Toward a Meaningful
Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - November 5, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Welcome. Its
been a while since weve been on the air because of the
Jewish holiday season (since the holidays were mostly on Sundays).
Its a pleasure to be backhopefully to a year of
meaningful discussions and things that touch and relate to the
real elements of life.
In that context, the topic of tonights show
is Sound and Fury, which well discuss in just
I have a guest with me, my friend Josh Aronson,
which brings me back years and years, personally and nostalgically.
Aronson: Thank you Simon. Its wonderful
to be here with you.
Jacobson: I give a class every Wednesday
night on the Upper West Side of Manhattan but it used to be
in Brooklyn, so Josh is from the original veterans back then.
Aronson: In your living room.
Jacobson: Right. In 1984, and we had those
I asked Josh to come on the show for a particular
reason: because Josh Aronson has been a film director for many
years, but recently, playing now in New York as we speak, John
has released a film which he Executive Produced and directed
Aronson: The producer is my friend Roger
Jacobson: Josh directed this fascinating
documentary Sound and Fury, which I saw today. Its
playing right now until Tuesday at the Film Forum in New York
City on West Houston St.
Aronson: Unless it gets extended, because
its doing great. And its opening across the country
in the next couple of months.
Jacobson: It was a chosen selection for
the Sundance Film Festival. The reviewers in the New York Times
write, Sound and Fury is powerful, insightful,
important and emotionally wrenching. The Christian Science
Monitor calls it, Dealing with base rock human emotions
and throughout I see amazing reviews.
Now the film itself is an 80-minute documentary
that deals with the issue of the deaf community, the deaf culture.
Whats intriguing about it, and I speak as a viewer, was
it deals with a conflict which one wouldnt assume would
really be happening: the conflict over the new technology of
the cochlear implant, an implant that is implanted in the ear,
that allows people who have either been born deaf or who have
turned deaf to hear sounds and therefore give them the opportunity
to begin to speak.
The conflict is that many people in the deaf community
found that to be an intrusion and, as a matter of fact, were
opposed to it and did not want to use that technology for their
In this film, John juxtaposed the two seemingly
conflicting worlds. It seems like a logical thing to do. You
would think that if a child couldnt hear, the first thing
a parent would do is to use the available technology just as
in any type of illness. You go for a cure.
But here you find an interesting backlash where
people who are very proud and who have, in a sense, adjusted
to being in the deaf culture as they call it, are really against
I guess that was really what intrigued you in
doing this film, because it wasnt just about a deaf person
and technology, it was this tension of conflict.
Aronson: Thats exactly what attracted
me to the story. Like you, I didnt know about the conflict
in the deaf world when I found this story three or four years
ago. But I met a woman in her thirties who had recently had
a cochlear implant. She had lost her hearing when she was about
ten years old so she had some oral skills because she was able
to speak up until the time she was ten. But then shed
been deaf for 20 years, living in a signing-deaf community.
She learned to sign and functioned that way, and she loved being
in that deaf cultural community. She decided to get a cochlear
implant because she was told it might restore her hearing enough
to speak on the telephone, and since she had a job as a salesperson
thats what she did.
In fact, it did restore her hearing overnight
and she could talk on the phone. Theres a long caveat
to that because it doesnt happen that way for everyone.
Because she had some skills speaking and she had some experience,
she was able to do it that quickly. But thats a different
I found all of that interesting, but when she
told me that her signing deaf friends of 20 years had rejected
her out of hand, effectively shunning her when she got the cochlear
implant, I realized that there was a real story here and thats
what attracted me.
One thing thats important to understand,
and I think thats what gives the deaf culture its power
and resonance, when youre with people in the deaf cultural
community, its not the cochlear implant thats divided
the deaf community. The cochlear implant is the climax of a
battle thats been going on for 200 years between people
who sign and people who try to lip read and speak and function
as handicapped deaf people within the hearing world.
Its a totally different life choice. Its
a totally different identity. And those two worlds have been
at war over whether or not children should be brought up to
sign or to speak.
Jacobson: To help the layman get an exact
picture of this, what exactly is a cochlear implant? What differentiates
it from a hearing aid for instance?
Aronson: Well, its a totally different
concept from a hearing aid. First of all, the cochlear implant
is a surgically implanted device. The difference between an
implant and a hearing aid is that the hearing aid will amplify
the sound that your particular ear is already capable of hearing.
So if youre only hearing certain frequencies, it will
amplify those frequencies.
Sometimes its really amplifying noise and
is effectively doing nothing other than giving you a headache.
