A study on entertainment media messages about hearing loss


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Katherine A. Foss, a researcher from the School of Journalism at Middle Tennessee State University (USA) recently published an article on the portrayal of hearing loss in entertainment television. Despite the high prevalence of hearing impairment in people of all ages, from adolescence to senior years, the issue receives little attention in popular media, with the exception of age-related hearing loss.

A textual analysis was carried out on the basis on 276 television episodes that involved deaf characters and/or storylines about hearing loss and deafness, to explore how the experience of hearing loss is portrayed. The studied period went from 1987 through to 2013. Deaf characters were present in some of the most popular shows in television history, including Seinfeld, ER, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, House, M.D., and Glee. However, the experience of hearing loss was rarely portrayed. Of the 276 episodes, only 11 programs over 47 episodes depicted characters who lose their hearing within the show. Somewhat unexpectedly, these characters were usually young, attractive, working professionals with prominent roles in the series. Only 4 characters used hearing aids.

The author of the study found that hearing loss was displayed as comical, embarrassing, lonely, and threatening to one’s work. Television portrayals were also narrow in terms of age, profession, and type of hearing loss. Foss concludes that the low number of hearing loss portrayals, along with the negative representations of hearing loss, give the impression that hearing loss is uncommon, and this could help to explain why it continues to be stigmatized and overlooked.

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Source: Foss KA. (De)stigmatizing the Silent Epidemic: Representations of Hearing Loss in Entertainment Television. Health Communication. 2013 Dec 3.