David Thompson


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May 24, 2011



"the consensus among cinemas is that they will lose money because they think hearing people do not like subtitles"

But what do people who actually run cinemas know? It's not like it's a business or anything...

Tom Foster

Jessica's really pushing this 'we don't know what's good for us' line. From one of her later comments:

"UK/US people would probably benefit from seeing movies which are not UK/US based…"

See, you are unsophisticated. You must broaden your mind. (Jessica's French, you see, so she knows sophistication when she sees it.)


Deaf people have Victimhood. Victimhood allows you to control what other people say and do.


I'm not deaf, but I love subtitles, mainly because the audio track is usually so ear-splitting, it's the only way to figure out what's going on! Also, accents...


Subtitles don't really deliver lines with the exact same timing as the actors, so it's easy for reading them to mess up punchlines or comedic or dramatic timings to deliveries. I would certainly expect having to have them on would end up detracting from my enjoyment of a movie.


"Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to Ms Reed that compulsory, unadvertised subtitles might diminish the experience for those who don’t want onscreen captions."

It probably has occurred to her, but, like most progressives, she believes that to have one's nose rubbed in the travails of a particular identity group - in this case, the deaf - is character building, and will help to foster inclusivity.

If haughtiness and scorn don't get her what she wants, there'll always be legislation.


“Jessica’s really pushing this ‘we don't know what’s good for us’ line.”

That’s because she’s all heart, as demonstrated by her rush to name-calling and condescension.

It’s interesting how inconveniences and blunders due to mismanagement and limited scheduling (caused in part by a limited market) morph into a belief that everyone should be compelled to watch subtitles, or learn to love them, even if they diminish the experience being paid for. Regarding the inconvenience of unwanted subtitles, she says, “You can always get used to it,” which is very big of her. Getting used to it would be a “benefit” to those of us less sophisticated than Ms Jessica Reed.


having to have them on would end up detracting from my enjoyment of a movie.

That's where you're going wrong, merc. You're not supposed to be enjoying films, you're supposed to be 'improved' by them. Now do as Jessica says.


"I am therefore, apparently, unsophisticated."
No, no, no...
You are a royal a$$hole.
Please try to keep up.

Andrea Harris

Subtitles don't bother me, but I've watched a lot of foreign films and become used to them, so I just sort of glance at them and can usually discount them. Then again, I'm odd when it comes to movies -- I don't necessarily *want* to be "immersed"; I always feel like I'm coming up from the bottom of a well when that happens. I rarely go to the theater for that reason (well, also the money is a factor) because I always feel disoriented when I leave and I find that sensation rather unpleasant.

But I'm a weirdo. I don't demand that other people be like me because... well, why would I? On the other hand, it looks like I might be missing out on some sweet, sweet Victimhood™. Hmmm.


The cause of this indignation isn’t obvious to me, unless a dislike of subtitles is now being construed as some terrible prejudice against deaf people.

Why do you hate deaf people, David? ;D


“Why do you hate deaf people, David?”

Heh. But that is pretty much one of the assumptions in play – that if you disagree you’re a bad person. Both Ms Reed and Mr Swinbourne struggle with the idea that some customers would rather not have to “get used” to unwanted subtitles - and that this is a perfectly reasonable view to hold. Other commenters have construed a dislike of subtitles as “ignorant,” “mean” or “prejudiced.”

However, one commenter makes an interesting suggestion: “It is not going to be that difficult to come up with a device that allows those who want subtitles to see them without them being visible to the rest of the audience. Glasses that show you infrared subtitles maybe?” I’ve no idea whether such technology would be difficult to come up with or cost-effective, but it’s an interesting idea. There is, though, the inevitable appeal to compulsion: “It all sounds completely do-able, although legislation may be needed if cinemas drag their feet.”


My wife's hard of hearing (bilateral cochlear implants) so I've got some familiarity with this issue. Back before she had her second implant she used to watch TV with the closed captioning on all the time because it let her follow things better (missed a word, misheard something) and I eventually did get used to it. But there were definitely issues (such as timings being off mentioned above) that were constant annoyances (not to mention you'd be surprised how often they're just wrong, and not even live shows like the news; pre-recoreded shows on larger cable channels would degenerate into line noise or be missing captions for minutes).

As for films, there are a couple of alternatives to "open captioning" (where the subtitles appear on the screen to everyone) such as rear projection captioning (I'm pretty sure that's not the actual name). For this there's an LED matrix board somewhere in the back of the theatre showing the captions (reversed) and patrons who want/need the captions just ask for a little plexiglass window on a stand that behaves like a little teleprompter/mirror and lets just that person see the captions. Granted that requires extra equipment and investment on the venue's part but it's a decent compromise between providing accessibility and unobtrusiveness. But then I'm sure the hoi polloi should just hush up and accept what their subtitlephile betters mandate, compromise be damned . . .

Mark G

If we enable subtitles (on demand)for deaf people, then we could also enable (on demand) subtitles for speakers of Farsi or Mandarin or most likely here in the US - Spanish. That would be awesome. We could go to see a movie and learn a new language.