The cochlear implant on the other hand can cause
you to hear frequencies you never heard before because its
a surgically implanted device that stimulates the auditory nerve
and allows it to hear sounds it never heard before.
If I get too much more complicated than that Ill
Jacobson: No, thats fine. Since when
has it been approved for use?
Aronson: The critical thing that happened
in the last couple of years is that it was approved for implantation
in children under 18 months. Before that weve had it for
years, and theyve implanted them to varying degrees of
success in people up to 80 years old. Adults often got it.
But the fact that they are all of a sudden implanting
children is what drove the deaf cultural community crazy. It
was so effective in children, they realized that those children
may well not learn sign, and they thought that there would be
a real decline in the use of sign language and in the actual
numbers of the deaf cultural community. So its in the
last 3-5 years that children have been implanted.
Jacobson: What I found amazing when I saw
the filmI was surprised and even disarmedwas the
legitimacy of the case of the deaf culture. Those who sign presented
their case very passionately and very effectively, and Im
a hearing person. What impressed me was not so much the pride
that they have, that a person is deaf and has pride and has
been successful at work so why undermine that type of pride
(i.e., my children will also be successful) but
it was more than that: that the wiring of the mind, the psychological
compensation that a person who is deaf has gone through is a
price that they pay, and that price is a very bold price and
something that has to be respected.
One of the fathers who refuses to use this implant
on his daughter makes the case that to tamper with that is affecting
his childs welfare, because shes really a deaf person.
Her mind is deaf, her personality is a deaf persons personality,
and what youre simply doing is forcing her to use some
type of technology to go against her psychological wiring. That
was his case.
Now I dont really have an argument against
that except if, for instance, technology gets to a point where
you can entirely heal everyone whos deaf, thats
one thing. But as long as theres a culture thats
still deaf, its a big argument. What do you think about
Aronson: Well, I can argue both sides,
because as you hopefully will agree, the film is very balanced
and does not take a point of view. I try to allow both sides
of the story to express themselves. But I went through the deaf
world in my research and I tried very hard to understand both
sides and be compassionate for both sides so that in making
the film we could be completely balanced and not take a perspective,
which is different from my own personal perspective.
But if youre taking the perspective now
of the deaf culture and understanding how they might not want
to implant their child, Ill take the other side for a
The down side of not implanting your children
is that youre forcing your child to live within a deaf
cultural community in America that has 3 or 400,000 people in
it. Its extremely difficult to get a job. Its very,
very hard to make a living, and youre limiting your interaction
with the outside hearing world to a huge degree and youre
limiting the choices that your child has.
In fact, a child can learn sign language and can
learn to speak and function in the hearing world with a cochlear
implant. Thats basically the argument on the other side.
The rub is, and whats difficult, and what
the character whom youre talking about would further say
(his name is Peter Artinian).
Jacobson: These are the actual people in
Aronson: Yes, just so were not talking
in a vacuum, we should take a minute to describe the film.
I wanted to tell the story of this conflict in
the deaf world in which I viewed that the cochlear implant was
the climax of a 200-year-old battle. The plan was to interview
people across America and find five people who represented the
range of experience in the hearing world and I did that. I spent
a year researching and interviewing people across America, becoming
a lay expert in deafness, winning the trust of people in the
deaf cultural world as well as the oral deaf world. I isolated
several characters and began filming them.
Along the way, we met this family called the Artinian
family on Long Island, and in the family theres deafness
that runs on several sides of the family through several generations.
Effectively, for the film, there are two brothers who are in
their thirties. They both have children. One brother, Peter
Artinian, is deaf and is married to a deaf woman and they have
three deaf children. The other brother is Chris, who does hear,
and who is married to a hearing woman. The hearing brother
is married to a hearing woman who has deaf parents. So theres
obviously a lot of recessive deaf genes floating around this
family. But the hearing brother and his hearing wife have three
children. Two are hearing and one is deaf. So two brothers both
have deaf children.
The hearing brother decided to implant his child
because they made the decision that it would be useful to have
that skill within the family for that child.
Peter, the deaf brother, is very unhappy because
he wasnt consulted. In the course of things, his five-year-old
daughter Heather, whos profoundly deaf, who signs perfectly,
whos happy as a clam (a delightful, brilliant child who
will make you cry in this movie, shes so beautiful) announces
that she wants to have a cochlear implant. She tells her Mom
and Dad that she wants to talk on the telephone and she wants
to talk to her grandmother and she wants to talk to her hearing
Jacobson: And I remember her saying she
wants to hear a car crash.
Aronson: Theres an amazing interview
where I asked her why she wanted to hear so much and she said
she wants to hear a car crash and she wants to hear a house
collapse. She says she wants to hear a ghost say Boo!
