In middle school, I spent a many Friday afternoons in my school’s clay-room hanging-out with students from a local school for the Deaf. I knew a tiny bit of sign-language–I had taken it as 3-week seminar in 6th grade and a course at a summer camp, but my total knowledge simmered down to the alphabet, greetings, and “Silent Night”. Last year, when I was working on the the Poetry and Prose Performances Project, a friend pointed me to a genre of music videos on YouTube: sign-language music videos*. (Well, specifically she directed me to this video, where a cute professional translator and actor performs Britney Spears’s “Womanizer”).
Maybe its digging into my first living language since ASL (a summer studying Spanish intensively and four years of Latin don’t really compare to studying Arabic in Qatar), but I’ve fallen in love with this genre again. It is the bit of a guilty pleasure: even though the videos are not-for-profit, they often include complete copies of the songs they illustrate, which makes the Fair Use argument difficult. Even as they are making those songs more accessible to all fans, Disney would probably consider this copyright-infringement.
But intellectual property guilt aside, what I love about these videos is how giving they are: they are works created by hearing people for their Deaf friends so they can share pop culture more effectively. There are users who do dozens of signed music videos, some with high production values, some a little awkwardly, all with apparent love. Below is my current favorite. Its effects are simple, but if I am reading the context right, it is a wedding present by a younger family member to a young couple. Too cool.
*As this blogger explains clearly, many of the videos are in Signed Exact English (SEE) rather than American Sign Language (ASL) because they are direct translations and do not use ASL’s distinct grammatical structure. Also, Deaf is campitalized when writing about the community of people. Good to know.
“It’s not what you call me, but what I answer to.”–African proverb