Saturday, November 28, 2009

Did an actual deaf choir perform on "Glee" episode?

By BA Haller
© Media dis&dat

This week’s episode of “Glee” (“Hairography,” Nov. 25) continued with its ongoing “disability themes” by having the Glee gang invite a choir from a deaf school to perform at its invitational. It was a mixed bag of an episode, with one early scene between the deaf school’s choirmaster and Glee director Will Shuester (played by Matthew Morrison) that was ridiculous and outright offensive.

The deaf school’s choirmaster confronts Will about why his school wasn’t invited to perform at the Glee high school, when the choir from a reform school for girls was. The scene focuses all of its jokes on the choirmaster’s hearing impairment, having him yell his side of the conversation and misunderstand what is said to him. And it included an absurd joke about the choirmaster’s phone ringing and he couldn’t hear it; he says he has it on vibrate. (Texting is a part of Deaf culture these days, but obviously the Glee writers know nothing of this and instead have the choirmaster scream on the phone.)

Also, why didn’t the choirmaster have an ASL interpreter with him? In reality, if an interpreter wasn’t available, the choirmaster and Will would have conducted their conversation by email. But of course, then the writers wouldn’t have someone’s hearing impairment to make fun of.

On the other hand, when the deaf choir performed in sign language, the scene was handled with much more finesse. It was obvious that the deaf choir performing was meant to be “inspiring,” but even with that heavy-handedness, I found the combined signed and sung performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” to be quite powerful. However, I will only continue to praise the scene if someone can tell me that “Glee” used an actual deaf choir. (You can watch a clip of the deaf choir's performance at

The show has been rightfully criticized for hiring a nondisabled actor (Kevin McHale) to play the wheelchair-using character, Artie. So I hope “Glee” hired actual deaf people to perform in the Nov. 25 episode.

A deaf discussion board and some bloggers have weighed in with their concerns about the episode:

  • Commenters at had a bit of praise for the episode because it gave some exposure to sign language on a highly rated TV show. But one commenter, TheWriteAlex said it was too little, too late: “I agree that the exposure of ASL is nice. I hate to be such a buzzkill, but I still think it was a token gesture at best, and just used the same old, tired handicapped views of deafness. I am more interested in seeing shows and movies that truly exemplify the abilities and intelligence of Deaf individuals without focusing on their hearing loss. Unfortunately that is very rare.”

  • The This Ain’t Livin’ blog did not like the combined sung and signed performance: “I wasn’t inspired or moved by watching the two choirs perform together. I was PISSED. Because it was framed as perfectly acceptable for the glee club to just jump in on another performance.”

  • Adventures of a Young Feminist reports on the slam about epilepsy earlier in the "Glee" episode: “Ok, let’s start with some of the very apparent ableism. When one of the girls (the blond Cheerio, I don’t remember her name) is showing the glee club how to fling their hair around, she actually says “it’s like cool epilepsy.” But she’s the dumb blond who says stupid things, so it’s ok. Yeah, I’m sure people with epilepsy love being othered and objectified in this way.”

  • Squidalicious called “last night's episode thread about a competing Glee club from a Deaf school dripped patronizing treacle. Blech.”

  • doesn’t have much information about the episode yet, and only has info about one member of the deaf choir played by Weston Mueller “who sings and signs as part of the Deaf Choir in this episode, has a long history of written lyrics and storylines for a similar style show about a hip hop group called ‘T.H.C.’"
  • "The Trouble with Glee" on the Rocky Time Warp blog: "Deaf people do not need hearing people to make music; their culture, their language has a music and a power all its own, and it saddens me that what could have been a national showcase of creativity and talent was spent half-heartedly signing a song that will probably make most hearing people watching it think it’s about wishing they could hear. The whole presentation, from the dapper red suits to the literal, unpracticed interpretation of the song’s lyrics, makes it seem as if the Deaf students should earn props for their Glee club based only on pity. "