There are a lot of things on her list that she wants to hear.
Shes quite a girl.
Anyway, Peter and Nita, her parents, decide to
pursue it in an adult way because this is what their child is
asking for. Thats the journey of the film, as Peter and
his deaf wife look into the possibility of a cochlear implant
for Heather. Ultimately they make a decision that tears the
family apart because the hearing parents of the two brothers
become part of the fray, and it becomes a family drama. I threw
away all the other characters that I mentioned before. My producer
and I looked at the footage in the editing room and decided
that this was our story and it became a theatrical movie about
We stayed with them for a year and a half, and
we watched this family continue to love each other but effectively
fall apart over the issue of the cochlear implant. The conflict
in this family mirrored the conflict within the deaf world.
Its a real metaphor for whats happening in the deaf
Jacobson: I found particularly strong the
interaction between the father, Peter, and the deaf son. The
father says, You are handicapped. You just dont
want to deal with it.
Aronson: Yes. He says, Look, we have
to acknowledge that this is a handicap and we have the technology
to fix it. Deaf people dont like to talk about deafness
as something that needs to be fixed because they think that
theyre fine the way they are.
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Jacobson: Now lets not forget Josh,
that we studied Torah together back in the 80s. Kenny
Vance introduced us. I know that when Phillip Namanworth, who
produces this radio show and is an assistant to me in my work,
wasnt able to come to my class, I suggested that he begin
studying at home, and I believe that you were his chavrusa,
Hebrew for study partner. So your claim to fame is not just
Sound and Fury, its also your roots. Lets
not forget that.
Aronson: Being with you here, Simon, speaking
about the Sound and Fury is wonderful, reminding me of
your class and Kenny Vance, who brought me to your class. As
you know, Im making my next film about Kenny and the Planotones,
Jacobson: Kenny is a musician, singer songwriter,
who was in Jay and the Americans.
Aronson: He actually founded Jay and the
Americans in the 60s and now hes in a band called Kenny
Vance and the Planotones. He did the soundtrack for the movie
Looking for an Echo, that his friend Marty Davidson
directed which is opening this week. And then, its such
a small world because we made our deal with a wonderful distributor,
Artistic License, thats run by Sandy Zeig and one of her
colleagues is Ronny Guttman who comes to your class.
Jacobson: So this is the show you have
to listen to if you want to know whats on the cutting
edge of film
But anyway, getting back to this film which has
so many different angles, and Im just sorry we cant
cover them all, one of the things that always intrigues me when
you deal with silence and sound, as also in the film a few years
ago, Children of a Lesser G-d, is that in many ways silence
teaches us about sound more than sound does. Number one, just
watching your film, the appreciation that one should have, that
we take for granted as a given, of being born with ears and
hearing well. And here are families tearing themselves apart
with the struggle, the fragility of the human body and the gift
of being able to hear sounds and music. The passion that you
hear in a deaf person speaking about
in one scene there,
one of the people in the film says, I dont hear
music. Thats not my reality. I have other things that
Aronson: She says, I dont care
about music. I cant hear. Ive never heard music.
Jacobson: So someone says to her, You
cant hear the rain falling, and she says, I
feel the rain falling. The power of just being
able to rewire your mind to that reality and experience it differently
is just amazing and it has a lot of mystical parallels because,
as a matter of fact, it says in the Bible, when the Jews stood
at Mount Sinai, that they heard the sights and they saw
the sounds, which they call synesthesia today. In other
words, there are people who, when they see a vision, they actually
This touches upon another point. I have a good
friend, Marcia Schwartz, who often calls into this show, whos
unable to see, but shes taught me more about sight than
people who can see, because in a way, the eclipse of the sun
teaches you more about sunlight because you begin to appreciate
it differently. You look at what exactly is sound and what are
the tools that we use to process it.
Many times we look for silence. Silence is a very
sacred thing today. Sometimes people just want to meditate,
they want silence. There are too many sounds in our lives. You
cant listen to your soul when youre busy with all
the external sounds.
I know thats not the particular theme here
but, in a way, when he makes a case for not using the implant,
one can say that theres a certain embracing of silence
that these people have had and have and they dont want
it to be tampered with.
Aronson: To give a little background, when
I first started interviewing deaf people for the film, I heard
many culturally deaf people tell me that when their children
were born deaf they celebrate. Theyre so happy that they
have deaf children. And if deaf people have children who are
hearing, its not that they dont love them, of course
they love them, but they shed a tear because their children
are so different than they are.
