“These days, a major world event can’t happen without an accompanying meme,” writes Lilit Marcus over at The Atlantic Wire. Truer words have not been blogged (today, at least). But the truth isn’t always pretty, and the meme in question certainly isn’t: A tumblr mocking the faces made by a sign language interpreter during a press conference about a hurricane. Hilarious!
The tumblr, Lydia’s Callis’ Face For NYC Mayor, is a collection of pictures of Lydia Callis‘ face. Callis is the American Sign Language interpreter who appears alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg at press conferences. As Marcus points out, the blog and other online comments about Callis are ostensibly positive, but “they’re positive in an ironic and subtly mocking sort of way.”
Many of the facial expressions in question are ones that “would be relatable to any signer,” writes Marcus, an interpreter herself, as well as the child of a deaf parent.
Focusing more on Callis’ facial expressions than her words is classic marginalization of the deaf community. The first and most common mistake that people make about sign language is that it’s just a language in your hands. Unlike spoken language, which has tone and volume to indicate changes in emotion, sign language has body and facial language. You can sign “That hurt my feelings” with a somber expression and it means something quite different than when you sign “That hurt my feelings” while frowning, angling your body away, and stomping your feet for emphasis.
I’ve always heard that sign language is “so beautiful,” but it’s an empty, meaningless compliment. To me, that means “I don’t care about sign language as a language, I just want it to amuse and entertain me.” It means “I’m making no attempt to understand what’s going on here, but it sure looks cool.”
Which is, of course, exactly what people are doing when they “compliment” Callis’ facial expressions. But as obnoxious as that alone is, it’s made even more obnoxious by the fact that this was happening as NYC was/is in the midst of a devastating hurricane and its aftermath. I’m not saying there’s no room for humor at times of tragedy, but … well, this falls quite a bit short of humor. In conclusion: Not everything needs it’s own meme, folks. For the love of LOLcats, not everything needs a meme.