All cultures encourage change – but at the same time they resist it. Change can be uncomfortable. Take the mobile phone. Back in the early ‘90’s mobile phones were clunky obtrusive devices. My sales staff had a couple of mobiles they had to share around, depending who was out and needing it. I remember one of my staff saying she felt uncomfortable using the phone in the street because people stared at her. She felt she stood out as different. But these days, if you don’t have a mobile, you are more likely to ‘stand out’ because mobile phones have entered our culture.
So it isn’t surprising that a sub-culture such as the Deaf Community should oppose the change a Cochlear implant brings but at the same time, many of their members are having one. It’s that same push pull we all felt before mobile phones became part of the ‘norm’.
I asked a group of people “Where have they seen/heard Cochlear implants in literature, movies and tv programs?” I wasn’t asking for the current affairs programs which often feature the ‘miracle of new/regained hearing’ but rather ‘in entertainment’. When something appears in this form it is indicative that it has now entered and been accepted by the culture.
Surprisingly, I have just read two novels and both mention Cochlear implants. Jules Hardy in “Altered Land” gives her teenage IRA bomb damaged character a Cochlear Implant in his adult years. What isn’t surprising is that she gets it radically wrong and describes it somewhere between and bone anchored hearing aid and a Cochlear implant.
Jodi Picoult is renowned for tackling difficult and contentious subjects. In her latest novel ‘Lone Wolf’ she is not covering deafness yet in one scene the main character, who has returned from spending a couple of years living with wolves in the wild, likens his culture shock at being back in the human world, to a Cochlear Implantee who has just been switched on - because this deaf person is experiencing things for the first time. “Too much” exclaims the cochlear implantee. And the main character thinks “…(this implantee is) the only person in this world who I think understand what it felt like for me to return (to human culture).”
It is interesting how many times Cochlear implants are portrayed in movies or TV sitcoms. Jennie told me “There was BBC TV series "The Silence" that springs to mind. It was on TV here (in Australia) about a year ago. The lead role was played by a deaf actor but wore her processor coil rather high on her head. She was a brilliant actress. The plot was about a deaf girl who witnessed the murder of a policeman. There was a subplot of her struggling with a new CI and the hearing world which was less realistic.”
And I remember Home and Away. In this sitcom/soapie TJ, the son of Leah Patterson, is diagnosed with a hearing loss shortly after birth. He has a cochlear implant and quickly develops meningitis (something which is quite rare but makes a good tension story line!). I remember scenes where he was carried around by his mother and his cochlear implant coil dropped off. Apparently he is still in the show, but whether he still has a Cochlear implant I don’t know.
In 2009 ‘House’, starring Laurie Fly as Dr House, featured a Deaf patient and cochlear implants were discussed as brain surgery. http://cochlearimplantonline.com/site/cochlear-implant-on-tv-show-house/ And another show ‘Switched at birth’ has a plot involving a cochlear implant. In 2001 Gideon’s Crossing had storylines involving a fourteen year old deaf girl who wants a cochlear implant despite her deaf parents' opposition.
It is about 35 years since the first Cochlear implant. When something appears in mainstream entertainment such as novels and tv shows it is indicative that it has now entered and been accepted by the culture. It seems Cochlear Implants have made it!