Thats an amazing idea to think about. Neurologists
tell us that people who were profoundly deaf from childhood
have a different neurological basis in terms of the way they
respond to the universe around them or to nature around them.
Their way of perceiving is so differentits not just
a visual thing, its a totally different interaction with
nature. And their poetry and their story tradition comes down
through sign language; its not a written tradition, its
a sign tradition. Theres a legacy to this, an art to it,
its an historical body of work and its a people.
Jacobson: Theres no question. Its
always been known that people who are handicapped in one area
compensate in another area. People who, for instance, cant
see are often very sensitive to whats going on in their
environment. But theres no question that its
very fascinating. It goes into the psyche and what the human
spirit is capable of.
Now I want to touch upon another thing, which
is the cultural issue. For a moment lets play the case
of the deaf community or the deaf culture that this is a cultural
thing. Weve adapted to it. This is our life. And we dont
want to be hard on ourselves and say, Hey, today theres
a cochlear implant. Tomorrow theres another technology.
Were at peace with our state of being and if we have a
child whos deaf, he or she will assimilate into our way
of doing things.
Theres the psychological trauma of changing
midlifeits one thing if you have children who havent
heard sounds yet. But I think, in the film, its also Peters
wife who also looks at taking it for herself, but she also hears
that it will be much more difficult for an adult. They say she
wont hear the sounds of voices.
Aronson: Well thats because the brain
is attuned to hear language when youre 2, 3, 4 years old.
So if youve been deaf for 30 years and have no oral skills
or background, your brain has basically moved on to other things,
so its not attuned to learning language. Peters
wife was born deaf.
Jacobson: So do they not do the implant
Aronson: The particular doctor in the film,
Simon Parisi, is a wonderful surgeon at Lenox Hill, and he had
only done three signing deaf people out of 300 patients that
he had implanted at that time. Very few. And they discourage
them from doing it although they do do it.
Theres a recent story of a family in Long
Island where both parents are signing and they were both implanted
and one of their deaf children was implanted, so it is being
done. It takes a lot of work for those people to learn to speak
and make use of the sound. Its just a lot of speech therapy.
Its a lot of listening therapy because what youre
doing is youre training the brain to interpret sounds
that its never heard before so if you can imagine all
of a sudden hearing after 30 years, never having heard before
this sound that youre hearing right now in the audience,
you know, youre at home and youre hearing the sound
of my voice and your brain knows what a word is and interprets
it, but these people dont, so they cant distinguish
between a truck going by and a word.
So it takes years of therapy and hard work for
these people to understand and discriminate to tell what the
Aronson: You know its interesting,
when this subject comes up the word genocide comes
up a lot. Its a tough word but many radical deaf cultural
people feel that the idea of the cochlear implant, the implanting
so many children, is genocide. Its the medical community
trying to eradicate deafness.
Jacobson: That brings me to the next issue
here. Without getting into the issue of whether or not this
is a handicap from the perspective of the deaf culture, because
I think an argument can be made that it is a handicap. You may
adjust to it, but if you have a choice to be born with the ability
to hear or not to hear, very few people would say theyd
rather be born without hearing. They may say that about their
children, but Im talking more objectively.
However, the issue of the cultural change and
the difficulty of rewiring your brain definitely has parallels
to anyone who makes choices to go from one world to another.
From a Jewish perspective, I deal with this a lot with my classes
and teaching people who have grown up in a very secular environment
and then choose to become more religious or more spiritual.
They go through trauma (Im not comparing traumas), but
the trauma of life choices, standards, family members and so
on, are real big changes that have to be made, or vice versa,
where someone grows up in a very religious environment and in
a sense leaves it.
Any type of cultural change has parallels with
this film. Of course, we have to qualify it because there are
certain elements, for instance, in this case, when you talk
about the deaf community, its different from hearing about
someone who doesnt have the use of his or her leg. I would
think that more people would agree to use artificial legs or
some form compensation than we find here with getting
an implant in order to hear the issue of being deaf,
because I guess deafness is much more psychological.
Aronson: Theres no culture of people
without legs, although I understand that there is what you might
call a wheelchair community, a wheelchair culture, and I read
about that and I hear about wheelchair rights and
so on. People who are crippled and living in wheelchairs say
it was the best thing that ever happened to them looking back.
Its hard to understand that from our perspective but thats
a different story.
Jacobson: The question that I have on a
theological level is this: If were born a certain way
for whatever reasonthe mysteries of G-ds ways, some
people are born with the ability to hear and some people are
born unfortunately unable to hear, theyre deaf from birthhow
much can we tamper with that? Are we tampering with G-ds
plan? I dont mean tampering with G-ds plan in a
religious sense, I mean it more in a psychological sense. In
using technology, would there be anything that everyone would
agree is where you draw the line? If technology, for instance,
were able to make a perfect human being, should we do that?
