In less than 23 hours ago, Stephen Torrence, also known as CaptainValor on YouTube, wrote a powerful and insightful essay, On the Ethics of “My” Art in his activity feed on Patreon website. This article immediately shared on the Facebook and captured my attention.
Torrence is a ‘signer’ who took American Sign Language classes at Texas Tech University. He created numerous videos ‘translating’ musical lyrics using incomprehensible ASL signs. Stephen partnered with Patreon and he earned at least $300 dollars a month from several sponsors so that he can create more entertaining videos for his audience.
It was David Martin from Frederick, MD, who created his vlog on September 1, 2014 and that was when I learned about CaptainValor. Martin expressed his concerns about ASL Songs done especially by hearing people with intention to make profit.
I went to see CaptainValor’s vlogs and I was shunned. Martin is right.
Several Deaf individuals, few certified sign language interpreters and concerned citizens attempted to communicate with Torrence on his Facebook page. Torrence, at first, was defensive and ignored these comments.
When push comes to shove, some individuals sent emails to Patreon outlining our concerns about how Torrence represented himself in these videos and explained why these videos may cause much harm to the integrity of American Sign Language than spreading the awareness about ASL.
Meanwhile, Torrence created a video and posted on August 30, 2014. This video is called The Doubleclicks – Love you Like A Burrito – ASL Song. It was so embarrassing.
It was so bad that a meme was created.
One commenter provided a link of the article called Appropriate Method for Appropriation by Elise of ImpactMind.com on Torrence’s Facebook page.
Torrence responded, “Thank you for sharing this. I especially dig the mature debate in the article’s comments. This is… a lot to process. I’m just taking it all in for now.” That was on September 9, 2014. It was his last comment.
Approximately 10 days later, Stephen apparently processed, researched, and wrote a very insightful essay.
Excerpts from his essay.
Is the pursuit of monetarily-supported ASL songsigning by Hearing people like Paul & Tina or myself an example of audist cultural appropriation?
The thing is, that’s not really for us (in the sense of me, Paul & Tina, and our largely Hearing fan bases) to decide, because *we’re in the position of privilege.* We’re members of the dominant culture. Whether an act of cultural appropriation in the entertainment space is okay is for the members of the appropriatED culture, NOT the appropriatING culture, to say. This is especially important in cases where the appropriating culture is very dominant, because the playing field is NOT level. There are 1000 Hearing people for every Deaf person in the United States. What those from the dominant culture say often has a disproportionate affect. This is the fundamental injustice: those who are hurt the most by an act of marginalization are the least likely to be heard.
Then Stephen announced his decision:
1. Before the end of the month, I will suspend or cancel my Patreon account. None of you will be charged for the month of September.
2. My YouTube videos will remain online. I will add a disclaimer to all of them describing my background and linking to a more permanent version of this essay.
3. I will add links to Deaf and CODA songsigning videos in all video descriptions and feature a playlist of them on my YouTube channel, to encourage awareness as Elise recommends.
4. I will do my best to redirect any future press inquiries about me or my work to a permanent version of this post, and inform anyone on this topic to the best of my ability whenever my work arises in conversation.
Some of you will be disappointed by my choice. I understand. But please trust me that I have given this a significant amount of thought, and this is my final decision.
To summarize this blog post, the point I am trying to make…
Push Comes To Shove – We keep pushing to the point where we must shove very hard to raise other person’s consciousness.
If we are able to change one person’s consciousness, we are able to change the world.
Stephen Torrence, this video is for you.
Amy Cohen Efron