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Deaf People: Shoshanna Stern


James Dayrit
3/27/2008

Not too long ago a friend of mine told me about a fictional t.v. show on Showtime that he was currently watching called Weeds. The show sounded familiar, although I had not yet seen it, I imagined it was some show about a landscaper and his exploits in the gardening industry so I stayed away from it. I eventually ended up watching a couple of episodes of the show at his house. Apparently the show wasn't about a landscaper but rather a suburban housewife whose husband, and sole provider of the house, dies of a sudden heart attack. She then resorts to selling marijuana (hence the title of the show) to support herself and her children. The show itself is a bit over the top but it has its moments and is definitely worth a watch if for anything a few laughs.

More importantly, a couple of episodes into season one I noticed there was a character played by a deaf actress named Shoshanna Stern. At the time, I was taking my first semester of ASL and I immediately thought about how refreshing it was to see a deaf person on t.v. that wasn't playing the typical stereotype of a "disabled deaf person". Upon further research I found out that she grew up in Fremont, California, where she attended the California School for the Deaf. She later went on to attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where she studied theater. Shoshanna also landed a role on the t.v. show Jericho during her stretch on Weeds and became the first deaf actor to have a regular role on two prime time shows at the same time (www.shoshannah-stern.com/about.html).

I thought Shoshanna's character was interesting not because I thought that it was extraordinary for a deaf person to be such a good actress, but because her character on the show wasn't simply there to be "the deaf person" serving the purpose of a prop to move the plot along in some contrived direction; but rather a character existing in a world, and that she just happened to be deaf (although it would have been nice to see a greater glimpse into deaf culture in the show). It's quite disappointing to notice the underrepresentation of deaf people and culture in mainstream media although as much as 14% of Americans have some sort of hearing loss (http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Demographics/deaf-US.php).

An article on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/features/charlie_deaftv.shtml) served some more promising news on the visibility of deaf people in television where they report an increase in shows featuring deaf actors and actresses. British shows like Switch, and Rush have prominently featured signing deaf actors and actresses. Other shows in the U.S. like The West Wing which features the more well known Marlee Matlin as a signing political advisor, as well as shows like Survivor, and Dancing With the Stars all feature talented deaf actresses that will hopefully help to increase the profile of the deaf community in television and film.

Sources:

Swinbourne, Charlie. (2006, March 29). A deaf T.V. takeover?. bbc.co.uk. Retrieved March 26, 2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/features/charlie_deaftv.shtml

Klusza, Maureen. (2004)Shoshanna Stern Official Website. About Shoshanna. Retrieved March 26, 2008. http://www.shoshannah-stern.com/about.html

Mitchell, E. Ross. (2005, February 15). Gallaudett Research Institute Website. Retrieved March 26, 2008. http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Demographics/deaf-US.php
 


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