Recently with my class, we have watched the show Switched at Birth. In particular, “Uprising.” This episode shows the deaf students taking over Carlton because they are upset that they have to assimilate into mainstream hearing schools.
The show switched at birth displays three-dimensional characters, that provides a somewhat accurate representation of deaf people. One key evidence from this episode is at the beginning when all the deaf students are having a bonfire and reminiscing on past school memories. They talk about how they played capture the flag after a massive snowstorm and the party at Muro’s house (where they all broke the trampoline. They even perform a funny rap that Zippo performed in the talent show in sophomore year. These memories are what fuel their passion for their school and for not giving up and going to mainstream high schools. They show that being Deaf doesn’t make them impaired – they’re just as capable as anyone else. However, because of the content of this show, it does get a little “bonkers.” Obviously, being a person who has the ability to hear, I might not understand completely why Deaf people have a problem with this show. But the articles that I read of actual deaf people voicing their opinions of how accurate the show is, has opened up my eyes to a world of problems. I think that the episode “Uprising” shows an accurate representation of a day in the life of a Deaf person.
In this episode, they chose to have little to no sound. The deaf guidance counselor Melody signs at the beginning of the episode to her students, “they will never understand, unless they walk a day in our shoes.” So in this episode, they decided to have little to no sound and they had subtitles for ASL. This was an extremely smart choice and just helped me as a viewer, to understand that much better what it’s like to be deaf – and trust me, the absence of sound is unbelievable
Most deaf people have a, “love/hate” relationship with Switched at Birth. Part of them wants to love the show, but the other part feels as if it shows a “ridiculously mind-boggling one-sided view of the deaf world.” (Alanna Kilroy) They feel as if the ASL is somewhat accurate, but they are bothered about certain other aspects of the show like the under-representation of individuals with cochlear implants. In the two articles that I have found, both of them feel in one way or another as if this show has come to represent/give an image the deaf community – but that this show is thrown entirely out of proportion. In this show, each character either signs, chooses not to speak or both. Don Grushkin felt as if the fact that Katie Leclerc (Daphne) playing a deaf person was just as bad as a white person wearing blackface – now Katie is partially deaf, but only recently and Don claims that Katie didn’t know how to sign prior to this role and had to take lessons to simulate “deaf speech.” One blogger in particular (Alanna Kilroy) feels as if assumptions are made and hearing viewers think that all deaf people sign – when in reality, not all of them do (this deaf blogger doesn’t) Alanna thinks that the show displays a misrepresentation that deaf people only hang out with other deaf people in their secluded deaf schools. Also, what is with literally no one in the show having a cochlear implant? Just in case some of my readers don’t know, a cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that is implanted in the inner ear and replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. In the first episode of Switched at Birth, John Kennish goes to Regina and inquires about a surgery in which Daphne will be able to hear clearly – but Regina goes on a tantrum saying that they are just trying to “fix” her. Alanna has this to say on the matter, “So why are those with cochlear implants, who live oral lifestyles, continually underrepresented in television medium? Is it because we aren’t “deaf” enough? Because we don’t portray the generic deaf “view”? Because we can ironically hear?” Don Grushkin even made a point that the emphasis of the ASL used is “theatrical”, versus a normality and fluency to ASL – as many deaf people know and use. However, although Don did find problems with the show as a whole, they found the episode “Uprising” to be the most accurate portrayal of the deaf community and the best episode of Switched at Birth.
Both bloggers addressed the issue of using hearing people playing deaf roles and it’s relevance to “blackface.” In Switched at Birth, all the deaf actors are played by either deaf or hard of hearing people. I think that it’s important that real deaf people play deaf characters, I agree with Don in that: in order to have an accurate representation of the deaf community, there needs to be an actor/actress that understands what their character is going through. Also, I believe that a person who is playing a deaf role is mockery. They are just fueling the stereotypes and many of the misunderstandings that hearing people have.
I am not deaf. I understand that I will never fully understand what it’s like to be deaf or to know the struggles that they go through, but I can at least try. By voicing my opinion and standing up for the Deaf community, I can help make a change. Through this assignment, I think that I have come to appreciate the deaf community that much more. I have always been fascinated by ASL and it is my desire to learn it one day.