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Sound and Fury
January 8, 2002 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Sound and Fury is an award-winning documentary about deaf culture and the debate over cochlear implants (playing at 10 tonight in CA). It's a fascinating look into the strength of identity, and also the way that human cultures commonly derive from shared difficulties.
posted by mdn (28 comments total)

 
It already played in NYC, but it's available on video.

I think the basic ideas expressed on both sides of the argument are understandable to all of us, whether we have much contact with deaf culture or not. Sometimes what may be regarded as deficiencies are the elements of our personalities to which we hold most tightly. I remember a documentary about a pair of adult conjoined twins joined at the head who said they would never want to be separated (I looked for a link without success... anyone remember that story?). I have epilepsy, which has many down sides, but I'm not sure I'd be the quite same person without it.

And commonly we define our humanity as imperfection ("I'm only human") and still hold it up as noble (something terrible defined as "inhuman") - the shared difficulty of trying to do what's best, and sometimes being unable to do so, is what connects us.

All of that's sort of peripheral, I guess, so obviously if you have more direct comments on the cochlear implant issue, don't hold back. I just wanted to open the floor to related topics also...
posted by mdn at 7:52 PM on January 8, 2002


I'm not sure I understand the downside to gaining one or all of the senses. I watched the show tonight and all I saw was fear from the deaf family members - fear of being left out, or that the implants were somehow a slight toward them.

People have enough individual quirks and eccentricities which allow them to stand apart. I don't understand the impassioned desire to remain non-hearing that some of the people interviewed conveyed.
posted by gsh at 8:15 PM on January 8, 2002


This is an amazing situation. It seems at first like a no-brainer that, if you can do a procedure to make someone hear, it is a good thing. But, it is so very far from being that simple. I especially empathize with the deaf parents who are confronted with the choice of whether to proceed with this implant for their congenitally deaf children. I think these people are canaries in the coal mine - we're all going to be faced with bizzare and novel bioethics issues as medical technology and practice advance. Because you can 'do something' about a chronic condition, or, indeed, about mere aging, does that mean that you are obligated to do so?
posted by crunchburger at 8:19 PM on January 8, 2002


it has to do with the preservation of culture. watching an individual leave a culture for a supposedly more attractive one. cf the amish, the home-schooling movement, and certain sectors of the muslim world
posted by rebeccablood at 8:30 PM on January 8, 2002


Also, on an individual level, many people have an undeniable aversion to altering what they have come to accept as themselves. On paper it may seem great to suddenly have the ability to hear, but if not being able to hear has been a major part of your self-image, particularly a part is so prominent in how you are treated by others, then hesitation to change is pretty easy to understand.
posted by dong_resin at 8:39 PM on January 8, 2002


I think a big part of the human experience is adapting to deficiencies. That should not, however, mean that we welcome deficiencies simply because we have adapted to them, nor should we allow fear of change to keep us from correcting (or even improving) them if the opportunity presents itself.

"Culture" is a descriptor of a certain subset of social arrangement; it is neither sancrosanct nor necessarily defensible.
posted by rushmc at 8:47 PM on January 8, 2002


I would kill to gain extra senses. Screw my perception of self -- I wanna see other wavelengths!
posted by aramaic at 8:57 PM on January 8, 2002


One of my best friends went deaf overnight at age 14. His cochlear implant let him back into the world he knew (however imperfectly). I'm grateful the research is being done and the devices manufactured, because not all deaf are Deaf (culturally).
posted by swerve at 9:09 PM on January 8, 2002


I'm really looking forward to seeing this in 1/2 hour. I think that any procedure should be a matter of individual choice, whether the procedure is life-saving, healing, restorative, enhancing, or just plain weird. When parents are making decisions for children things get a bit sticky. In general, I'd defer to the parents. I wouldn't want parents who choose not to enhance their children considered the moral equivalents of Christian Scientists denying their own of modern medical care. For a future-oriented take on these issues, see Morphological Freedom -- Why We not just Want it, but Need it.
posted by mlinksva at 9:35 PM on January 8, 2002


all I saw was fear from the deaf family members

"fear" has negative connotations, but some resistance of change is often accepted - trying to hold on to humanity without creating a brave new world, etc. For those who identify as deaf, the deaf subculture is a whole world, and it could be defined as love rather than fear that holds them to it. I mean, if there were an easy treatment that would allow gay people to become straight, which arguably would make life easier, would many do it? Would people claim that those who resisted were doing so out of fear?
posted by mdn at 10:00 PM on January 8, 2002


I am a deaf male myself and as a culturally deaf person, I am overwhelmingly opposed to individuals who obtain cochlear implants.

