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“Sweet Nothing In My Ear”: Elizabeth’s Opinion

April 20th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , , | 32 Comments »

I’m typing this as I watch tonight’s CBS/Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation of “Sweet Nothing in My Ear” a movie about cochlear implants.  These are my observations:

  • Not realistic.  The husband speaks as he signs to his wife, whose character communicates 100% in sign.  I know it saves the production money by having him speak while signing instead of just signing and then doing a voice-over, but I don’t think it’s very realistic.
  • I don’t like the signing.  As someone fluent in ASL, I feel they’ve really dumbed it down and given a very muted, more linear, English-style presentation of signing than would normally be used by someone who, like Marlee Matlin’s character, is a Deaf child of Deaf parents and grew up very ASL.  Maybe it’s just my personal preference, but the signing in this movie does not look like the ASL I am used to.  Also, the Deaf characters in the movie who signed did not have the same facial expressions and verbalization that I am used to from my signing Deaf friends.  It was way too quiet, way too unemotional, way too staged and fake.
  • Biased information RE: implant brand.  Not all cochlear implants have 16 internal electrodes (some have more).  Also, the type of implant shown on the little boy at the doctor’s office and the stuffed animal character he is holding are characteristic of one brand of cochlear implant.  Now, I have nothing for or against this brand, but I would love to know why this choice was made or if there was any sponsorship agreement with that particular brand.  Again, I have seen chidren do well with all 3 brands of implants FDA approved in the US, and I think it’s a very personal choice, but I would like to know what went into selecting this brand of implant to be shown in the movie.
  • The doctor’s character was extremely disparaging.  As someone involved in the medical professions, I am sick of physicians being described as cold-hearted jerks.  Some are, sure, just like some of any population will be jerks.  Also, when the doctor says that the son will have to leave his school for the deaf after receiving a cochlear implant, that is blatantly untrue.  It’s the parents’ educational decision.  Now, will his results with the implant be as good as they could be if the school for the deaf doesn’t have the services to provide him the proper rehabilitation?  Probably not.  But still, to say that if he has the surgery !POOF! he’ll be in a mainstream classroom, is totally false.
  • When the little boy spoke, “Thank you, Daddy,” during the Thanksgiving scene, and the Deaf grandfather looked at him with looks of disappointment and disgust.  Wow.  That spoke louder to me than any signs ever will.  As if a deaf child who speaks is a bug under your shoe to look at with disgust.  Wow.  I don’t care whether or not you agree with their decision, the grandfather’s attitude made me really upset for that child.  
  • Then, the father strongly urges the child to talk to his hearing grandparents via phone.  Again, way to make the hearing Dad look like a jerk.  I think this movie used many small, emotional vignettes like that to tug at heartstrings and toy with peoples’ emotions, urging them to jump to conclusions without any real knowledge as to the depth of the issues involved.
  • Interesting that MM’s character remembers hearing the teakettle.  Retaining high frequency hearing, in any type of hearing loss, is very rare.  The treatment of her son’s hearing loss was scientifically questionable as well.  If his hearing loss had been progressive post-lingually, it’s doubtful that he would sign without any voicing attempts or that his vocal quality would sound as it did in the movie. 
  • The mom and grandmother had a lovely relationship, and I really liked the scenes between the two of them.
  • Hearing, Deaf, deaf, born hearing, born deaf, born Deaf, hard of hearing.  He’s yours. He’s mine.  He’s ours.  God gave me a son who could hear.  God gave me a daughter who couldn’t hear.  Blah blah blah.  It’s enough to give you a headache.  
  • I would have liked the character of MM’s lawyer to have been further developed.  For just some lawyer off the street, she certainly had an awfully negative (and ill-informed) view of the CI, yet she herself was hearing and there was no mention  that she had Deaf parents or some other Deaf culture connection like that.  Again, this was a poorly constructed device designed more to tug at the heartstrings than provide information. 
  •  Toward the end of the trial, MM’s character says that her son has “already suffered one trauma — becoming deaf” which seems to paint deafness in a negative light.  But then she says that she wants her students and her son to accept, revel in their deafness.  Contradictory.  Just as, in an earlier court room scene, the lawyer asks something along the lines of, “Why is it that you accept disability checks with one hand, yet deny that deafness is a disability with the other.”  Now, those statements are both over-exaggerated and inflammatory (again, as seems to be the style of this entirely over-done movie) but they raise an important questions — if people who identify as culturally Deaf rather than deaf think they are not disabled, should they be afforded provisions under ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act?
  • I am mad that it was made to seem like cochlear implants are, inherently, a rejection of a child’s deafness.  FALSE!  The people with implants I know are fully aware and unashamed of the fact that they cannot hear.  They may define their deafness different than the culturally Deaf do, though some people with CIs consider themselves Deaf.  But, no matter how one defines being deaf, it doesn’t mean that they have rejected that piece of themselves.
  • The end was such a cop-out.  Though I’m glad that the parents stayed together, I think Hallmark tried to walk both sides of the line in failing to have the characters choose one option or the other for their son.  Don’t want to hurt those DVD profits, huh?
  • I also think that Hallmark should have provided some information at the end of the show (maybe the websites for both AGBell and NAD).  Instead, the only reference was to one woman’s story… that you can read if you oh so conveniently purchase Hallmark’s magazine.  While I’m glad they’re sharing a real-life story, that’s only one person’s experience, and doesn’t give any real scientific or educational evidence.

