FINALLY, a new Blue Bloods is on tonight! Silly March Madness kept pre-empting it and I’m looking forward to catching up with my good friends, the Reagans. Now, we need to talk about the last new episode (No Regrets), which aired three weeks ago! Not that I’ve been counting or anything. I know it seems a bit of a moot point to discuss an episode that aired almost a month ago, but I’ve been meaning to chat with you guys about it since it featured an actor wearing hearing aids.
Pete Seabrook (played by Brian Kerwin) was an old buddy of Frank’s, back in town looking for a job. He gave Frank this whole song and dance about being retired from the space shuttle program, looking for a new career in New York and his family staying behind in Texas while he gets things sorted out. As it turned out, he had a drinking problem that drove him away from his wife and daughter away years ago and his wife was actually in New York to try to track him down. Frank found Pete’s wife, they reunited and (presumably) lived happily ever after.
What was interesting about Pete is that he clearly had some kind of hearing loss; there were several times his head was turned so that his hearing aids were prominent, or the camera angle came in at the back of his head to show the BTEs. But neither Pete nor Frank ever mentioned the hearing loss. Pete never asked Frank to repeat himself. We never learned how he lost his hearing – was it a result of flying jet planes? Was it part of the reason he’s out of a job? Frank never asked, so we were left to assume that he… didn’t notice? Already knew about it? So many questions, so few answers.
However, sign language and reading lips are just one part of hearing loss. There are millions more who prefer to communicate with their own voices, can understand others without having to read lips, may or may not sign, may or may not use a regular phone, who do not consider themselves deaf or Deaf and may be more comfortable among their hearing or fellow hard of hearing friends and family. I would posit that while deafness and even Deaf Culture is becoming more familiar to the general public, being hard of hearing is not. We tend to be an all-or-nothing society, don’t we? Either you sign or you don’t. You read lips or you don’t. You wear hearing aids/cochlear implants or you don’t. You hear perfectly or not at all. There’s not a lot of understanding (yet) for those of us that fall in the middle of the two extremes.
So for that reason, I wish Blue Bloods had handled Pete’s hearing loss more realistically, but still unobtrusively. Maybe Pete could have asked Frank to repeat or rephrase himself once or twice. Perhaps he could have said, “Man, this bar is too loud, can we go somewhere else? I’m having a hard time filtering out the background noise.” Could he have mentioned in passing how he lost his hearing? “Yeah, I really wish I’d taken better care of my ears and used the earplugs the military provided more often.” And how awesome would it have been to see Pete quickly change a battery in one of his hearing aids? These are gentle, natural ways that hearing loss is part of my life and I wish Blue Bloods had taken the opportunity to educate its audience about what it’s like to be hard of hearing.