I have been a big fan of Apple Fitness+. However, after completing the workouts for a several months now, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Apple’s misuse of Deaf Culture — in particular, ASL — in their workouts, is a disengaging, and phony, cultural appropriation intended to falsely imply inclusion, when the real aftereffect is a complete failure of meaning. At the beginning, and at the end of almost every workout, but never during a workout, the non-Deaf, and non-ASL fluent, trainers toss in a little ASL sign — a gesture, really — like “ready” or “welcome” or “thank you” and it just comes across as clunky; a falsely sprinkled twinkle on a star. Those throwaway “ASL” signs do not fit the spoken words of the trainer, or even really the intent of the class — they’re just movements intended to appease, and impress, and to not really communicate any emotion or context. Apple uses “ASL signs” as a winking trinket without the inherent value of a cultural totem or the magic of a talisman.
Cultural Appropriation isn’t part of Cancel Culture. Culture Appropriation is when one culture, in this case — Apple, representing the Hearing Culture — steals, or borrows memes, intentions, vocabulary, or meaning, from another culture, in this case the Deaf ASL Community, to make bits of the borrowed culture appear as an appealing part of the thieving culture, when it really is not.
For a previous example of another failed attempt at Cultural Appropriation, I point you to December 2015 and Hillary Clinton’s failed run for the presidency against Donald Trump when she proclaimed, and then over-pronounced, she was everyone’s “Abuela” — abuela is Spanish for “Grandmother” — and Hillary’s cultural appropriation, and use of, “Abuela” for her political gain, and not for any real value to Spanish speaking voters, received quick and brutal online retribution, and sent #NotMyAbuela trending on social media:
I am also reminded of a major private East Coast university that recently wanted to use student ASL signers to record “signs” — to be used online as video web links — for publication on the university’s “diversity” webpage when the students had no real experience, understanding, or fluency, or continued cultural immersion, with that sort of advanced signing.
All the ASL students were Hearing, and not Deaf.
The university appeared surprised when the Deaf ASL faculty were not interested in trying to teach — to “paint on” — those ASL phrases for non-fluent students to “sign” for their website.
The only reason the university wanted those “ASL Video Links” on their website was to appear to promote inclusion, and diversity — via virtue signalling — when the hard, historical, record of the university with the Deaf had never really been inclusory, or diverse.
Now, for Apple, there is hope for Fitness+. The idea to have ASL included in the workouts is a right instinct, but the next step has to be taken to advance the idea beyond speculation, and into a practiced expertise.
The Apple fitness trainers are excellent, and if they were formally taught some actual ASL phrases they could actually sign during the workouts, without voicing, well, that would be a right good step in a positive direction because the effort would be authentic, and not patronizing.
Right now, the Apple Fitness+ ASL “words” are just peppered in, like forgotten salt tossed over the left shoulder to poke the Devil’s eye for spite; and while the initial moment of recognizing an awkwardly signed ASL vocabulary word might be surprising to the amateur eye, the experience wears thin in the heart of the professional as each subsequent workout is viewed with similar, haphazard, attempts at signed inclusion.