Monday, December 2, 2013

The Media's Single Story about the Blind [a post for my Multicultural Education class]

As I searched YouTube for individuals that are represented as a group in the media, I came across the following bit from the Jimmy Kimmel Show about allowing blind people to purchase and use guns.

Now, I understand the purpose of Kimmel's sketch; it does seem inappropriate to allow blind individuals to carry guns, and Kimmel is a late-night comedian/talk show host, so he makes his living off making fun of people. The way that Kimmel treated these individuals, however, left me with a sour taste in my mouth. He leads them extremely slowly and deliberately across the screen towards their positions as each individual holds tightly onto the person in front of him or her. He makes jokes about them (telling them all of their shots hit their targets, for example) that they do not know to laugh at because of their lack of sight. I see a problem with Kimmel's bit, not because I believe people with visual impairments should be allowed to carry guns, but the way Kimmel and his team represented their blind subjects as individuals without a sense of humor who cannot take care of themselves.

The single story that I expected to see of people with visual impairments in the media was that of individuals in need of assistance and pity, or individuals like Helen Keller who were heroes in spite of (or perhaps because of) their disability. Jimmy Kimmel's short video certainly was an example of the first, with a good bit of negative humor included. In my research, I did come across several more of these representations; however, a greater majority of media touted the capability and attempts at normalcy of visually impaired people.

In October of this year, a renowned author of young adult fiction named Marcus Sedgwick released a book called She Is Not Invisible, which features a blind female protagonist named Laureth who is attempting to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance with her younger brother. Their travels as a duo are obviously much more difficult because of Laureth's disability, but Laureth is strong and capable and will stop at nothing to find her father. In the two months since the book was published, 899 individuals have rated the book on GoodReads with an average of 4 out of 5 stars. I have not yet read the book, but reviews state that Sedgwick's use of the four senses (other from sight) is powerful and realistic; one reviewer of the book was blind herself and stated that Sedgwick represented the daily life of a blind person very well. Another review quoted the main character, who "criticises [sic] the way blind characters are portrayed in books and films as either 'pathetic helpless figures of woe' or 'superheroes.'"

The Braille Project, a collaboration between poet Faye Harnest and artist Devon E. Sioui, was created for the purpose of exposing the seeing world to the beauty of braille, as well as opening the conversation to the voices of the blind and visually impaired. With the tagline of "Please DO Touch," Harnest and Sioui encourage, even beg, sighted individuals to recognize the blind world as legitimate. Though very different, another artifact that I found works on a similar project. Just this morning, Jacqueline Ober published an article on The Huffington Post website called "Training Program That Not Only Teaches Independence Skills to Blind Youth But Gives Back to the Community." The Work to Independence program in Maryland helps young adults with visual impairments to obtain the skills needed to live on their own and become employed. Though Ober is asking for donations in this article as part of The Huffington Post's #GivingTuesday series, where they highlight an organization to which readers can donate, the tone of the article is one of pride in the steps that these young people are taking to become a contributing member of society.

In this modern, technological culture that the United States currently runs on, individuals who deal with visual impairments have a presence online and are able to answer questions and make known their opinions about their world and the way others perceive it. Hannah Thompson, a partially-sighted woman who lectures at Royal Holloway, University of London, regularly updates her blog called Blind Spot. In her recent post about BBC's grant program for projects to help Britain's disadvantaged infants and children called Children in Need, she discusses the projects that have been recently done for those with visual impairments. The types of services and resources that these grants are providing for children, Thompson claims, are things that the children should be receiving from the government. Thompson, like the fictional character that Sedgwick created for his novel, argues against the way that BBC's Children in need "uses the language of tragedy, pity, bravery and sympathy to get the British public to happily pay for services which our government should be providing. [Furthermore, they use] photogenic images and tear-jerking music to blur our critical judgement so that we stop asking why." Thompson attempts to confront through her writings the way not only blind, but underprivileged and disabled children are being used in the media to create a feeling of empathy in the viewer or reader, who will then donate money. Another blind individual who has created a strong online presence is Tommy Edison. He is most well known as a the Blind Film Critic on YouTube and has 138,400 followers of his channel. Edison has been blind since birth. Not only does Edison critique films, he answers the basic questions about blindness and visual impairment that come from sighted people in very comedic ways. In the following short clip, he jokes about the perks of being blind.