The budding AVT in me wants to see their audiograms!  Wants to see their test results!  Wants to see some more evidence!  I know that isn’t the point of this movie, but it’s way dumbed-down for the public, and, as a result, loses some credibility in my eyes.  People aren’t dumb.  Give them the facts, and let them decide for themselves.

Well, this movie certainly reminded me why I hate Hallmark cards, or any other pre-fabricated greeting cards, and prefer to write handwritten notes to celebrate special occasions.  Pre-packaged sentiment often leaves you feeling treacly and sickly-sweet on the inside, but does little to edify the mind or the soul, quite like this movie did to me.  If you’re going to argue, “But it was just entertainment,” well, yes, I somewhat agree.  But it certainly wasn’t good entertainment.

Written by

Elizabeth Rosenzweig MS CCC-SLP LSLS Cert. AVT is a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist. She provides auditory verbal therapy, aural rehabilitation, IEP advocacy, consultation, and LSLS mentoring for clients around the world via teletherapy. You can learn more about Elizabeth's services on her Website or Facebook.


Karen Mayes

April 21, 2008 at 5:37 am

Well written criticism.

It has a lot of DeafRead colors in the movie, sooooo… I do think it was a smart move to have the kind of ending, showing sensitivity toward the hearing and deaf communities, since there are different opinions toward the idea of implanting the deaf child.


April 21, 2008 at 8:00 am

I disagreed with you. AGBell gives false information!

no name

April 21, 2008 at 8:08 am

I think this movie is really good and it’s honest! Your post sucks!

April 21, 2008 at 8:19 am

I dunno Elizabeth about your take on #1. I need to know more about you to understand how you’ve reached your conclusion on that and many more….But, honestly, the movie probably had the hearing husband do a lot of talking, yet…I have a deaf friend who’s husband speaks as he signs all the time! So, I think that it varies among hearing/deaf spouses. So..sometimes what doesn’t seem realistic to you, can be realistic.

People who learn ASL do not always have the natural ASL signing skills that deaf people were born into. The signings I saw between the grandparents are typical of people of that generation that shows true ASL. Trust me. My parents are deaf, I would know.

Like I said, I don’t know too much about you, Elizabeth, and because of that I do need to take that into consideration when trying to understand how you have come to these conclusions.

But, I will say that the grandfather is an example of the staunched opposition of C.I. that is evidenced in some circles within the deaf community..and as I stated in my blog, there is a name for these groups of people.

April 21, 2008 at 8:19 am

*deaf friend who’s husband speaks as he signs IS hearing, BTW.

