Charlie Swinbourne, a hard of hearing Guardian contributor, is concerned by the failure of some cinemas to deliver subtitled screenings as advertised:
Right now, deaf film fans have very little trust left in cinema chains, and many people I know have stopped bothering; they prefer to watch DVDs (or, ahem, downloads) at home.
Businesses should indeed strive to provide their services as promised. If they don’t, customers will likely go elsewhere. So far, so unremarkable. What catches the eye is this:
The name of a new Facebook group with over 700 members – Deaf People Are Alive 7 Days A Week, Not Just Sunday/Monday/Tuesday – hints at another issue deaf people feel angry about, the times and dates when subtitled screenings are scheduled. They are usually on off-peak days at off-peak times – hardly ever on Friday or Saturday nights… Tyron Woolfe, who started the Facebook group, told me the reason screenings aren’t arranged at peak times is because “the consensus among cinemas is that they will lose money because they think hearing people do not like subtitles… Digital technology should mean that any deaf person can go to any cinema screening and ask them to switch the subtitles on.”
Jessica Reed, CiF’s assistant editor and comment moderator, seems to share this view:
Is it really a pain for people without hearing problems or disability to watch a movie with subtitles? Is it that annoying to them, when they know it allows deaf people to watch movies? It sounds so ... petty, if it’s indeed the case.
Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to Ms Reed that compulsory, unadvertised subtitles might diminish the experience for those who don’t want onscreen captions. That subtitles are not a default feature of the cinema experience suggests filmmakers and cinema managers understand that their effect is often distracting and unwelcome. Cinema is about being immersed in an illusion, after all. Nor does it seem to have occurred to Ms Reed that efforts to impose subtitles on other patrons after they’ve bought their tickets might be… well, a tad arrogant. This being the Guardian, there are of course implicit double standards to be followed and issues of group status to be juggled. One group of customers complaining about an unsatisfactory service is deserving of both support and the intervention of moderators. Another, less favoured group complaining about the same thing is disdained – by the moderator - as merely petty.
Ms Reed’s bewilderment spills over to her Twitter feed:
Does it really bother you ppl to watch a subtitled movie? Because people here say it really costs them.
At the Marina in Brighton I saw a sign apologising for ‘any inconvenience’ caused by subtitles in The Kite Runner. Absurd!
One Guardian commenter dares to ask an obvious question:
If they do not want subtitles cluttering up the bottom of the film then why on earth should they be expected to pay to see them?
And is promptly corrected by an indignant (and utterly impartial) Ms Reed:
Because the other solutions makes them sound - nay, be - like royal a$$holes?
The cause of this indignation isn’t obvious to me, unless a dislike of subtitles is now being construed as some terrible prejudice against deaf people. So, to be clear: it’s okay to complain about advertised subtitles being missing, but complaining about unadvertised subtitles being distracting is not okay at all – it’s to be petty, absurd and a “royal a$$hole.” Evidently cinema patrons are not in fact equally deserving of receiving services as advertised. And it wouldn’t be a Guardian debate without a note of presumptuous snobbery, again courtesy of Ms Reed:
Do people here never go to see non-English movies? How on earth do they cope?
People in the UK/US are so not used to watching foreign movies that if they are subtitled it’s like someone stole their popcorn.
I prefer to watch English-language films without subtitles, so as to immerse myself in the experience as fully as possible. I am therefore, apparently, unsophisticated.