By creating these types of videos, Edison is also attempting to change the perceptions of the world toward the blind and visually impaired.

Now, of course there are representations of individuals who are visually impaired in the media that are demeaning, as was shown in the clip of Jimmy Kimmel. Recently, however, there has been a great push from within and without the visually impaired community to change the way these individuals are portrayed and seen. Thus, the single story that I have found threaded through each of these artifacts is one of a group who is trying to convince the seeing world that individuals with visual impairments are neither superheroes nor people in need of pity. Instead they are simply hard working men and women who are attempting to integrate themselves into the seeing culture and educating them about visually impairment. However, even this single story can be limiting, because certainly not all of the individuals who could be included in this group would agree with the ideas that are being pushed today.

Because there are so few visually impaired protagonists in young adult literature, it would be wonderful as an English teacher to introduce Sedgwick's She Is Not Invisible to a group of students. There is always the potential, however, for those students to think that once they have read that book, they understand the world of the visually impaired, and make judgments based on the story. Furthermore, if I as a teacher believed that all blind students were like Tommy Edison, with a sense of humor and love for film, I certainly would not get to know my students very well. To help my students and myself avoid making these types of judgments in the classroom about visually impaired individuals, it is absolutely necessary to recognize and critically analyze the types of information we take in about any group of people. This is a skill all individuals need, no matter what they plan to do with their lives, so I will create lesson plans that point out the single stories we create about people, then explicitly model and teach ways to recognize the single stories that are portrayed in the media, even by those groups themselves.

  • Harnest, Faye and Devon E. Sioui. The Braille Project. The Braille Project, 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live. "Jimmy Takes Blind People to a Shooting Range." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. 
  • Ober, Jacqueline. "Training Program That Not Only Teaches Independence Skills to Blind Youth But Gives Back to the Community." Huffington Post. 2 Dec. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. 
  • Sedgwick, Marcus. She Is Not Invisible. New York: Indigo, 2013. Print. 
  • Thompson, Hannah. "My Problem with Children in Need." Blind Spot. 17 Nov. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. 
  • TommyEdisonXP. "Best Things about Being Blind." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 July 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

we're back... & what I never finished

I found my list of things we did while we were in Louisiana last year, and I just wanted to write down a couple of memories before I threw the receipt away (oh, receipts... the perfect places for my many lists). Then I'll start writing about our second Louisiana adventure!

Last October was filled with a lot of good stuff...

October 13th: We made a day trip to Pensacola, FL (about a 4-hour drive). The Naval Aviation Museum had us captivated for far more hours than we expected (Dad, you would have loved it), so we were a little late getting to the beach, which in itself was worth the 4-hour drive. Michael nearly cried and just rolled around in the silky soft, white sand before running like a mad man into the sparkling blue, warm water. We were in love with the place (and have great plans for the three-day weekends Michael has every other week). For dinner we pulled up to a local Greek festival, but the line for food was around the block, so we observed for a while before heading home. All in all, one of the best days!

October 19th: Jefferson Parish had a huge sale of library books they were no longer using. Just tables and tables lined with books for $1-$5. We bought Harry Potter 1 and 2, Jurassic Park, and The Essential 55 (a teacher-improvement book... more on that later). The search was just as enjoyable as the finds!