Cochlear implants DO NOT give you the ability to hear... especially for those who have been born deaf. It is simply a device that generates "pulses" of varying wavelengths (forget the elaborated descriptions the doctors were giving in that documentary) and it does not replicate accurately the true characteristics of sound, much less the varying levels that are used in order to generate comprehensive speech.

Sadly, those who opt to receive such implant find themself rejected from those who are fully integrated with the heart of the deaf culture. That decision is entirely up to the person receiving such procedure.

I'm not completely downplaying the entire thing- there are people who receive the implant and have ended up being very successful in adapting to such change but keep in mind, it's because the majority of these "success stories" comes from individuals who lost their hearing at a later age. Due to that, therapy as well as sound rehabilitation is much easier because they already have the innate knowledge.

And the majority of people who had the implants removed are the ones who were born with deafness.

What I hate the most about this is that people are led to believe two things:

1) Deafness is a disability.

For instance, I was born deaf... how can I label myself disabled if I never had any hearing in the first place?

2) Deaf people must function like their hearing counterparts to be fully accepted in society.

If there are individuals out there, especially deaf people who feel that way about themselves, then I completely pity them because that is the most horrific, the most pathetic feeling one can have about another, or even for themselves.

Just for the record, there are successful deaf people (without ever needing such the assistance of cochlear implants as well as other devices such as "miracle ear") who have went on to become doctors, lawyers, professors, etc.

I'm not going to deny that there are times I really wished that I could hear... there are even events as simple as ordering food at McDonald's where I can be sometimes faced with the greatest difficulty (don't you people realize we hate it when you try to 'gesture' your answers... we do appreciate your efforts but all we ask is that we are to be treated equal. After all, the only maxim that separates deaf people from others is our hearing levels... not our intelligence nor abilities to function fluently).

And even though I may not hear, I do *gasp* enjoy music. I've taught myself how to hear it purely through feeling. Of course, artists such as Moby and the Crystal Method are pluses in my book because of their heavy bass (it's a pure orgasmic experience to have their beats blasting through my entire body). This, as an example, is something I truly relish and wouldn't even consider getting a $5,000 piece of metal drilled in my skull for.

Deaf people are notorious for developing a sixth sense. Through the slightest vibrations, I can feel when somebody is walking in another room. Even when I feel a slight change in how the steering wheel of my car, I can easily tell if there's something wrong with the engine or the transmission. And so forth.

From a personal standpoint, individuals with disabilities should learn to accept themselves and make the best of it. Why bother wasting your efforts to perfect yourself when you could use the same energy to obtain an education as well as to educate others of what your unlimited potential can be?
posted by msposner at 10:25 PM on January 8, 2002


msposner, if the technology improved, so that a deaf person could easily transition into the hearing world, would you still oppose the procedure? I get the sense you would, at least on a personal level, though many of your arguments center around the imperfect and complicated nature of the treatment. Do you feel like you're lucky to have a different way of perceiving the world? Do you wonder what sounds are like for those who hear them?

I've heard that the internet has been really popular for the deaf community (which makes sense of course), and have interacted with more deaf people online than in real life. Do you think you're lucky to live at this time in history, as a deaf person?

Sorry to be all interrogational :) - I just think it's a really interesting topic.
posted by mdn at 10:52 PM on January 8, 2002


mdn - I would still oppose the procedure... I am not going to waste my time trying to perfect myself through technology but to make the best of what I have. Simple as that.

Yes, I do feel fortunate to be 20 years old and living in a time like this... technology such as the internet has opened a million of new channels. It's also important to keep in mind that there was a period in American history where deaf people were forbidden to marry (Alexander Graham Bell was a big advocate of such notion, believe it or not) in order to prevent the further "breeding" of deaf babies.

Deaf people have been a lot better accepted in modern society than they have been ten or even five years ago. Ten years ago, not all of TV shows were closed captioned and we had to fight a long battle (through lawsuits)... and even today, not all shows have CC.

Our biggest problem in today's society is fighting against the misconceptions people have about us. It is what damages us the most as well as drives a large population of deaf people into isolation where they simply rely on government funds to survive (quite lavishly, I must add).

