In the middle of a Broadway production, Clint Barton, also known as Marvel’s arrow-throwing Avenger Hawkeye, stares at the stage. The singing ensemble is reduced to a quiet hum in the background. Her daughter waves her hand in front of her face. “Father. Have you turned off your hearing aid?”
Hearing loss plays a central role in Marvel Studios’ new “Hawkeye” limited series, available on Disney+. This miniseries, which released its final episode on December 22, goes beyond entertainment – by showcasing Clint’s struggles with the condition to a wide global audience, it plays a huge and indispensable role in raising awareness of the loss. auditory.
Although the portrayal of hearing loss in popular media isn’t entirely new – recent films include “A Star is Born”, “Sound of Metal” and “CODA” – Marvel’s choice to highlight hearing loss of Hawkeye as a major plot element is significant. Hearing loss and deafness are rarely presented so explicitly. Characters with these issues are often shunned from minor roles, especially in mainstream media.
The lack of representation of people with hearing loss in the media contrasts sharply with its frequency in the United States. About one-fifth of American adults have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss is also severely undertreated – of the 29 million American adults between the ages of 20 and 69 who could benefit from hearing aids, less than 1 in 6 have actually used them.
With a flashback montage, the show implies that Clint Barton’s hearing loss is due to exposure to loud noises during his previous battles as the Avenger. Noise-induced hearing loss affects approximately 1 in 8 children and adolescents aged 6-19 and more than 1 in 6 adults aged 20-60. In particular, veterans are frequently exposed to harmful noise during their military service. When left untreated, hearing loss can be associated with the inability to communicate with loved ones, frustration and loneliness.
Marvel’s on-screen depiction of hearing loss in a superhero contradicts antiquated stereotypes of people with hearing loss – that they are “deaf and dumb”, old and unsuccessful. The show also debunks common misconceptions about hearing loss – that people with hearing loss are all deaf, use sign language and read lips. In the third episode, Maya (a deaf character) meets Clint (a hearing aid user) for the first time; the two have trouble communicating. Maya even criticizes Clint for being too dependent on technology to communicate. Hearing loss spans a spectrum from mild hearing loss to deafness – people with hearing loss communicate in different ways, depending on their listening environment, the severity of the hearing loss and other factors.
Marvel Studios stepping up to reveal new, more human aspects of superheroes opens up a new range of stories for Disney – chronic health issues like hearing loss and deafness are rarely explored in popular entertainment. The entertainment industry can play a valuable public health role by reaching audiences of all ages and backgrounds and highlighting the importance of hearing health. Increased awareness can remind people to protect their ears from exposure to loud noise and can encourage those who would benefit from hearing aids to start using them. Portraying characters with this condition normalizes hearing loss, combats stereotypes, and allows young fans who share this condition to identify with a superhero.
Just as we care about eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, we should consider hearing protection an essential part of personal care. It is important to protect our ears so that we can continue to listen to our loved ones and the world around us. Next time you pick up your keys, don’t forget your earplugs.
Chern is a resident physician in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (Columbia/Weill Cornell); Denham is a third-year medical student at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.