Friday, 1 August 2014

Eye On Hawkeye #19 Pt. 1

The silent sound of privledge in Hawkeye #19
by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos; Marvel Comics

It's after 1am  Thursday morning and I have to get up early tomorrow for a fairly pointless meeting but I've just finished reading Hawkeye. I've just finished reading Hawkeye #19, right through, just the story, no peaking or search engine aids to help educate and translate the American Sign Language inside. I know what I could deduce from context, but that's it. There are still swaths of Hawkeye I don't really understand yet. And I want to write about that experience.

This post isn't going to go too much into story details beyond, well, *SPOILERS* from previous Hawkeye issues. But I am going to post some pictures from the issue, which are at least a little *SPOILERS*-y. So be wary.

Okay, backing up a bit: Hawkeye #19 features a ton of American Sign Language and is written largely from a deaf characters perspective.  This means that most of the speech bubbles are empty and that much of the comics verbal communication is conveyed through pictograms depicting the motion of ASL signs. This is all done without additional english prose translation or explanation. Hawkeye #19 is ASL and deafness and get with the program.

And I think this is really, really interesting.

Because here's the magic of the issue for me. As great as Hawkeye #19 is on a comics craft level (which I'll write about later), and as interesting and cool as the primer on ASL are (I kind of want to learn ASL), for me the really momentous thing about Hawkeye #19 is how it confronts privilege and creates empathy. Let me explain.

I'm a very privileged person. I'm straight, white, and male in a society that treats each of these things too well. I'm healthy, able bodied, smart, and grew up with a stable family situation. I'm married to a great person, live in a safe place, have achieved some success at a career I love, and am mostly financially solvent. I am very fortunate.

It can be easy to forget just how privileged I am.

The thing about systemic privilege is it's insidious. Unlike oppression which frequently comes with blatant, transparent consequences along with all of the much less visible social disadvantages, privilege is very often not super obvious. It can often manifest as a lack of the consequences of oppression which unless you have some understanding of the oppressed, is elusive. If you are super privileged, particularly if you are a straight-white-dude, I think you can easily move through life without confronting the nexus of your fortune.

Which means you have to actively engage with our privilege and seek out a better understanding of less-privileged people.

There are a bunch of ways to try tackling this, from reading diverse blogs, to listening to smart feminist friends, to walking a mile in someone else's situation (although this often smacks of touristy appropriation...). But one of the most effective machines for generating empathy is fiction: we get to ride along with a protagonist and see their situation, and in the case of prose fiction, experience their thoughts and emotions. We get to temporarily live a different life and learn to love or at least relate to someone who is different than us. 

An example that sticks with me is a scene from Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (*SPOILERS*) where a gay-and-just-realizing-it character and the-man-he-is-kind-of-in-love-with share the most perfect kiss in all of fiction (in my opinion). And despite being straight and not finding anything particularly exciting about dudes kissing, I completely wanted that kiss to happen for that character. I cannot fathom encountering that scene and walking away without the kernel of knowledge that love between homosexual people is just as real and worthwhile as love between heterosexual people.

Hawkeye #19 is also a great empathy engine. Part of this is that it depicts, in a really clear way, what life with a hearing injury might be like. We see Clint being unable to hear words, be too ashamed to speak himself, and the struggle to communicate non-verbally. From this we get a shallow understanding of what it might be like to be deaf. But more importantly, more brilliantly, we get to experience a sort of deafness for ourselves.

I don't know ASL, and on my first read through of Hawkeye #19, just now, I had difficulty understanding what information was being conveyed. I got the gist through acting and deduction, but there was still a great deal of information and nuance that I completely missed. Speaking happened but I was unable to understand it. I was deaf to the ASL. And that feeling, that knowledge that communication is happening that I cannot parse, and the associated challenge and feelings of alienation, frustration, and inadequacy is pretty powerful stuff. I can now maybe imagine what it feels like to be deaf in a spoken world.

And that's just after playing tourist for 20 minutes while reading a for fun comic and not dealing with it in real life all the time.

Which makes me think about my privilege and what it might mean to be deaf.

And that, more than all of the other elements, makes Hawkeye #19 a great comic.

It's now 2 am.

Eye on Hawkeye #18: Colours and setting.
Eye on Hawkeye #15: Composition, Layout, and colours.

Eye on Hawkeye #16: Smart layouts and chilling moods.
Eye on Hawkeye #14: Repetitive panels as a device.

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