I've met people who were extremely shocked when they found out that I can drive a car. People did ask me if I knew how to use a fork. (note that by looking at me, you wouldn't know I am a deaf person... I don't even wear hearing aids). I've even been asked if I could read and write. I used to play the guitar, the saxophone, and the drums in various bands growing up without being able to hear a single sound... but of course, I rely on technology such as speakers with added bass.

My point is that when technology is used in order to perfect somebody, I think that's wrong. Technology should only be used to aid us in making the tasks we employ in life much easier and more convient.
posted by msposner at 11:37 PM on January 8, 2002


msposner, I completely honor your own decision not to obtain cochlear implants, and respect your commitment to Deaf culture. However, I'm disturbed by your choice of words ("I am overwhelmingly opposed to individuals who obtain cochlear implants").

It may be that this is just a statement that doesn't translate perfectly from Sign to English, but isn't it every individual's right to decide for him- or herself whether or not he or she wants a cochlear implant? Why are you "overwhelmingly opposed" to people who make a choice different from yours?

Having watched the show, I feel like both of the families made the choices that were right for them. The hearing parents whose other children were hearing chose a cochlear implant for their toddler son; the deaf parents whose other child was deaf told their five-year-old daughter that they didn't think the cochlear implant she had requested would be a good idea, and found a better way to address the daughter's concerns (moving to a new town where far more services were provided for deaf residents, and where the deaf schools were excellent).

What I learned from the show is that there is no one "right answer" in this incredibly complex matter.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:51 AM on January 9, 2002


Alexander Graham Bell's wife was deaf, so he certainly wasn't a very effective opponent of marriage for deaf people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:52 AM on January 9, 2002


Deaf people never want to label themselves disabled unless it is politically expedient, as in passage of antidiscrimination legislation. But you never find a blind person who denies he or she is disabled. I've been following this stuff for 20 years and I have never been able to figure out the source of this hypocrisy.
posted by joeclark at 4:42 AM on January 9, 2002


What takes the cake is that parents deny the implants to their children on the basis of deaf culture.

It's known that implants do the most good when they're inplanted during a young age--toddler age. The kids haven't had a chance to join the deaf culture, so what's the harm?

The only argument I can even give weight to is the fact that the implants are currently rudimentary, and might inhibit the child from developing that "sixth sense" deal. But to think that a kid won't be fully integrated into deaf culture....

isn't that the fault of OTHER DEAF PEOPLE?
posted by taumeson at 5:26 AM on January 9, 2002


I watched some of this documentary last night, and I was very upset by a lot of it. I worked for a deaf theater for two years, and came to learn a lot about deaf culture (I am hearing, for the record.) I also learned quite a bit about CIs (cochlear implants) and the controversy around them.

It's a tough decision for anyone to make. msposner is right about the effectiveness of the implant - if you've never been able to hear anyway, and/or depending on the cause of your deafness, a CI might not be able to help you anyway. Plus, it's a hole drilled into your skull, with a microphone sticking out and a bulky processor strapped to your waist. Doesn't the thought of that bother anyone? It bothers me, greatly.

The part where the deaf father was arguing with his father, while one of the most upsetting parts of the piece, also made some of the most important points. A deaf child in a deaf family probably won't get much out of a CI - she'd be the odd girl out in her whole family, in terms of upbringing and culture. No matter how hard her parents try, they'll still be deaf, and can't relate entirely to a hearing world. And if you expose yourself at all to deaf culture, it is a different world. Both fully developed and functional worlds, but different.

I think it should be a personal decision. Every situation is different, but I just don't feel that parents should make that decision for their toddlers. I think they should wait until they're a little older and can understand the ramifications a little better.
posted by starvingartist at 7:06 AM on January 9, 2002


some resistance of change is often accepted - trying to hold on to humanity without creating a brave new world, etc.

I suspect you and I define "humanity" quite differently....
posted by rushmc at 7:30 AM on January 9, 2002


What I want to know is why aren't we arguing about the cultural genocide being committed against differently-visioned people? I was forced to wear glasses as a child, and now I can't function without them.

If I had been allowed to develop freely in a differently-visioned environment, I might have acquired special abilities naturally, obviating the need for grotesque metal accoutrements or permanent laser surgeries.

I resent being forced into "mainstream" society; clearly we cannot permit this atrocity to continue. It is a crime against humanity and the differently-visioned culture that would otherwise have developed.

I demand that all glasses or "corrective" surgeries for vision be halted, until people can make these decisions for themselves, rationally, in an environment free from mainstream-vision hatred.
posted by aramaic at 7:33 AM on January 9, 2002


For instance, I was born deaf... how can I label myself disabled if I never had any hearing in the first place?