Aronson: Well you could make the argument
that G-d may have allowed a dysfunction to happen in someones
inner ear but G-d also gave us the technology to fix it.
Jacobson: I agree. However, Im talking
about it in the context of: if there are clear psychological
implications and you start tampering, how far would one go?
In the name of technology and progress, would we do anything?
You see all the controversy around genetic engineering. If we
were able to create a super human being, someone without flaws,
or if you have anger inside of you and there were some way to
manipulate your genes so that you would no longer have anger.
In the name of technology and progress, should we do that?
We dont even know. We may be tampering with
things that go much deeper than the surface.
Aronson: Youre right. Maybe you can
draw the line and say you dont want someone to be angry
and yet its anger that allows artists to create on the
level that they do in many instances. You might say, well, we
can avoid cerebral palsy, it seems like most people would agree
with that, but wheres the line as you say? Its a
very slippery slope once you have the technology in hand.
Jacobson: And Im trying to broadenit
because Im sure the listening audience is not deaf, or
else they couldnt hear our show.
Aronson: But you know, its interesting
Simon, this is about a deaf cultural issue. I always had an
image in my mind that I was making a film about human beings
and the search for identity. I was trying to make a film that
had universal qualities. And Im heartened to say that
from the very first screenings that weve had at Sundance,
Ive had people stand up at screenings
stand up and put up his hand at a question and answer session
and say, Hello, Im a gay American and this is a
movie about my life. Ive had African-Americans stand
up and say, This is as much a movie about the minority
culture of African-Americans as it is about the deaf culture.
Its about the forming of a minority culture, the roots
of a minority culture; how it often comes out of abuse, teasing,
prejudice and bias. All those things are true of the deaf culture.
The deaf culture came together and finally called
itself a culture in the 80s. If you look back for 100 years,
the people in the deaf culture would give you the same story
of abuse and teasing as children, being pushed around by the
hearing community, the hearing community trying to force language
on them. A devastating background.
Now theyre in a community of people. They
can love; they can feel comfortable. They can communicate with
the language. Who wouldnt want to be there instead of
being in a hearing world that abuses you?
Jacobson: Thats an excellent point
and Id like to say something about that after the break.
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Jacobson: The thing about identity is a
critical point. The fact of the matter is, we do shape
our identities based on the circumstances that are given to
us in our lives, for good or for bad. Even though no one actually
made that argument in the film, that youre tampering with
my identity, I think it is implied in Peters arguments.
Thats really interesting because here, the
idea of identity is juxtaposed with the fact that theres
a handicap. Its one thing if its an identity that
a person has chosen for him or herself, but here, the juxtaposition
of high-tech progress that perhaps can heal the entire thing,
that perhaps 50 years from now there wont be a deaf human
being because for some reason youll be able to genetically
or with some type of implant prevent that. But meanwhile, there
is an identity and I guess thats a very big point.
Im thinking about it in the context of:
what right do we have to tamper with the community and the identity
Aronson: There are a lot of people in the
oral deaf world, on the other side of the deaf culture who would
say, What is a deaf culture? Theres no deaf culture.
What does it mean deaf culture? And since
you have seen the film and having talked for a while, I would
throw that out to you Simon, because youve given a lot
of thought to this. Is there a deaf culture from what you can
observe? And if there is, what defines it? What defines a culture?
Jacobson: Well, more importantly, if a
deaf community gets together, a community of 1,000 or a million
deaf people get together and they define themselves as a deaf
culture, do we have a right to delegitimize that? I think thats
really the question.
I think a culture is defined ultimately not by
whether its right or wrong, but whether theres a
group of people who have determined to follow that culture.
There have been cultures that were completely criminal cultures.
Theres a Mafia culture. But a culture is not legitimized
or delegitimized whether I like it or not. Its the fact
that human beings have gotten together and feel that theyre
I find, frankly, in the context were talking
about, from a deaf culture, that I would commend it because
it gives them strength. Im sure they have support groups.
The fact is, one of the most beautiful things about the humanitarianism
of this country is that you do find parking for the handicapped,
elevators, telephones. Its very special to see that we
give special attention for that.
So I think that there is a value to the culture.
Here the question is if this becomes their identity, and now
someone, technology, is trying to intrude, to take their children
away from them, genocide as you put it.
Its very fascinating. You were very accurate
and were not at all one-sided. To be honest, I wouldnt
easily say one way or the other. I think its case by case.
