The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'deafness'
After it emerged that Thamsanqa Jantjie, the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial ceremony, had actually been making it up and just moving his arms about meaninglessly, Slavoj Žižek (no fan of well-meaning liberalism, to say the least) argues, with supreme cynicism, that his doing so was not so much a fraud as a deeper form of honesty, laying bare the hypocrisy of liberalism:
Now we can see why Jantjie's gesticulations generated such an uncanny effect once it became clear that they were meaningless: what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf – it doesn't really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good.
And was this also not the truth about the whole of the Mandela memorial ceremony? All the crocodile tears of the dignitaries were a self-congratulatory exercise, and Jangtjie translated them into what they effectively were: nonsense. What the world leaders were celebrating was the successful postponement of the true crisis which will explode when poor, black South Africans effectively become a collective political agent. They were the Absent One to whom Jantjie was signalling, and his message was: the dignitaries really don't care about you. Through his fake translation, Jantjie rendered palpable the fake of the entire ceremonyOf course, actual deaf people might not agree with this assessment.
A survey of British Sign Language users, asking signers of various ages to show the signs for various ethnic and other minority groups, has revealed that signs based on stereotypes have been replaced by more neutral signs; well, in most cases:
It is no longer acceptable to sign a slanted eye when talking about the Chinese or to mime a hook nose when referring to Jewish people. The flick of a limp wrist is now an offensive signal for homosexuals. A finger pointing to an imaginary spot in the middle of a forehead is no longer appropriate as the sign for India.As for the new, culturally sensitive equivalents? Well, Chinese people wear Mao jackets and Jews have beards. India is indicated by the triangular shape of its continent, and being gay is indicated, for some reason, by “an upright thumb on one hand in the palm of the other, wobbling from side to side”. Meanwhile, France is no longer represented by pantomiming the twirling of a moustache, but instead by the comb of a cockerel (the symbol of France).
Did I say in most cases? Well, the Germans, it seems, are still the Huns of the Great War in Deaf Britain:
All British signers put their fist to their forehead with a finger pointing straight up, mimicking the shape of a Prussian spiked helmet, to refer to Germans.The change in sign language is analogous to the change in accepted word usage among the hearing, with older people likely to use older terms which may have become offensive since they learned them. Interestingly enough, the “offensive” signs have to an extent been reclaimed by those referred to them:
"Gay deaf people use the old sign for gay, and disabled deaf people use the traditional sign for disabled, even though no one from outside that group who was socially sensitive would use those signs any more," said Woll.
Groups representing the Deaf (note: not "deaf") community in the UK are campaigning to allow Deaf parents to create babies without hearing by selecting embryos with mutations which suppress the ability to hear:
Francis Murphy, chairman of the BDA, said: "If choice of embryos for implantation is to be given to citizens in general, and if hearing and other people are allowed to choose embryos that will be 'like them', sharing the same characteristics, language and culture, then we believe that deaf people should have the same right."