Karen Mayes

April 21, 2008 at 9:01 am

Yeah, I have seen hearing people’s tendency to voice while signing. Right or wrong… nope. Just the way it is.

The movie was good, at least to me, and as I said in my recent comment, better to leave the movie’s ending that way to reduce any chance of firestorm from either two opposites (hearing and deaf ;-).)

My husband’s mother’s family has generations of deaf family… unfortunate, lots of shame there (mostly due to having progressive hearing loss… often they are born with normal or lots of hearing and over the time, especially in growing up years, they lose hearing…if they were born completely deaf, it might be a different story… who knows?) So my husband was not exposed to any deaf communities during growing up. Many different factors… and also, it reminds me a bit of the movie, “Sound and Fury”.


April 21, 2008 at 9:11 am

I agree on the part about the grandfather looking at the child in disgust. Really. I can’t recall that I’ve ever seen a Deaf adult look at a child in disgust because they could talk. Many deaf children can talk and it isn’t such a horrible thing.

Come to think of it, I HAVE seen hearing adults upset because of a child using sign language. Hmm….


April 21, 2008 at 10:00 am

elizabeth, I do agree with you on some points (i.e. Jeff Daniel’s characters ASL skills weren’t really up to par for someone who had been married to a deaf woman for 8-10 years and quite involved in the Deaf community) Also, I was annoyed at the 16-channel thing…maybe I was implanted early enough that there was only 1 brand but when I was implanted in ’91, they had 22 channels.

However, I don’t really think the lawyer’s character needs any roots in the Deaf community to justify her seeming antipathy towards CIs. Different people have different reasons for rejecting surgical intervention. There are religions that prohibit medical intervention. Also, she was just doing her JOB, which was trying to make it seem like Matlin’s character should have custody.

Also, I do understand why you raise the ‘disability’ issue. However, i do think this issue is way overplayed. Deaf people’s idea of disability is not the same as hearing people’s idea of disability. The fact that being Deaf does indeed make it harder for someone to obtain gainful employment has nothing to do about one’s cultural identification. It is because the general society sees Deafness as a “disability” and accordingly limits their employment options that Deaf people are willing to receive disability benefits. It is the social/educational/etc barriers that exists in society that makes deafness a disability, not deafness itself.

Also there are two different definitions of disability – one is that we cannot do something that most people can – hear (which is value neutral) and I think most Deaf people will admit that they can’t hear too well. Also, there is the definition of disability as a major life impediment, which is a quite subjective and marginalizing view. It’s just different definitions of disability. Also, i really doubt most deaf people would use disability benefits if they didn’t have to.

About the movie, i just felt that the biggest problem was the 2 character’s relationship. The fact that Jeff Daniel’s character did all these things without Matlin’s character’s approval was what really broke them apart. If they had sat down before all of this began, they would probably have found a solution. So the movie was a bit stupid in that sense.

Other than that one comment about how the son would have to transfer to a mainstream school, I thought the doctor was actually quite respectful. He did emphasize parental involvement (which I think is really the key here). I’ve seen doctors who don’t consider parental involvement a big part of the CI process and leave the real work up to the audiologist, which is not exactly fair.


April 21, 2008 at 10:14 am

Thank you all so much for reading and sharing your take on the movie. It’s always interesting to see it from others’ POV. Funny how we can all watch the same film and get very different things out of it based on our own personal experiences. Very cool.

Peachlady: Please do not make inflammatory allegations without providing a citation of some scientifically established evidence.

No Name: You are free to disagree with me. Many other commenters did so, and in a far more respectful manner, and I appreciate their viewpoints.

Candy: You have a very good point that, just as speaking styles differ between people, signing styles do, too. I guess my thing about the hearing husband was that, when he signed, he spoke fully sentences in English word order, not just the English glosses for his signs. Maybe some people can and do sign that way, I just felt it was a production shortcut. I appreciate you sharing your experiences. It’s true, people do sign many different ways.