Later that night, Stephen and Kayla Tersigni invited us on a date to a Vietnamese restaurant in Metairie. We loved chatting with them, and they told us a secret that consumed us for the rest of our stay--bubble teas (watermelon, kiwi, and raspberry) with tapioca balls. Dude. They very nearly replaced Blue Bell. We went every night for three nights in a row, and at least once a week after that. Yikes. But so good.
October 20th: We're going to the zoo! With the Halls! We sure do love those sweet babies. Michael was amazed by the enormous silver-back gorilla who was incredibly human-like, posed in the shade and occasionally wiping his nose with his hand. And we got to pet an elephant, which was totally cool.

October 26th: After chatting on Facebook about my new-found Yo-Yo Ma obsession, Kayla Tersigni called and invited me to a secret rehearsal that young students (including her son, Thomas) were invited to. We took awkward photos of his back and then he turned around and waved at us. I geeked out, maybe hyperventilated a bit, and then sat in awe during the rehearsal. (Thanks, Kayla!!)
October 27th: I finally got to meet Michael's coworkers and go on a tour of the Monsanto plant during the work Halloween party. (And, if you didn't know, Michael's a good salesman, even if it's only of spinning the Wheel of Safety). Later that night was the ward Trunk-or-Treat (we're lame and didn't bring any candy or dress up... Thanks JJ & Lauren for letting us pass out your candy).
October 31st: Michael was sick. I was really sad. Halloween is Jason's birthday, and Jaime threw a rockin' Clue-themed surprise Halloween/birthday party, complete with a live game of Clue and beautiful food. We trick-or-treated with the kids around Mary and Russell's neighborhood and had a lovely time. We missed Michael though.
Meanwhile, we were reading a lot (Harry Potter and Catching Fire and Lord of the Rings) and watching some serious Downton Abbey. We also played Clue about once a week with Adam (Jennifer had headed back to Utah to get ready for baby William) and Andy. Guys, we're pretty darn good, and even developed a one-on-one game.

Around this time, I was also having my bi-yearly why-the-heck-am-I-an-English-major? break down, and after a lot of discussion, prayer, thought, and patriarchal blessing reading, I decided to apply to the English Education major (and got in this last February!)

November was also awesome. It was so beautiful outside (I could definitely get used to shorts and tees in the "winter"), and one of our favorite Saturdays we took our bikes down to St. Charles Avenue and rode up and down the streets looking at beautiful houses and other buildings. Another weekend, we found the one Korean restaurant in the New Orleans area and cooked our own food.

My parents came to visit!! Hooray! I cried when they got here and when they left :) With them, we visited the WWII Museum again, ate some great food and heard some of the best jazz music we've heard yet in the French Quarter, and did a little souvenir shopping. The next morning we toured the beautiful Oak Alley Plantation, became obsessed with Zydeco's Cajun Restaurant, and searched for gators at a state park (can't quite remember which one). I sure loved having them with us.

For Christmas my parents gave us plane tickets to Chicago so we could spend Thanksgiving with Elise, Christina, and Daniel. I'd never been and, in spite of the cold, loved it. We had a gourmet Thanksgiving meal, ice skated next to the Bean, experienced Chicago architecture on a frigid boat tour, walked through Macy's (twice), had some serious Chicago pizza at Giordano's, loved spending time with family, and officially began the Christmas season by going to A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theater. (Note: The night before we left, I was giving my dear husband a hair cut, was doing some trimming, and went in with the clippers instead of the comb. Needless to say, he had to shave his head. I was embarrassed, but luckily he's a good sport!)


We left around the middle of December. Before we went, the Rich's and the Hall's threw us a great see-you-soon party, complete with games, antlers, and Christmas gifts. On one of our last weekends, we finally did our cemetery tour before packing up the car and driving again. The drive went well until we got to Colorado and the snow was too thick to see more than 10 feet in front of us. The two-day drive turned into a three-day drive when we stopped in a small town rather than continue slipping off the road. In the end, I was too stressed to just sit there, and Michael graciously let me take over driving.

It was good to be home! We spent Christmas with the Davis's and went back to our sweet little apartment in Provo to start school.

Bless you if you made it through this post... Check back soon for more recent adventures!