I think it has a lot to do with the parents and the child. I
think no parent should really make a decision about a case like
this without really researching it well. I see the decision
made in your film, in the documentary, is that the hearing parents
chose to do it. The deaf parents chose not to do it. Which would
seem quite logical.
Aronson: Well, when people ask me where
I am on it and what do I think, I say, My opinion is the
opinion of a hearing person and I can give you my opinion of
what I would do in terms of looking at these people. I
think that both families made the right decision. I think that
Peter made the right decision in not implanting his child.
Jacobson: Okay. We have AJ on the air.
Caller: Good evening. Well I hope misery
loves company isnt part of this problem. I think
its quite uncharitable for the people who are deaf and
who then want to ostracize a person who happens to get one of
these items that allows him to hear. Not only that, you run
enormous risk in being deaf. You dont hear things that
might be very important to hear, like a horn. I dont know
how many times Ive been on the street and Im certainly
glad I had my hearing. People get hit with cars and bicycles
and things happen to people when they dont have their
hearing. Thats a major thing. Imagine, beautiful music.
Mantovani, Lombardo and so forth. To deprive someone of that
kind of music and the beautiful lyrics that the old-time songs
Jacobson: AJ, I think you need to see the
film because theres another side to the case.
Caller: I understand. Ive been listening
to it. But I cant appreciate it.
Aronson: AJ, the one thing that you said
that I absolutely can agree with is that for the deaf cultural
community to ostracize children who have implants is a horror.
I mean, these children
Caller: Its very uncharitable.
Aronson: Its awful. Because these
children should have the right to learn sign language and function
in both worlds.
Jacobson: Thats called reverse discrimination.
Caller: It sounds like misery loves company.
Jacobson: But the fact of the matter is,
what fascinates me most is that they are normal human beings
in many ways that happen to have these positions. But
thank you for the call AJ.
Lets go to Matt.
Caller: Hi. Ive been listening to
the program and I find it very interesting. But the truth of
the matter is, I really dont understand the point because
youre discussing many different topics. On the one hand,
youre talking about cochlear implants, which today is
one of the highest technological models to hearing people. Im
hearing impaired. Im a victim of Bells Palsy and
my biggest problem is that Im single and I go on single
weekends and a lot of people look at me with the hearing aid
and they dont consider me a normal type of person. They
look at me very differently. Ive heard the controversy
about cochlear implants. Without cochlear implants, what are
your children supposed to do?
Aronson: Well, the option that youll
see in the film and whats out there in the world is that
they can learn sign language and become part of the deaf cultural
community. There are also other kinds of oral education techniques
with hearing aids as you have in other people. There are certainly
ways to function without a cochlear implant as a deaf person.
Jacobson: But Matt is making a very clear
point. Youre basically resigning yourself that you are
defining yourself into a cultural community that you will never,
ever mingle with anyone else.
Caller: I mean the cochlear implant. Ive
heard the arguments once before of the pros and the cons, but
the truth of the matter is, what are your children supposed
to do? Theyre caught between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, the children who are born into this situation
have no real say nor have the capability to make the decision,
and their parents are left with that and the parents have to
make a choice one way or the other.
Jacobson: Thank you for your call, Matt.
I want to say that the point is, and I think its made
by one of the characters in the film, that the fact is, if the
cochlear implant can actually allow a person to enter into the
hearing world, then how could you deprive them of that? As Matt
is saying, you become ostracized with a hearing aid. People
see you as less; they see you as weaker. It affects marriage;
it affects opportunities.
Aronson: Well, the thing is, and Matts
absolutely right, with the cochlear implant, you are not a hearing
person. A cochlear implant is a prosthetic device that allows
you to function in the hearing world. But when you take it off,
because its not there all the time (theres an external
portion also that you take off when you go to bed or when you
swim, or whatever). When you take it off, you are a profoundly
deaf individual again. And you will be functioning that way.
Jacobson: Well, I wear eyeglasses so I
feel that way myself.
Aronson: But nevertheless, youre
not a normal hearing person with this device.
Jacobson: We have Mike on the air.
Caller: You mentioned something about the
original Jay Black. Where is he and how can I find him?
Aronson: Jay lives on Long Island and performs
all over America, in fact, Im going to interview him for
our film Feeling No Pain. He performs as Jay Black
as a single. He was just at the Garden the other night in an
Jacobson: Speaking of identity crises,
I guess for many people in the deaf world, theres a certain
peace of mind just to know that this is what you are and thats
it. Many of us are still struggling to find out who we are.