Anonymous #8: Yes, you make a good point about the lawyer. I suppose I’d want my lawyer to be passionate about my case regardless of his/her own personal circumstances. In that respect, MM’s character’s lawyer did her duty well. You’re right, too, that the whole thing could have been solved from the beginning if the parents were on the same page… would have been the shortest movie ever, though!

Thanks to everyone who left a respectful, well-intentioned post. Whether or not we agree or disagree, I love hearing civil and kind debate!


April 21, 2008 at 10:45 am

I only saw the last hour of the movie because I wanted to watch DH on ABC. But I pretty much understood what the movie was about.

Okay, here’s my opinion. I think the whole problem would have been solved if they let the child make the decision to get CI or not. I mean, think about it – who’s getting the surgery? The child. I think it would be best to let the child in her/his teenage years or when turn 18 to make that decision. I feel the parents shouldn’t make the decision because they wouldn’t have to deal with it on the daily basis.

I know a person who has CI and his parents make the decision for him to give him CI and when he got older, he doesn’t even use it. He proclaimed as “Deaf” with the big ‘D’. That’s the waste of money and time on the parents’, the child’s, and the doctor’s part.

All in all, I thought the movie was okay. I am just tired of hearing about CIs. I mean, there’s more to the Deaf community than CIs.

It would be nice to see something relating to discrimination or better yet, something with a happy ending (which isn’t “water-down”).


April 21, 2008 at 11:03 am

I do understand Comment #10′s desire for the child to have a say. However, how would the child be able to make this kind of decision. I remember when my parents asked me if I wanted to hear when i was six – and I said, “sure.” I was quite curious at that time what sound was like becuase it was totally inaccessible to me.

However, I really did not understand the ramifications of this statement. I didn’t understand what “hearing” would mean to my life. Not to say that I regret my parent’s decision to implant me, but I was not capable of making a full and informed decision at age six (and I wasn’t a daft child at that time).

I’m not saying that a child should NOT have any input, but from the boy’s actions in the movie, he is just a people-pleaser and doesn’t have any firm beliefs of his own (he is eight after all…). It would have been nice for the parents to really try to understand what the kid wants out of life. But I don’t think it’s outrageous for the parents to ‘choose’ for the child – all parents do it in different ways (they decide what schools we go to, they decide what kind of things we should have, what kind of medical treatments we should have and the degree of independence that we should have).


April 21, 2008 at 11:21 am


May I ask you an question?

Which grandmother you talked about the “MM character and grandmother had a lovely relationship”? Were you talked about the MM and Phyllis Frelich character or MM character and her mother-in-law?

CBS and the Hallmark, Inc were very wise for not enclosing the referral informations via e-links to the AGBELL and NAD. They were in the entertainment business, not the information referral desks, ex. library.

Please check out my blog posting that I strongly feel about the director, writers and producers and performers could do much better with “Nothing Sweet in My Ear” telemovie.

Your review of “Nothing Sweet in My Ear” seems very balanced and pragmatic. :)

Robert L. Mason (RLM)

April 21, 2008 at 11:30 am

I have heard of deaf parents getting CIs for their deaf children. It makes sense to try and afford their children all the possible opportunities. No offense to anybody, but the ability to speak clearly and hear some makes a HUGE difference. It gives the deaf person useful tools and I don’t think anyone can honestly disagree.

The problem is that the success rate of CIs is not perfect and a doctor isn’t able to tell you with reasonable certainty whether your kid will pick up the ability to hear and speak well. If your kid is one of those who just doesn’t wing it with a CI + AVT– you may have lost valuable years for language acquisition. It’s a gamble.

Fifty years ago the issue was about hearing aids. Some deaf families and those in the culture were opposed to using hearing aids and speech therapy. Some of these kids would have been ideal candidates and probably lost out on the opportunity to acquire these useful tools.

I use hearing aids and use them well. I remember the issue when I was a kid was that I had to wear these machines on my ears and wear the ugly FM on my chest. The deaf community said it was like making kids robots. The funny thing is that I’ve been told that hearing aids are now “OK” and CIs are not.

