Archive for April, 2007

In this post, Ocean shares her thoughts regarding her recent post on the use of ASL in music videos for artistic purposes…


In my recent post on “Putting ASL Upon a Pedestal” I asked my readers to share their thoughts regarding the music video I had recently received in an email. I was pleasantly surprised by the response this post received, and the number of comments left. These comments expressed a wide variety of different viewpoints from a diversity of commenters – deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing; individuals fluent in ASL and those with limited knowledge and experience in the language; those who found it to be a touching and beautiful video and those who weren’t all that impressed.

All of these opinions are equally valid, and I enjoyed reading them and gaining some insight from what others thought. Thank you for sharing your feedback!

As for my own thoughts regarding Kate’s email and the video itself…

I won’t lie to you, folks. Before I had even clicked on the video link, I was already rolling my eyes and groaning. “Here we go again…” I grumbled to myself. Another hearing person afflicted with ASL On a Pedestal Syndrome.

Some of you know what I’m talking about – those hearing folks who, every time they see sign language being used, out comes the kleenex. “Ohhhh…it’s such a beautiful language!” “Ohhhh…I’m so moved by how so eloquently those interpreters can express things!” “Ohhh…It’s like doing a dance with your hands!” “Ohhh…how I wish I could sign like that, those interpreters are simply amazing!”

Ohhh…shit. Gag me with a spoon.

I’m sorry, people… but expressions like the above just make me want to scream. I’m reminded of the statements my friend Allison made about how American Sign Language is a “fuggly” language”…

“It is not beautiful. It is not poetical. It is not transcendental. It does not sweep its acolytes into waves of ecstasy.”

Now with that having been said, I figured I might as well give Kate the benefit of the doubt and take a look at this video. Who knows? American Sign Language aside, maybe it will move me to tears as well.

Errrmmmm… not exactly. I watched it once. Then I watched it again. And even after watching it yet a third time (I must be a glutton for punishment), I’m still left to sit here scratching my head.

To be honest, I couldn’t figure it out. Oh sure… it’s a nicely made video with honorable intentions. The little girl is cute and the message (from what I could gather) is a worthwhile one. Certainly we could use more love and peace in this world.

But would someone kindly explain to me just what ASL is doing in this video in the first place?

It certainly doesn’t look like it’s being used for the purpose of translating the lyrics for comprehension by Deaf viewers. As my friend SpiritWolf (who is also Deaf) said in a private email:

“I dislike the way the signs fade in and out, leaving me gaps where I wonder what words go there.”

I echo her sentiments.

Another Deaf friend of mine told me she had a bit of a hard time watching the video…she wasn’t that impressed, she didn’t feel moved, and she actually stopped watching halfway.

Hmmm… could the fact that there’s no captions included have something to do with this? Which brings up another question I have – why would someone incorporate the language of the Deaf Community into a music video, and then fail to caption it so that members of said community would have full access to it?

In regards to the signing itself… I’m not impressed. The signs are not always that clear to see. The signer isn’t facing out to the audience directly, the focus isn’t always sharp, and sometimes the signs are cut off of the screen and thus not fully seen.

Not to mention… I didn’t think the signer was all that good. I can’t speak for others, but frankly I had a hard time understanding what she was signing. It does appear she was taking some considerable liberties with her interpretation, and in the process sacrificing clarity for theatricality. Granted – music interpreting is a whole different ballgame; but nevertheless, you still want to be comprehensible to your audience. Sorry… but for me, this gal wasn’t.

Which takes me back to my beginning comments. I think it’s pretty obvious that this video was intended for a hearing audience, and the inclusion of American Sign Language is more for artistic purposes than for any clear translation of the lyrics. By doing so, the creators of this video are only perpetuating that awe-inducing response from a well-meaning but clueless audience. As Allison says

“…but because when they say “ASL is such a beautiful language,” I cannot help but ascribe to them some (often condescending) variant of the following description:

Can’t learn it for whatever reason, so peppers us ASL-speakers with compliments so we know they mean well.

Yes… I’m sure Karl and Jeanne meant well when they created this video. I’m sure Kate meant well when she sent it out to the members of her mailing list. I’m sure the hearing individuals who watch this video mean well when they pepper those compliments on the signing that is incorporated.

But the fact is that videos and other projects like this one do give ASL that Narcissus Complex. And yes, I do find that irritating.

By all means, American Sign Language can be beautiful. I was moved by watching Bernard Bragg’s demonstration of ASL poetry in the recent PBS program “Through Deaf Eyes.” I can sit and enjoy watching the Carl Schroeders and the Barb DiGis and the Joey Baers and the Teri Sentelles of the Deaf World express themselves so eloquently in a language I didn’t learn until my late teens, sharing thoughts and feelings that make me proud to be Deaf.

But it can be brutally ugly as well. I’ve winced in pain at watching obviously untrained and unskilled signers attempt to “interpret” information, mangling the language in the process. I’ve seen American Sign Language used to convey messages of anger and racism. The Deaf Community can say I HATE YOUR FUCKING GUTS and DAMN ALL (insert word of your choice) TO HELL right along with the best of them.

As Allison so well says it…

“Simply put, to the daily user, ASL is not an artistic endeavor: it is simply language – ours.”

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