Is there a stigma associated with subtitles and captioning?
The above blog post from the CCAC got me thinking of a similar question, is there a stigma for some when it comes to subtitles? Obviously you won’t find any negative comments on this blog about subtitling or captioning, or as the CCAC is advocating for in favour for inclusion for all in all forms of communication. But for some people it can provoke a negative reaction. This seems particularly true for those whom English is their first language and they are viewing or watching subtitled content spoken in another language. Why is that? I don’t have the answer. It is not an attitude I understand since I use them for all languages whenever available. A repeated comment I often read on Twitter about subtitles or captioning is along the lines of “If I wanted to read then I’d read a book” or, “I’m too tired to read the subtitles on this film/show.” I’ll be honest comments like that last one make me a bit angry and to that I say imagine how tired those who are hard of hearing get trying to hear every word without access to subtitles or captioning! That is twice as hard work as reading and we do it all day long, not just when watching the television, we have to do it to communicate with everyone! The more you use subtitles or captions, the easier it gets. Some will argue you might miss something important in the visual if all you do is read the subtitles. There is a element of truth to this but when you cannot understand what is going on without them, what is the better alternative? I don’t think there is one. If there was then maybe I might better understand people’s anger or annoyance towards subtitled and captioned content.
Den of Geek recently published an article asking should film distributors hide that films are subtitled? The implication being that if a film is subtitled it will appeal to a smaller audience and impact box office receipts. There are some interesting answers and conflicting opinions to this article. In countries where subtitles are the norm I suspect that this stigma or negative attitude is far less prevalent. I came across another article with a more positive title called Super power of subtitles advocating why Tamil films should be subtitled to reach a global audience. And some UK broadcasters have bucked the trend of subtitles putting audiences off and have had success in importing foreign language series and broadcasting them with open subtitles for English audiences. Popular shows include The Killing, and Inspector Montalbano. In an article titled The Killing and Wallander crack secret of subtitle success Richard Klein, controller of BBC4 is quoted as saying:
“I’d be lying if I said that when we bought The Killing that I knew it would be such a hit. But I think as soon as I saw Wallander I knew it could be a success. After watching a couple of them, it was clear to me that the subtitles were neither here nor there.”
SOURCE: The Guardian
The article goes on to suggest that subtitles can actually be associated with prestige:
“Audiences currently really seem to be enjoying imported and subtitled TV, and we’re also seeing subtitled films playing in multiplexes,” said Carol O’Sullivan, senior lecturer in Italian language and translation theory at Portsmouth University. “I think that’s probably due to a combination of quality – of product, and of subtitling – and habit. With luck, it’s a habit that will stick, but that will take time to tell.”
SOURCE: The Guardian
I hope so! I would love it if it became a habit that sticks in the UK. Comments are welcome on this opinion piece. Can you convince me, is there ever a good reason to dislike subtitles or captioning?*
*Except when it is poor quality, that is for another blog post. I am also aware that subtitles and captions may not be that useful for some with visual impairments.