The written word - Shawn Loughlin editorial
As someone who communicates through the written word for a living, being clear and getting your point across is crucial to my day-to-day life. That’s why I have always gotten a kick out of the use of subtitles in an English-speaking program while an English-speaking person speaks English. Usually it’s someone with a bit of an accent (deep southern U.S. is a popular one to receive this treatment), but not always.
A few days ago, The Guardian published a piece entitled, “Mumbling actors, bad speakers or lazy listeners? Why everyone is watching TV with subtitles on” in which Katie Cunningham reports that 40 per cent of Netflix viewers are regularly using subtitles, showing that they’re not just for the hard of hearing.
As a person who spent his teens and much of his 20s attending concerts in Toronto (some ear-splittingly loud, others not so much), I can safely say that I don’t hear everything. That’s why, as the proud owner of a pair of top-of-the-line Bose noise-cancelling headphones, I can honestly say I’ve caught more audio on songs, movies and TV shows wearing those than I would in a traditional viewing situation.
Jess bought them for me shortly after Tallulah was born. Initially, they were for me to watch TV, movies, etc., downstairs while Jess rocked Tallulah to bed, which could take hours some nights. It kept me busy and the house quiet. Then, as I got more into cooking while our little girl was sleeping, I’d be wearing them in the kitchen and listening to music or podcasts and not disturbing anyone.
The Guardian article got me thinking about subtitles. It also features a screenshot from the show Orange is the New Black, in which a female prisoner is sitting on the toilet and the subtitle reads, “[urinating forcefully].” (I’ll come back to that... in a roundabout way.) The Guardian, somewhat cheekily, captions it as “a beautiful example of the art of television subtitling” from the show.
To reference the movie Sideways again - I must have set some sort of editorial record as the person who has most referenced Sideways in the history of the world - loyal column readers and those who love the movie (there are dozens of us, damn it!) will remember that main character Miles is crazy about what was then an obscure wine grape: pinot noir.
As someone who has called up his speech on the beauty of pinot noir’s flavours (“The most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet”) on YouTube on more than one occasion, I took a bit of a double take the other day when I hovered my cursor over the video for a second, but had not yet committed to clicking on it.
When you do that, the video starts in a small box, without sound, but with subtitles. Miles sits on the porch with Maya, his love interest, and she asks him the question on all our minds, “Why are you so into pee now, huh? I mean, it’s like a thing with you.” The text, of course, is pinot, but I can understand the mix-up.
Oh, come on faithful Sideways viewers. You can’t tell me you’ve forgotten the romantic scene between Miles and Maya in which she asks him about his love of pee (now, indicating that, perhaps, he wasn’t always into it?).
Sure, they’re just the auto-generated YouTube subtitles, not proper ones, but as someone who has seen the movie many, many times, it was pretty jarring to read. And, if a person is watching that for the first time, boy can it change the context of the scene.
So, while you can’t necessarily believe everything you hear (or don’t), I guess the same can be said for what you read.