There’s a good chance you’ve seen this, the viral video in which a couple on a road trip record themselves using sign language to “sign-along” to the song, “You’re the One That I Want” from the movie Grease. I admit it’s really cute. She seemed to have studied sign language for some time, she taught her fiance some signs, and cajoles him into doing this for their car rides. What’s adorable about it is, she obviously loves music and signing so much, and in turn he loves her, so he’s basically being a great sport in humoring her. It was kind of like watching an advanced ballet student getting her non-dancer boyfriend to do a version of Swan Lake for YouTube. She’s graceful and sweet, her hard work on her turnouts on full display. He’s pretty stiff but trying hard. Paul and Tina made something hilarious and sweet.
So I forwarded it to a few hearing friends who I thought could use a laugh. My focus being the couple’s dynamics, not that it was an accurate representation of ASL, or some kind of a teaching tool. Because it’s not. I mean, that never entered my mind. They were just goofing around… right?
Well, yes and no. Due to their newfound fan base they started a kickstarter campaign in which to produce more “sign-along” videos. They claim many people were now becoming interested in sign language because of them and they wanted to start a non-profit organization. Oh.
So now a storm starts a-brewin‘. With Deaf people taking umbrage. Suddenly this cute video didn’t seem so cute anymore. What’s the big deal? Well, here’s some reasons why:
1. When I first played the video, I didn’t get it. What were they doing? Oh, she’s signing – ok. What’s he doing? They go back and forth, oh it s song. Male and female back and forth. I guessed it was the Grease song then watched it about 6 more times, that’s it!! (Mind you I was once able to Google my way into finding the title of an instrumental song. I should put that on my resume – “special skills”)
2. Without hearing the music or knowing the backstory, it takes a while to understand them. It’s not clear. As I said, she struck me as an advanced ASL student, but he would be considered a beginner.
3. When more videos like this are mass produced and hearing people who otherwise have no other exposure to ASL or Deaf people see them over and over, they will think this is what ASL looks like. It doesn’t.
4. If an advanced Italian-as-a-second-language student and her fiance (who was beginning to learn Italian) made a cute video about them singing in Italian and the video went viral and they wanted to make more videos for people to be more interested in the Italian language, hey I’d say there’d be some fluent-Italian-speaking and Italian-cultural-heritage-preservationist folks chucking some meatballs.
Like a guilty pleasure, I really did like the video initially. It was sweet and funny. But now they’ve got a slew of new videos of the same signing caliber. It’s a runaway train. They are clearly making them geared toward their hearing fan base. I’m turned off.
Maybe I’m naive, but if you truly love ASL, suddenly have the world’s stage and want hearing people to recognize and love ASL too, why not use the opportunity to shine a light on THE BEST signers?
When I first started learning ASL, I learned from the best. These teachers had been signing from birth, most having been born into a family of signers. Although I am Deaf and now-fluent, my signing skills simply pale in comparison to them, having learned it as a second language. I am blessed to be regularly exposed to gorgeous, fluid, exquisite American Sign Language. That in itself awes me. It is a joy to see a spotlight on the Real Deal.
So that’s the point in all of this. If hearing people only have one opportunity to see ASL, my hope would be they see something truly incredible. Like these. Enjoy.