Appropriate Method for Appropriation
Let’s say it’s a perfect world. How would have the whole “Tina & Paul” Signalong gone down, in a way that has the full support of the Deaf and signing community? Here’s what I think.
First, a little bit of background for those out of the loop – in a nutshell. A cute couple, an ASL interpreter and her husband who has learned a few signs from her, filmed themselves signing in their car – apparently just for fun, impromptu. The video went viral, and now they’ve started a whole “Paul and Tina Signalong” thing where they’re making more videos, being invited as guest performers to various events, and even started a crowdfunding campaign raising funds to create more videos.
This has created something of an uproar in the Deaf and signing community. Many people support them, arguing that it is a positive benefit for more people to be exposed to sign language, more parents of deaf children will be inclined to learn sign language. And many people are against what they are doing, saying they are doing cultural appropriation, making profit unfairly when there are many many Deaf entertainers who struggle to make a living.
nounnoun: appropriation; plural noun: appropriations
- the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture.
It’s quite simple, really. VERY simple.
Of course it’s natural for Paul and Tina to say to themselves, “wow look at all of this exposure we’re getting. Let’s make something out of this.” Nobody can blame them for thinking this.
THAT shows true heart for the ASL language & culture.
Instead, when the community started complaining to them, what did Paul and Tina do? Ignored the complaints, blocked them on Facebook, completely disregarded them. What would have been more appropriate would be to listen, to engage and rethink their approach. Clearly, we are NOT giving them permission (see definition above, about permission), with all the complaints pouring in, vlogs being made, and even a satire video.
Now, my philosophy is to adopt an approach of understanding, give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they haven’t really looked at it from this perspective – in terms of “how can I turn this around to benefit us and the people whose culture we are appropriating? Let’s work with them and do the right thing; create opportunities for creative professionals to get jobs working with us.”