Deaf Jews: the dud note in Pitch Perfect

The 'Bellas' of Pitch Perfect (2012)

The ‘Bellas’ of Pitch Perfect (2012)

I should not have expected much from the recent American movie Pitch Perfect (2012), based as it is on the trials and tribulations of duelling a capella groups at Barden University. A Mighty Wind (2003) it ‘aint.

But, I was sick and in need of mindless entertainment, so PP seemed like a good idea at the time. Riding on the coattails of that other epic cringe-fest Glee, it’s fairly harmless, when it’s not making you throw up in your mouth a little bit.

However, it had one stupendous dud note in the midst of all the insufferable harmonising about ‘Shorty’ getting down (or something).

It came early in the piece, during the activity week of the college’s equivalent to orientation.

As the mother of a deaf child, I am always on the hunt for any representation in the media of deaf children or adults. They are so scant, so few, that it is usually a nice surprise.

Like when the inspirational Bonny Porter on Masterchef: The Professionals (2013 season) stepped boldly forward to ask Matt Preston to wear the FM transmitter linked to her hearing aid. There was no shortage of tears at our house that night.

Anyway, there are deaf characters in PP for a brief moment, and what a special moment it is. The central character in the film is Beca (Anna Kendrick, who should have known better) who doesn’t want to be at college ‘cos she yearns to make her own music, like freelance dude.

She sees an activity club called the Barden DJs spruiking its wares and is immediately drawn to their table. Fat Amy played by Rebel Wilson joins her.

“Aw yeah, DJs…Deaf Jews”, Fat Amy says. Ohhhh, that’s the joke! Beca thought they were funky Disc Jockeys, but no, these two guys are Deaf Jews who have high jacked the DJs acronym.

The ensuing interaction between our Rebel, Beca and the two deaf students (played by Michael Alexander Smith and Preston Schrag) involves Rebel sort of shouting at them (it’s funny because they can’t hear her) and just mocking them in general. Hi-larious.

It doesn’t really matter to me if the joke’s on Fat Amy for being the ‘dumb Aussie’ because even that inversion would not make up for the clumsy use of stereotypes here.

If there had been a conga-line of scenes lampooning other activity groups, I would perhaps be more forgiving, but this one just sits all by itself, awkward and pointless in the narrative.

Wonderful though it is to see young men wearing hearing aids on screen, their deafness is just a device to further one tokenistic, bad joke. As soon as the ‘deaf’ bit has served its use, the filmmakers are running a mile from it into safer territory.

Of course it’s not the most offensive thing about deaf people I’ve ever seen, but it’s pretty disappointing nonetheless. Mostly it’s just lame. Maybe better writers could have given these guys names, some dialogue (beyond “Shalom”) or even one comeback to the stupidity being directed at them.

PP chose to represent deaf people on screen and then wasted the brief opportunity to celebrate what was unique about them, like if we had seen them communicating to Fat Amy in ASL (American Sign Language). I would have loved that.

But there were projectile vomiting scenes to shoot, vital a capella trophies to be won and two deaf boys to ‘pitch slap’ on the way to glory.


12 thoughts on “Deaf Jews: the dud note in Pitch Perfect

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  2. Thanks for this one. I have to admit, given my musical theatre background, I’m a bit obsessed with this movie. I love trash. That particular scene however, has always seen me cringing. It’s just so unnecessary.
    Now you’ve got me thinking about deaf characters in movies, and I’ve realised I can’t think of a single one outside of a comic stereotype.

    • Great to get your comments on this one Loz. Trash is fine be me, just don’t be stupid about stereotypes and do try and be FUNNY. So few deaf characters in films, you are so right. I want to write a post at some point about the times they are used and how. Mostly deaf people are ridiculed in some way – like that awful SNL skit on Michael Bloomberg’s ASL interpreter – which is pretty unforgiveable. That’s why I guess The Miracle Worker is kind of a beacon for me, because it’s so complex and well-rounded. Sadly it’s sitting out there almost on its own. Take Marlee Matlin out of the picture and you’re not left with much. I want Amelia to grow up and see deaf people represented EVERYWHERE. That’s why Bonny on Masterchef was so great for our family. Keep reading, Loz, it’s great to get your feedback.

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