This video has recently been making the rounds… It features an interpreter interpreting/signsinging to Eminem’s ‘Lose yourself’ in ASL (I don’t speak ASL, and I thought it was pretty good, but reading the comments, it seems that her actual interpretation isn’t that great). It is currently at almost 3 million views – and is climbing, rapidly. I think what is so infectious about Shelby’s interpretation is her transmission of the attitude of rap, the way that she totally throws herself into the song and what its about. And good for her – I’d say that I’d like to see more of this sort of thing, but honestly, it already exists – in BSL as well as ASL. There are thousands of videos out there of varying quality of people signing along to their favorite songs, sometimes its conveying the feel, the concepts of the song, as Shelby has done, sometimes its a literal signing word for word. Both are okay – they have different purposes. I think some of the best are the ones done by deaf people themselves. Some people have really turned it into an art form – christmas carols, signed like this, has immense power and never fails to make me cry. Music, performed by artists like these, has the power to reach hearing people as well as deaf, as sign language need not be a barrier to communication between deaf and hearing (if you want to know more about that, look at the reviews for The Tribe).
The increasing popularity of videos like this is making me uncomfortable on one important level. Periodically, when videos such as Shelby’s go viral, it has two effects. One is to enhance the knowledge of sign language. That’s not a bad thing. Making sign language something that is cool is great, it means more hearing people want to learn, even a little bit, even if just to understand what the people in the videos are signing. Fantastic! I’d never criticise that. Videos such as this one by Paul McCartney really testify to this process.
On the other hand… there are the inevitable reviews, comments. And it is these that make me uncomfortable. A hearing friend in the USA first alerted me to Shelby’s video, saying that she thought it was very cool and that I might like to see it, even though it was in ASL. I refrained from telling her that while it’s a good example of its kind, its not THAT unusual. I just thanked her. Then she compounded it, by sending me a link to this. The title is a bit iffy – ‘Woman performing “Lose Yourself” in sign language gets us super pumped’ – but it starts with “we have always wondered how to say ‘Mom’s Spaghetti’ in sign language”. Really? no commentary about how good this is that it levels the playing field for deaf people? No commentary about how expressive Shelby is, how good it is that we’re able to follow the basic message along with the beauty of her signs? You choose to focus on Mom’s spaghetti? You know, if you seriously always wondered how to sign this, there are sites out there that act as dictionaries, and I’m sure you could google this. Or ask a deaf person who can sign. Novel concepts, I know. But the thing that REALLY annoyed me when I first read this yesterday (but didn’t have time to comment on it) was where it came from. Its not there now, but yesterday, it came from the Huff’s Weird News desk. That’s right. This article was deemed up there with an article about cheese costing a lot of cheddar; a man in florida getting upset when someone else took his bingo seat; and a groom and his mom going head to head at his wedding in a dance off. And I can’t think of anything that is more insulting than this. By putting a wonderful, expressive language – actually, ANY language, any culture, into the “Weird news” category, what are you saying? That we’re a freak show?
Thanks, Huff. Thanks a whole bunch.
But this speaks to a bigger issue. Can professional outfits such as The Huff, NME, mashable … really not find deaf journalists to comment on this? Or a deaf sign/singer? Despite the fact that Shelby is on record as having done this video as part of a job application for a role as interpreter for a TV channel in Austin, Texas, there seems to be little recognition of the part of these reporters that Shelby did this as an interpreter, not to make a great video for hearing people to enjoy. I’m not saying that hearing people can’t enjoy it (that would be ridiculous) but for news organisations like this, professional journalists who are PAID to be critical and to look beneath the surface, it seems ridiculous that they could not think and talk to people who DO know about sign language, ask deaf people for their impressions of it, as well as hearing people – and thus gain a much more rounded, better article in the process.
It speaks to the fact that for them, deaf language is something to be thought of as beautiful, fantastic, watch the video, then put to one side, and forget about it. There but not heard. Once more, hearing people are speaking for us, but not taking the time to truly learn something about us.
Am I the only one to find that truly so deeply offensive?