Rear Window Captioning.



“Rear Window Captioning.”

Based on a cursory read-up that looks like a more promising way to go. It’s fairly unobtrusive and seems reliable and popular. I suppose it’s largely a question of cost.


"Be reasonable - do it MY way."

Mark G

Unless of course a deaf person, a Farsi speaker and a Cantonese speaker all attended the same showing of a movie.

Sgt Pinback

You shouldn't be going to the bloody cinema anyway. It discriminates against the blind. Listening to music is also disgusting as it has no subtitles at all!!!


It would seem that a technical solution might satisfy everybody. The subtitles might be encoded (polarization, etc) so that the wearing of appropriate glasses would make them visible.

Chris S.

Of course, to enjoy all these new subtitling technologies, you'll all be happy to pay $30 for popcorn right?


"Unless of course a deaf person, a Farsi speaker and a Cantonese speaker all attended the same showing of a movie."

Well, I've been to movies where having the picture blotted out by a big wall of moving text might be an improvement, frankly...


“Well, I've been to movies where having the picture blotted out by a big wall of moving text might be an improvement, frankly...”

And speaking of Transformers 2, someone at the local multiplex forgot to turn off the ambient back-screen lighting until ten minutes into the film. Grumblings ensued. It’s surprisingly difficult to suspend disbelief in giant transforming robots when you can barely make out what it is they’re doing, even if they’re doing it very, very loudly.

In other news, I’ve booked tickets for X-Men: First Class.

Ah. Now I’m unsophisticated.

Jonathan Levy

David - it may interest you to consider the experience of an American living outside the US.

Over here (Israel) every film is always subtitled, except for the occasional animated movie for children which is dubbed.

It never bothers me. It never bothers anyone. The eye quickly learns to tune them out. At worst, it's like getting a seat in the second
row of the movie theater - you think 'there's no way I'm going to enjoy this film' but after five minutes you get immersed in the movie and you forget about it completely. When it's over you look around blinking and think 'oh yeah, I was sitting there!'.

So from my perspective, it looks like you're being asked to put up with a minor inconvenience which you'll very quickly not notice any more. It's the sort of favor which, if a stranger politely asked you for it, you would be hard-pressed to deny without feeling churlish. Say you had a few friends at your home to watch a movie and one of them brought a deaf friend who politely asked for subtitles so he could watch with you - would you say no? I know a public movie theater is not the same as your living room, but there are analogous concessions which nobody begrudges the handicapped - for example, their conveniently-located and specially-reserved parking spaces, even though they inconvenience the rest of us by forcing us to park slightly futher away.

Perhaps it's the querulous assertion of a right which is provoking a negative response, where a more humble appeal might have raised no objections?



“It never bothers me.”

Good for you. Others are less fortunate. It remains the case that, for some, subtitles do diminish the experience – an experience for which they’re paying good money. (The degree to which I find subtitles distracting varies from quite a lot to not much at all, and depends in part on mood, tiredness and of course the film itself. I find English subtitles on an English language film much more distracting than on a foreign language film.) Whether it’s a “minor inconvenience” would depend on who you ask and possibly when you ask them. I wouldn’t presume they should, as Ms Reed suggests, just “get used to it.”

“I know a public movie theatre is not the same as your living room…”

An important distinction, I think. Being gracious as a host is one thing; being equally gracious as a paying customer is, I’d say, a bigger ask.

“Perhaps it’s the querulous assertion of a right which is provoking a negative response, where a more humble appeal might have raised no objections?”

To be clear, I’m all in favour of cinemas delivering on their promises and being accessible. No-one wants their night out buggered because someone forgot to switch on the subtitles as advertised or because the induction loop doesn’t work or hasn’t even been installed. And it seems to me that large multiplexes with multiple screenings might do more in terms of technological aids and peak time provision (though I’m not the one who has to balance the cinema’s books). What struck me was the assumed unilateral “right” to diminish the experience of other customers, and the assumption – aired repeatedly in the Guardian comments – that a dislike of unwanted subtitles makes a person mean, petty, ignorant, prejudiced or – to paraphrase - terribly proletarian.

Paul Power

In one episode of Frazier, he was trying to hook up with a "sophisticated" woman. She asked "Do you like subtitled movies?" He replied: "I prefer them!"


though I’m not the one who has to balance the cinema’s books

Most of the Graun commenters are saying cinemas should have a lot more subtitled screenings and closed captions (as standard) and a lot more subsidy. But so far not one of them has volunteered to pay higher ticket prices to cover the cost of it all. It's always someone else's money.


How long does everyone or anyone think theatre chains (that, despite their titles, show movies) will last? In a years this won't matter.

David Gillies

I'd much rather watch a subtitled film than a dubbed one. Living where I do, most movies are subtitled. One thing that is amusing is that especially when it comes to TV shows, the subtitlers' poor grasp of English means some lines are horribly mistranslated.

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