buy what you say … reality is they are not … they are out there struggling cos the access is not there …
    Not to mention when we did have open captions they were only once a week, in one place ane bugger if you lived miles away from were they were shown and at god awful times. 😀 Whats more by the time it comes out on DVD its PASSE . done and buried … Plus its not equal access …

  4. Priories are important, along with mental health in adolescents. Peer group socialization and the impact of cultural rights of passage cannot and should not be underestimated. Open captions are a one size fits all inclusive access tool, captiview is not. To deny access is discriminatory. Saying that a person should put up with discrimination because it doesn’t impact on you is just wrong.

  5. I’m with Julie, the current campaigns are not targeting the basics, but following ‘populist’ campaigns based on social media fashion. Cinema access is nowhere near the same profile urgency as access to an Dr or Hospital, or sorting out a coherent way to teach deaf kids. I think social media has damaged real campaigning. First get the basic access sorted, then worry about the theatre or titled TV and cinema, and latest gizmo’s on smart fones. If your mental/physical health goes, nothing else is going to seem remotely important. Least of all captioned TV. I just thing deaf campaigning has lost the plot basically….

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