I have to admit that some of the points made about the drawbacks of CIs are on the mark. I have met oral deaf people who use CIs and I’ve had to help hearing people understand their speech (yes, I lipread them!).

So I’m wondering— what about using sign language + CIs? That way you ensure the kid doesn’t miss out on language acquisition and also the kid may be able to pick up speech and listening skills. The golden mean?

Why has the total communication system of the 70s and 80s been totally rejected? I know I sound ignorant, but it worked well for some people.


April 21, 2008 at 11:45 am

hi.. I have 4 friends who have cochlear implants. Each has his or her own reason/ type of deafness. All 4, loved their implants, the longest one, having it over 8 yrs, and the most recent almost 2 years. I have a couple more friends considering it. A couple were born deaf due to rubella, one due to sickness as a young child, and one unknown reason. All have benefitted.
Again, the child, Adam in this movie, SHOULD have been asked his opinion. He is of age, where he would have fully understood what the parents were antagonizing over. The mother took him aside at the WRONG time to ask if he remembered sound to which he did not reply. Who , what child, would disrupt playtime to answer a question he/she is not interested in at that time of play? This is a serious topic, one that the parents should discuss with their child at home, at the table, in a serious tone, and at a time, made just for this , not just yanked off a playground to ask.
Just my opnion.

Peggy Mnich

April 21, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Beautifully said!! I was hoping, after all those years, the movie would be almost perfect with no faults, but sadly, there are still mistakes or misunderstandings seen in the movie. Guess we still have a long way to go.

Jean Boutcher

April 21, 2008 at 12:25 pm

In reference to “16 internal electrodes,” I suspect that the script was written 10, 15 years ago, but it was not bought until 2008. I may be wrong.

I think that the Deaf grandfather was the CORE message of the movie,
not the parents or their son.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for the “review”.


April 21, 2008 at 1:31 pm

RLM: Sorry, I realize now that wasn’t very clear. I meant to say that I liked the relationship between MM’s character and Phyllis Frelich’s character, aka the deaf mom and the deaf grandmother (her mom).

Many commenters have brought up the important point that the little boy in question was not brought into the decision making process. While I do think it is parents’ job to exercise their best judgment and make the ultimate choice, at eight, the child is old enough to be involved in the decision. I’m reminded of “Sound and Fury” when the Deaf parents of a 4y.o. girl considering a CI take the child with them to visit various educational programs (oral, sign) and to meet with families of other children with CIs who use various methodologies. They asked the little girl what she thought after each experience and watched her reactions/interactions during each meeting. Ultimately, the parents made the decision, but they weighed their daughter’s feelings as well. That little girl was only 4, so it would be interesting to see how Noah Valencia’s character, who was supposed to be 8y.o., would have reacted in each of those situations.

I like how someone pointed out that the scene at the park where the mom asked the little boy, “Do you remember sound?” was totally ridiculous. I thought the little boy’s reaction in that scene was perfect — he didn’t answer and instead ran back to play with his friends. He had his priorities in order! Playing is much more fun than talking about serious stuff with mom!

April 21, 2008 at 2:54 pm

My husband is Deaf and I sometimes find myself talking when I sign to my husband, even though he can hear absolutely nothing. It is the same reason that I find myself signing when I speak with my hearing friends. It’s not that I don’t understand and use ASL. I am a certified interpreter with over 12 years of professional interpreting experience. I didn’t think that it was unbelievable. In fact, there were some rather relative points made in relation to being married to a deaf spouse. We both really liked the show and thought that it was well written and stayed pretty neutral.
That’s all!


April 21, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Weffer: Thanks for sharing your perspective as part of a hearing-Deaf couple. I didn’t mean to imply that the signing in the film wasn’t legitimate ASL, I just observed some similarities and differences between the sign I’m used to. Interestingly enough, when I moved from Illinois to Texas, I also noticed some regional differences in signs! Just like English, every place has its own “accent” I guess! I can relate to your experience of signing to non-signing hearing friends — I do that, too, sometimes!

