There's much to like about Marvel's new comic book series, Hawkeye, from Jeremy Renner's dour face as the bow-and-arrow man to his interactions with over-eager wannabe hero Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).
The series features all the elements of the franchise you'd expect – explosions, adventure, wit, villains and good guys – but amongst all the Avengers antics it also manages to achieve something that most mainstream TV series have never even attempted.
For not only does Hawkeye include a Deaf character, Maya (played by Deaf actress Alaqua Cox), it also focuses on Hawkeye/Clint Barton's own hearing issues, making him one of the first hard of hearing (HOH) characters whose symptoms are explored on TV.
And our very first HOH superhero.
Of course, d/Deaf characters ('deaf' refers to those who cannot hear for whatever reason, while 'Deaf' refers to those who are pre-lingually deaf and consider it a cultural identity) and those with hearing loss have appeared on screen before, but when you start collating a list, you realise most of them have been on the big screen – in movies such as Sound Of Metal, Up!, Wonderstruck, A Quiet Place, Coda and Baby Driver (where Ansel Elgort's Baby had tinnitus, a serious hearing issue in which people have a constant noise in their ears that isn't generated from outside).
On TV, Eastenders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis has raised the profile of deaf people considerably with her role in the soap and as a contestant in this year's Strictly Come Dancing, but in TV drama, there is still a very long way to go.
To date, the best examples have been Deaf actress Marlee Matlin's role as consultant Joey Lucas in The West Wing, and for hard of hearing people, director David Lynch's performance as FBI chief Gordon Cole in his own series Twin Peaks.
Fitted with malfunctioning, cumbersome hearing aids, and shouting too loudly – to many, Lynch's Cole may have seemed like a caricature or someone to giggle at.
However, if you are hard of hearing – and now seems the right time to mention that your writer fits into that group, which makes up more than 15% of the population – Twin Peaks' Cole was a joy, the first time that I (and we) could point at the TV and say: 'This is what it is really like!'
(Hearing aids can make awful noises and feedback sounds, they can be really uncomfortable, and the reason we can be loud is we can't hear ourselves properly.)
Well, Twin Peaks was broadcast more than 30 years ago, so it has been a bloody long time waiting for another HOH character to grace our TV screens. Which brings us back to Hawkeye.
From the first episode of the new series, we see that Clint has a hearing aid and is extremely hard of hearing. All those years in the Avengers, being close to explosions, having arrows whizz past his ear, and even experiencing the Hulk's roar have taken their toll, and he relies on some half-learned sign language and the aid to get by.
This isn't as rare as you think – while "going deaf" is associated with being old, there are many people who suffer hearing loss much younger, like Clint, for a variety of reasons. Rock musicians, for example, often have tinnitus or loss of hearing due to exposure to loud noise. And there is a condition called otosclerosis that can cause mild to severe hearing loss in pregnant women.
However hearing loss has occurred, life for a person who is hard of hearing is different to the experiences of someone who is completely deaf, and surprisingly, Hawkeye's writers thoughtfully explore this while still keeping Clint as cool and sarcastic as he has always been.
In the first episode, one of Clint's kids positions himself on his dad’s "good" side – the side he can hear best – and it is little moments like this that many HOH people, myself included, will recognize.
His hearing loss is looked at in more depth in the third episode, too, when Clint encounters Deaf gang leader Maya, and she notices his hearing aid so signs to him, assuming he will know ASL (American Sign Language) and be able to understand. He doesn't, however, and you can see she is disappointed, even angry with him.
When they subsequently fight and his hearing aid flies off, she crushes it with her boot, and it is hard to tell whether this is to put him at a disadvantage or because she is furious for a deeper reason.
Perhaps she wants him to embrace his deafness, rather than "fix" it. Either way, the scene illustrates how much of an in-between world the HOH live in – caught between hearing and non-hearing people and not fitting into either group. (And how rubbish some of us are at sign language and lip-reading, possibly because we don't feel "deaf enough" to be able to learn it.)
For much of the episode after this Clint can hear very little and the muffled sounds that he can hear are used to great effect. When he and Kate are caught in car chase featuring flying arrows, he can't hear what she is saying but they manage to communicate as he outruns the bad guys and she sends putty-filled arrows their way.
There are other little touches throughout the first three episodes of Hawkeye that will have HOH viewers smiling – such as a diner scene where it becomes apparent Clint has taken his hearing aid out on purpose, so he can eat and not listen to what Kate is wittering on about – but best of all is a scene between the two of them that shows how kind people can be to those with hearing loss.
Many people who are HOH – especially if hearing loss isn't really severe – don't want people to know and try and hide it on a daily basis. Family members who know become interpreters, translating muffled tannoy announcements and repeating soft-voiced responses, so the HOH person can "get by".
Still without his hearing aid, Clint receives a phone call from his youngest son. Not wanting to upset him, Clint relies on Kate helpfully scribbling down what his son is saying so that Clint can respond without his son knowing his dad can't hear him.
It's a lovely scene – yes, I'm holding back tears as I write this – that says so much in such a simple way. Hearing loss can be difficult, it can be annoying, and it can be upsetting. But as Hawkeye proves, it's just another element that makes him who he is, and us who we are.
And, now that we have a hard of hearing superhero in our midst and on our TV screens, it makes us feel seen (and yes – heard)… and even makes us feel a little bit cool, too.
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