Tag Archives: TV

Deaf lad wins Big Brother!

Big Brother. Orwellian piss-take or a sad indictment of modern celebrity culture, or both? Either way, the subtitles are live – read, crap – so I’ve never bothered.

But then a deaf lad entered it. I never thought I’d see the day when a deafie willingly entered a house full of hearing fame-hunters, most likely totally un-deaf-aware and utterly clueless, and have to deal with them in front of cameras recording live. Every slip-up, every misunderstanding televised for the nation’s viewing pleasure. Not to mention spending every waking moment with them for weeks. Trapped. With literally nowhere to hide.

In short, I would only agree to go in the Big Brother house if you guaranteed me the £100,000 prize up-front.

Whilst I still don’t watch Big Brother, I’ve been keenly following Michelle Hedley’s updates on the Limping Chicken, and it seems that for the most part he relied on his lip-reading and speech skills, and on instructions printed on laminate for the Big Brother ritual humiliations, I mean tasks.

And it seems he survived. He not only survived, he endeared himself to the hearts of the nation enough that he won. He bloody won Big Brother, essentially a televised popularity contest. I give him all credit. As he struggles in large groups, it seems his tactic was to hang quietly in the background and make friends with individuals; exactly what I would have done. He even managed to spread some deaf awareness along the way, giving his real thoughts to Callum, telling him the truth about how hard it is to keep up sometimes.

I so understood what he meant. I identify with Sam on several levels. Like him, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was three, as doctors had told my worried parents that I was fine, just ‘lazy’ and ‘slow’. I went to mainstream schools, where I got a ‘good education’ – if a good education is one defined by average-to-good grades and zero social life – and yes, I relied on lip-reading and speech. I didn’t learn to sign fluently until I was 19.

And yes, it was bloody hard work. Always tired, getting headaches from concentrating, eye blur, and forget about group situations. Just forget them. My hearing aids suck in all noise, so no chance of hearing anything clearly, and it’s a game of follow the magical invisible conversational ball, which constantly changes shape and direction as it flies through the air. Actually that’s not a bad metaphor. I might try to work that into a poem.

Nowadays, I avoid hearing non-signer group situations like the plague. Why would I put myself through that? It’s frustrating and you’re basically treading water while everyone swims conversational circles round you. And on national TV? Show me the money.

I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter some deafies giving Sam shit for not signing enough or for lip-reading and speaking all the time etc. I’m not sure what they wanted him to do – hijack a camera and climb on the roof of the Big Brother house, unfurling an FDP flag before launching into a Sign Song or a BSL translation of Shakespeare? Maybe he doesn’t overtly represent the deaf BSL users, but he has showed the country several important things;

Deaf people are not aliens
Deaf people do not have two heads
Deaf people can have a nice smile; they don’t bite
Deaf people can be funny
Deaf people can be romantic
Deaf people can be lost and insecure
Deaf people can participate in things if you give them half a chance
Deaf people can win Orwellian televised popularity contests if you give them half a chance

Plus, of the prize money, he said he was gonna give 25% to charity, 25% to his Mum and hold the rest for his future. Another thing he’s showed the nation:

Deaf people can be kind, smart and have a good head on their shoulders.

So I’m feeling the love for Sam. He took on the Big Brother house, a daunting enough prospect for someone who can hear everything going on round them, and won.

He bloody won.

Congratulations, Sam and I wish you all the best for the future. You’ll go far.

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America is so far ahead.

Not in economic terms, but in terms of how deaf people are portrayed in mainstream TV, particularly those who use sign language. In America, signing deaf characters have featured in The West Wing, CSI, Law and Order:SVU and ER, to name but a few. Whilst here in the UK, Shameless has shown that a signing deaf person can be as conflicted, unpredictable, independent or even downright psychotically angry as any hearing counterpart with the character of Danny, very few other British shows have had such strong signing deaf characters. Danny’s leaving scene in Shameless was as stunning for the fact that a deaf person (Shock! Horror!) was shown being so incandescent with rage they actually beat their own father to death (but it seems the guy may have had it coming) as it was for the violence – nothing graphic, but a hell of a lot of beating. Good for you. That’s a deaf person doing it for themselves on national telly, that is.

Finally, being a geek has paid off. The Big Bang Theory has rewarded my years of loyalty with a signing deaf character – and not the kind that’s ever so brave, and deals with the world despite all that is thrown in their way etc, but the kind that got her claws into Raj and took him for everything she could get. Go girl! Most of the jokes were funny, though I did feel uneasy at all the talking to each other while the girl looked on, vaguely puzzled, while the boys got laughs, it just seems that the type of gal who would chew out Penny and Howard with a lot of *somethings* and stomp off in a huff would wanna know what was going on. That aside, she was independent, she was sassy, she was pretty, and in the end she was ruthless, breaking Raj’s heart when it became clear the supply of money had dried up. And she did it in a funny way. And she taught Raj to sign. Was there anything she couldn’t do?

And I loved the way that Penny’s claim that “Disabled people are nice. Everyone knows that.” was challenged for the generic fallacy it was; not that we aren’t nice, but aren’t we allowed to have bad days and be grumpy like everyone else? Assuming disabled people are nice all the time is like saying we’re not allowed to be as moody and unpredictable as ‘normal’ people. Just ask the train station guard I had a brief word with yesterday when I discovered that both the assigned disabled access gates (the ticket operated things that let you access the platforms) were letting people out, but not in. There was tutting, and there was a “what’s the big idea?” and a muttered, half-hearted “thanks” as I was finally allowed to hobble through. I doubt he’ll be voting me for the ‘genteel spice’ award anytime soon.

The Big Bang Theory – well written, hilarious, and good kudos for a strong signing deaf character and for challenging preconceptions. Clearly, the natural next step is to show a deaf or disabled scientist /  geek. We’re out there, you know.