Summer Shorts: My Deaf Family

04-Jun-10 11:00 AM by
Filed under Television; 1 comment.

Confession: I follow Sesame Street on Twitter. That may not seem an appropriate pastime for a thirtysomething, but it's hard to resist such clever witticisms as espoused by Cookie Monster: "Me tried fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free cookie today. Or, as me like to call it: crime against humanity." Big Bird: "There are lots of birds that can’t fly: turkeys, ostriches, penguins, Larry…" and Grover: "It is Frank Oz's birthday. I do not know who he is, but I will try to find out. Wait, what do you mean, there is no 'try'?"

It was in these wanderings that I came across a video of Billy Joel singing to Oscar the Grouch. His song was signed by a woman who looked familiar. Some brief research revealed her to be Marlee Matlin, a deaf actress who has been performing on stage, film, and television since her Hollywood debut in 1986. She was even the star (though a passive one) of a film in my own DVD library, What the Bleep Do We Know?.

After appearing on shows from West Wing to Desperate Housewives to Dancing with the Stars, Ms. Matlin recently struck out on her own by hosting and financing a reality series called My Deaf Family. The only deaf person in her family, Ms. Matlin wanted to bring attention to the lives and obstacles of members of the deaf community and their loved ones. When no network picked up the series, she uploaded the pilot to YouTube:

Although I don't know if this pilot could be extended into a full series, the questions and dilemmas raised by this short segment are substantial. All parents wants what's best for their children, but it's not always clear what that is. For two deaf parents to raise a hearing child can be exceptionally difficult. As Jared indicates in the above video, there are some things Jared can't talk to his parents about, and he had trouble learning how to pronounce words without his parents to teach him. Children in his scenario often have a lisp or other speech impediment, at least until they are mainstreamed into a school where they have teachers and peers. Whatever issues Jared has faced, few of them are likely to arise with his siblings who share their parents' abilities.

That raises a significant question: is deafness a disability, or an identity? Are there moral ramifications to two deaf parents wanting a child who is deaf? We want our children to be strong — but should we want them to have to be strong? The 2005 holiday film The Family Stone has a horrendously awkward scene in which someone asks the mother of a gay man, "You didn't actually hope for a gay son, did you? I mean, life is hard enough when you're normal…" Although this quotation has good intentions, the implication is that there is some physical and emotional "status quo" to which we should be born, and anyone who doesn't fit this archetype is somehow impaired. That's complete hogwash, of course; otherwise we'd see nothing distasteful in the genetically sequenced dystopia that is Gattaca, in which Stephen Hawking would never have existed — or, if he had but with no motivation to develop his mind over his body, might have pursued a fabulous career in the NBA. If deafness and other conditions are limits, they are limits that can be overcome.

Having written this post, I realize that I do want to see more in Ms. Matlin's series, though perhaps with a broader scope. I don't want a Chicken Soup for the Soul television series, but a closer look at the lives and hurdles of people with various mental and physical challenges could prove not only inspiring, but also enlightening. Consider it an adult vehicle for the love and acceptance we were taught to practice as children by Sesame Street.

Is there a network brave enough to pick it up?

(Hat tip to AOL)

What's Snoo?

18-Feb-07 10:49 AM by
Filed under Reviews; Comments Off on What's Snoo?

[Editor's note: With this submission, we welcome our first guest author to Showbits. Interested in writing your own blog post here? Drop me a line!]

What do you get when five mentally and physically disabled persons pile into an RV and travel across the United States, interviewing people on the street? The answer: How's Your News, a documentary that provides a poignant glance at our culture's reaction to people who are different.

This film chronicles a two-week journey from New Hampshire to California as five handicapped reporters conduct person-on-the-street interviews, including in New Haven, at a honky-tonk bar in Nashville, on an alligator farm in Arkansas, and on Venice Beach. When I was lent this movie, I was told it would be "funniest film I'd watch in a long time." I must've missed that point, as I found the documentary more thought-provoking than humorous. Two of the five travellers were incapable to speaking, and it was rather sad to see them being ignored on streets throughout the country.

Interestingly, the farther south and west the crew traveled, the more inclined pedestrians were to talk to the reporters. It seems those of us in the east tend to be in too much a hurry to stop and have a conversation with someone who is calling out for some attention. Southerners, with their slower pace of life, seemed to be more open to a conversation with someone our culture has labeled as "slow." Perhaps best of all are the people who took the time to dance with the mute, wheelchair-bound man. The smile on his face as someone paid attention to him brought tears to my eyes.

I was a skeptic upon putting in this film; I thought it would be a cheap laugh. But I found it provided an opportunity to question my own hurriedness, in not stopping to talk to someone who wanted to talk to me, and the hurriedness of American culture, particularly on the East Coast. How's Your News is an inspiration. It may not be the best documentary ever produced, but it is filled with joy as the team of five travel to their destination in the journey of a lifetime.