I found a very moving line in the film when Peters
daughter Heather is asked why she wants the implant, she says
she wants to be in both worlds: the world of silence and the
world of sound. I found that quite profound, especially for
In many ways the power of silence, and if she
was able to bridge the two worlds, that would really be an interesting
experimentfor someone to bridge the two worlds in a way
that she could teach people who hear what it means to be in
a world where you dont hear, and teach people who dont
hear what it means to be in a world where you do hear.
Aronson: The question is, will that really
be possible? I mean, we dont have any long-term studies
yet because weve only been implanting children for a couple
of years. In the film youll meet a little girl whos
five years old who got an implant at two, whos born profoundly
deaf and she speaks perfectly with no deaf accent. And shes
not a superstar. Shes the norm among kids who have plenty
of speech therapy.
But we dont know what shes going to
be like when shes fifteen. We dont know how shell
function. If shell be accepted by her peers. If shell
have as good a self-esteem as Heather might if she stays in
the deaf cultural community. These are all unknowns.
Jacobson: Did you at all explore or talk
to any doctors or psychiatrists about this? Was that at all
covered? Or do you let the characters themselves speak?
Aronson: The characters themselves go to
Dr. Simon Parisia whos an auto-laryngeologist, whos
basically a surgeon, and hes the one who basically implants
the children in addition, to Dr. Patshute whos an audiologist
at the childrens hearing institute at Lenox Hill. We allow
them to be the experts from the hearing side, to give the expertise
of what the technology can and cannot do.
Personally, I did talk to Dr. Ari Lee, whos
the head of the Department of Psychology at Gaudete University
and shes profoundly deaf. She has huge reservations about
the cochlear implant in children for the reasons I mentioned
before. She said we dont know the long-term psychological
impact of this device on children, living between the two worlds.
Jacobson: What psychological impact has
this film made on you? Since Ive known you, youve
always been the introspective type, always exploring different
schools of thought. Its a serious film.
Aronson: But an entertaining one I hope.
Jacobson: Its definitely entertaining.
Its human drama and just to hear the argument between
the father and the son is amazing where he says, Youre
handicapped, and he says, You dont accept
me Dad, and all that.
Aronson: In one scene in the film the son
says to the mother, in this dramatic family battle, I
never realized until this moment that you never accepted my
deafness. Its an amazing moment for him to really
How did this film affect me? I just got really
close to people who live in another planet from me. These people
who are profoundly deaf and live with another language, a visual
language, its a different way of life, a different way
of functioning, a different way of relating to the world. I
became very close with a lot of these people, and it opened
my eyes. I grew from it. I cant write down how I grew,
but the wonderful thing about making documentary films is that
it gives you the opportunity to become an expert in something
Jacobson: Did the families feel comfortable
being filmed? Did you have to convince them?
Aronson: Thats the other psychological
aspect for me because I became part of this family and I love
this family. Mary Artinian opened their lives. They were
themselves. They fought. They cried. People have come to me
after screenings of the film and they want to know how much
of the film was scripted. They think this was a movie with a
script and these people were doing the linescrying when
I told them to cry, fighting when I told them to fight. None
of this movie is scripted. Its real. And I was with these
people for a year and a half and they cried their eyes out.
They are searching for the answer of how to raise their children.
Jacobson: Okay, lets take one more
call. We have Shifra on the line.
Caller: First of all, Im very anxious
to see the film and Josh I really honor you for bringing something
to mind. What is Hashem saying to me in terms of the whole gift
of hearing and listening? For me, I always want to take some
cotton in my ears or something that you put on when you go diving,
and to know what its like not to hear as accurately as
I may, but it also gives me the sense of listening and hearing
and to be able to really listen in a different kind of way to
be able to know that I have the gift of hearing and listening.
It opens up a whole other aspect of this world.
Jacobson: Shifra, I know a lot of people
who have healthy ears and they can hear but they cant
listen, so thats an entirely different story.
I know people who are deaf who listen better than
people who have healthy ears. Im sure Josh you know people
like that too. Listening is an entirely different art from just
hearing. Shifra, thank you for the call. Its a good point
about hearing and listening which is another topic that Im
sure we will address at some point.
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Jacobson: I want to congratulate you and
commend you Josh for this work and I look forward to seeing
you at the Academy Awards.
Aronson: Thank you, that would be great.
Jacobson: The film is quite interesting
and quite amazing because of its insights into a part of our
lives which we often dont look at which is sound, our
ability to hear, but also looking into a culture called the
deaf culture, people who are resistant to anyone tampering with
or intruding and trying to destroy their culture and their world.
