Hear and Now

Hear and Now is a 2007 film by Taylor Brodsky that focuses on her deaf parents’ decision, late in their lives, to undergo cochlear implant surgery, in order to gain a significant level of hearing. It won an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and debuted in the US on the HBO network last Thursday. It is playing now on the Movie Channel network in Western Canada; I watched it last night. Catch it if you can; you can check out a review of it by Shelley Gabert at FilmStew.

Why might the film matter to What Sorters? Cochlear implant surgery is controversial in the Deaf/deaf communities for a number of reasons: here are two, one more theoretical, the other more practical. First, it is often seen as a way to make deaf people normal, a technological or surgical fix to a defect. This views deafness as a problem to be solved, rather than a human variant with its own pros and cons, and privileges hearing as normal over deafness as abnormal. Second, on the practical side, it disrupts functioning Deaf communities, which communicate linguistically through sign languages, and the lives of individuals in those communities, not least of all because the surgery is often less successful than it is projected as being in terms of the hearing capacity it generates, and the ways in which the downsides are downplayed by the hearing community, including doctors and medical staff.

Two recent books of related interest to check out on some of the issues in play here are Michael Chorost’s Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human (2005), which details Chorost’s own experiences with cochlear implants and the decision to get them; and a collection of recent essays, edited by Erik Parens, Surgically Shaping Children: Technology, Ethics, and the Pursuit of Normality (2006), which focuses on three kinds of surgery performed on children that are associated with appearance: sex reassignment, limb lengthening, and craniofacial. Lennard Davis’ Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body (Verso, 1995) is also good for more generalbackground on deafness, disability and normalcy.

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