Hearing health gets a star turn in the media: So what if it’s in a farce?

By David H. Kirkwood

There are an awful lot of health-related subjects that capture the attention of the news media. Whenever there’s a hint of progress toward curing cancer, losing weight, warding off old age, improving one’s face or figure, or treating anxiety, depression, or pain, you can count on every communications medium out there to pick up on it.

But what about hearing health? Not so much.

That’s why it’s such a shock that for the past week a story about hearing loss is being spread worldwide by seemingly every print, broadcast, and online outlet in existence.

What is it that has captured the attention of USA Today, The Toronto Star, The New Zealand Herald, ABC News, The Hindustan Times, China Daily, Philippine Star, Billboard, Rolling Stone.com, and a host of obscure (to me) blogs such as Nouse, SodaHead News, Celebuzz, Enstarz, the Daily Blabber, and Vulture?

No, it’s not the first successful regeneration of hair cells in a human cochlea. Nor is it a hearing aid that truly lets you hear only what you want to hear and spares you all the background noise. It’s about something much, much bigger. It’s about Bieber Fever and its alleged side-effects.

 

A $9.23 MILLION HEARING LOSS

Just in case the celebrity story of the week hasn’t come to your attention, here’s the Cliff Notes version.

On July 10, Stacey Wilson Betts, a mother of five from Wilsonville, OR, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Oregon against the teenage pop singer Justin Bieber. She claims that she sustained a permanent hearing loss two years earlier while attending a Bieber concert in Portland with one of her daughters. According to the complaint, which also names as defendants Island Def Jam Records and the owner of the venue where the concert took place, Betts also suffers from tinnitus and hyperacusis.

It was not Bieber’s music that the plaintiff blames for her injuries. Rather it was the shrill screaming by his young fans that the singer provoked as he soared over the audience in a heart-shaped metal gondola while raising his arms.

Now, this is not exactly the type of publicity that those of us who believe that “Hearing Health Matters” would ask for if the choice were up to us. A story that inspires headlines like “Mom at Justin Bieber Concert: Heart-Shaped Gondola Destroyed My Hearing” may not lead to the kind of serious discussion that noise-induced hearing loss deserves. And the litigant’s demand for $9 million in damages may make her sound more like a predator than a genuine victim.

However, on the theory that any publicity is better than none—a theory that seems to be well accepted in this era when fame and notoriety are treated as synonyms—I think anyone who cares about hearing health should feel free to make the most of this story.

 

FIVE TOP REASONS

Inspired by another David and his nightly Top Ten list, I give you the top five reasons (I get paid only half as much as Mr. Letterman) to be grateful for the exposure that Betts, Bieber, and the fourth estate have given to this hearing-related episode.

Reason #5: Americans, who are constantly being made fun of for producing celebrities such as the Jersey Shore gang, the Kardashians, and Donald Trump can take comfort in pointing out that Justin Bieber is a Canadian.

Reason #4: During this long, hot summer, thousands of us bloggers have been given something fun and easy to write about.

Reason #3: In a world filled with strife between and within nations, it’s heartening to see that one story—albeit an especially foolish one—can bring us all together.

Reason #2: Mothers and fathers have been offered a valuable object lesson: Attending any concert that their teen-age or tween-age daughter will die if they miss may be hazardous to an adult’s physical or mental health.

Reason #1: Hundreds of millions of people have heard about the hearing loss allegedly caused by Bieber and his screaming fans. If only 10% of them absorb the message that going to a rock concert without ear protection is a bad idea, a lot of perfectly good hair cells will survive to serve another day.