I was thinking about sound and silence, because
for me, having been educated in the Jewish mystical school of
thought, I was thinking of some parallels. The Zohar says that
there are two ways to serve G-d: one through song and sound
and one through silence. The question is asked, which is greater?
And interestingly, the service through silence is greater ultimately
than the service through sound. The Levites would compose melodies
and sing songs at the Holy Temple, but the Kohanim, the priests,
would serve in silence. They were silent throughout. And ultimately,
silence is greater than sound because silence can contain more
energy than can sound.
When we express ourselves, words are containers,
they can only contain so much. Thats why we use metaphor,
poetry, art to express deeper feelings. But sometimes the deepest
and most intimate of expressions can only be expressed in silence.
Aronson: Thats so interesting, because
Ive read of so many composers, and the greater the composer,
the more often Ive seen thiswhere composers at a
certain point in their lives discover the power of silence.
The power of the spaces between the notes, where all the power
Jacobson: In publishing design as well.
The white space is more important than the black space. But
G-d should bless everyone to be healthy and to be born in a
healthy way, but I think the message of a deaf culture to us
is the appreciation, first of all, for the gifts were
given, but also there is an appreciation of silence that they
have. The fact is that that woman who can feel the rain
in a way appreciates rain differently from the way we do, because
for us it comes dilutedyou can see it, you can hear it,
you can taste it.
But when you think about the five senses that
we have, ultimately the soul doesnt need any of the senses.
If you were to shut off your senses for a moment, close your
ears, your eyes, your taste, touch and smell, you would be left
with the inner you. Because you dont need ears to hear
yourself and you dont need eyes to see yourself. In a
way, the sensory world is just a bridge to interact with the
world around us. Important and extremely valuable
communicate today if we couldnt hear each other or we
couldnt speak. At the same time, in an interesting way,
and this ultimately is the way to bridge or unite the world,
is to recognize that whether youre deaf, or blind or have
all your faculties intact, the soul is always intact.
What I found in the film, whatever character it
was, the soul was intact. Peters passion in his personal
choice for his child is quite admirable. Its a soul crying
out in his own way. We may not agree with his particular choice,
but the fact of the matter is, one cannot delegitimize the soul.
It says in Chassidic thought that with the handicapped,
the soul is never handicapped. Hes able to listen; its
just that he listens differently. He doesnt listen with
sounds, he listens with his mind, with his heart.
But no one should ever suggest that a person whos
deaf listens less than a person whos not. He just cant
hear our sounds so he has to hear a different way. I think that
that ultimately is in a way the greatest tribute to human dignity
and a person can celebrate that.
However, of course, when you do have an opportunity
to give someone much more than that. Im not making the
case for that, Im just saying that I honor that type of
Aronson: Being with you is always such
a pleasure. What a wonderful perspective you bring to things.
Jacobson: Each of us has our mission and
I remember telling you years ago, the fact that you direct film,
ultimately the mission is not just to entertain people, which
is part of it, or to make money, its ultimately to touch
people in a place that they havent been touched before,
to bring ideas
I dont know if thats youre
Aronson: I have a friend, Barry Sonenfeld,
whos a wonderful comedy director (he made Men in
Black, Get Shorty), and we spoke on the phone
the other day and he just finished a movie, and we were talking
about the political situation, both bemoaning the fact that
the world isnt running, to Gore and the fact that Bush
is doing so well (were all Democrats in my life) and I
said, Well, its your job Barry to keep us all laughing.
Hed seen Sound and Fury and he loved it and he
said, And its your job to make sure you keep teaching
Jacobson: Listen, youll end up being
a moral advocate for identity and cultures. Its very interesting.
I thought your first film was going to be something a little
Aronson: I dont know. Doing documentary
films you go with the material that vibrates for you and this
is the material that really meant something to me. It takes
so long to make these films.
There wasnt a day involved in this film
that I wasnt happy to be involved with it. It was a real
story that had some resonance for me and I dont know why
it touched my life. I dont why what parts of my life it
touched, but theres something about how you raise children
and how you make choices for your children and how parents have
those obligations and those rights that touched me and it felt
like it was a very important film to make.
I hope everybody gets to see it. Its unfortunate
that documentaries are so limited in terms of the showing possibilities.
Our word of mouth has been fantastic and weve been getting
better every day.
Jacobson: Its at the Film Forum at
West Houston St. Youve been listening to Josh Aronson,
director of Sound and Fury. You can get a tape of this
show by calling 1-800-363-2646. Id like to thank our loyal
audience and we invite you emails and your thoughts. Most of
all Id like to thank Josh and congratulations again on
this wonderful film. More than wonderful, its a fascinating
insight into human nature.
Thank you very much.