Just a mom to three boys

April 21, 2008 at 7:43 pm

Chris H and Mike,

It’s me. I’m officially changing my blog name or whatever you call it. I don’t want to be confusing or have anyone believe I’m a part of a right wing conspiracy.

Sorry if you don’t get this. Just ignore me :) Can’t wait to get a response to that last sentence.

April 21, 2008 at 8:40 pm

[...] Good discussion about the movie at Cochlear Implant Online here. [...]


April 22, 2008 at 6:12 am

I don’t lie. I know because I was there. My deaf sister was a failure. They gave up and moved to another city to put my sister in a speech school. My parents believed in AGBell.

April 22, 2008 at 7:18 am

[...] My Ear” My Thoughts on Sweet Nothing In My Ear “Sweet Nothing In My Ear”: Rachel’s Opinion “Sweet Nothing In My Ear”: Elizabeth’s Opinion “BITTER SOMETHING OUT YOUR THE EYES” “Sweet Nothing” Portrays Ongoing Struggle for [...]


April 22, 2008 at 6:29 pm

My hearing husband didnt know any sign language when we first met 6 years ago. After 6 years, his signing is slightly better than the character that Jeff Daniels played. Yes, he does use his voice while signing with me. I have tried telling him to keep it off so he can imrove his signing but I realized that it makes him feel unnatural so I just let him be as long as communication between us is flowing without any misunderstandings. So far so good!


April 22, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Thanks for sharing, Shel! It’s been interesting to hear from people in relationships similar to the one portrayed in the movie how the characters’ marriage was same/different than real-life experiences. While Jeff Daniels’ signing wasn’t 100%, I did think it was very cool how much he learned (and how quickly) for his role in the film. Last week I read a really well-done newspaper article about how Linda Bove (of Sesame Street fame) served as a consultant for the production and was Daniels’ sign coach. I’ll try to dig it up again and post it here.


April 22, 2008 at 7:30 pm

“No offense to anybody, but the ability to speak clearly and hear some makes a HUGE difference. It gives the deaf person useful tools and I don’t think anyone can honestly disagree.”

No offense, but I do disagree. As someone who grew up with hearing aids, using my voice and hearing people talk to me, I threw out my voice and hearing for a world of silence. You can’t assume that hearing would be a useful tool for everyone.

And total communication was meant to be a great tool, but many people changed it into SimCom and it became a great failure.


May 12, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Watching this film certainly brought up some issues – but one quote jumped out at me. When Marlee’s character says (to the best of my ability to remember) “What does that make him, a hearing child who can’t hear, or a deaf child who can hear?” (as regarding getting a CI for Adam). For those with CIs, which side do you stand on? Are you “hearing” but can’t hear, or “Deaf” but can hear? The way I see it, I can see the Deaf community arguing that an AVT deaf child is a example of the former, while an ASL deaf child is among the latter, but this is just speculation. (My mother sees me as the latter as she never expected the CI to do anything more than provide environmental noises, but on the other hand, my grandmother (hearing) sees me as the former, oftentimes labeling me as “hearing-impaired” while I’ve told her many times that I’m Deaf. Period. I don’t have any usuable hearing (my audiogram shows zero hearing). So I’m a “Deaf who can hear”? Or (to put the term lightly) a ‘broken’ hearing person who can hear again? (as par to “fixing” the Deaf, something the Deaf community is against). What do you think about that line?

May 13, 2008 at 10:49 am

[...] saw this comment last night under “Sweet Nothing in My Ear: Elizabeth’s Opinion, and it sure did strike [...]


June 30, 2008 at 7:49 pm

your movie is great but i am deaf too i’m 10 years old

April 27, 2009 at 8:34 pm

[...] was featured (though never named) in this episode was the same one used in the made-for-TV movie “Sweet Nothing in My Ear”.  That means nothing to me either way — good or bad — but I just think it’s [...]