Because the comparison being made is not between prior and currents states of yourself, but between yourself and the human norm.

Deaf people must function like their hearing counterparts to be fully accepted in society.

It isn't (or shouldn't be) a matter of being accepted, but of optimal functioning.

I am not going to waste my time trying to perfect myself through technology but to make the best of what I have. Simple as that.

It is beyond me how you can possibly classify self-improvement as a "waste of time."

My point is that when technology is used in order to perfect somebody, I think that's wrong.

What a remarkable statement! On what possible basis can you feel this way? Would you reject wearing glasses if your vision was poor? Do you refuse to visit the dentist and his evil tooth-rot combatting technologies? etc., etc.
posted by rushmc at 7:34 AM on January 9, 2002


NO taumeson, as explained in the documentary, it is part of the post-op therapy that the child not use sign language. It is seen as a crutch, so therapists and educators say. That is a central point, and we've seen it before, Australians taking Aboriginal children from their tribes and 'integrating' them, Americans' treatment of First Nation tribes, etc. In fact, hearing teachers of Deaf children consistently forbade the use of sign language in residential deaf schools for decades which only began to change about 20 years ago.

There is a history regarding this issue that most hearing people have completely missed. Postings on the Sound and Fury message board from proponents of CI that begin "What's the big deal about deaf culture..." can hardly be taken seriously. Not only is there a huge gap in understanding from proponents of CI but a line in the sand has been drawn, even within families.

The documentary shows the hearing mother of Deaf parents
very torn by her decision, but in the end it comes down to the fact that she is hearing and she wants that for her son.

The Deaf parents also chose from their experience. They know that their daughter can be successful, especially in a city where people interact with a large Deaf community. Not only is the public school system aware, but Gallaudet University is not far from there. Deaf communities thrive all across this country, they don't live in isolation anymore.

So the line seems drawn between what Deaf parents will do for their children and what hearing parents will do for theirs. Not only do Deaf people know this, but they realize that since most deaf children are born to hearing parents, their culture is threatened.

Being a Deaf adult of Deaf parents (Deaf of Deaf) has always carried esteem in the Deaf community. In the future being DoD may become the only source of survival for this rich culture. This may likely further polarize both sides of this controversy.

Alexander Graham Bell's wife was deaf, so he certainly wasn't a very effective opponent of marriage for deaf people.

To clarify, AGB was an opponent of marriage between two Deaf people, making him a very effective hypocrite.
posted by yonderboy at 7:39 AM on January 9, 2002


Every situation is different, but I just don't feel that parents should make that decision for their toddlers. I think they should wait until they're a little older and can understand the ramifications a little better.

I don't think parents should make a decision for their children to be born. The fetus/newborn/toddler can't understand the ramifications of life as a human. Surely this is much more significant than a CI. I'm half serious -- I do think it's ok for parents to make medical decisions for their children, it's not like the parents don't struggle over the decision. OTOH, parents-to-be put far too little thought into the ramifications of bringing a new life into the world without its consent.
posted by mlinksva at 10:05 AM on January 9, 2002


Sadly, those who opt to receive such implant find themself rejected from those who are fully integrated with the heart of the deaf culture.

What a rotten elitist culture. The CI is barely functional in most cases and the clique can't handle the threat? No wonder so many are removed, if I had to pick between my friends and a clicking noise then I'm headed back to the OR.
posted by skallas at 1:37 PM on January 9, 2002


A deaf child in a deaf family probably won't get much out of a CI - she'd be the odd girl out in her whole family, in terms of upbringing and culture. No matter how hard her parents try, they'll still be deaf, and can't relate entirely to a hearing world.

So what?
posted by rushmc at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2002


What a rotten elitist culture.

So it would seem.
posted by rushmc at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2002


Elitist? People that cannot understand one another tend to turn to toward groups that understand them better (linguistically and culturally). The workings of a culture is not something easily explained. Just expose yourself to the Deaf community for an extended period of time, you may be suprised to find which culture is elitist.
posted by yonderboy at 4:29 PM on January 9, 2002


People that cannot understand one another tend to turn to toward groups that understand them better (linguistically and culturally).

But that is not what we are discussing here. We are discussing people (and groups) who choose deliberately to exclude certain people because they make different choices or because they don't want to confine themselves exclusively to an insular society.
posted by rushmc at 10:00 PM on January 9, 2002


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