Last week, the Mail Online ran a story called SPEAK UP! Or why mumbling actors are ruining TV drama, in which Leo McKinstry described sitting down to watch the BBC’s expensive production of Birdsong, only to find he couldn’t understand a word.
“At first, I thought something had gone wrong with my hearing,” he wrote, before complaining that the lead actor’s performance “was about as intelligible as a post-match interview with a monosyllabic Premier League footballer.” Well, I think most of us deafies can relate to that experience – poor enunciation and sound quality on television is the bane of many a deaf life.
What jarred for me a tad, then, was McKinstry’s comment that “what really let the show down was the lack of subtitles.” That’s because, like the rest of the BBC’s output (the corporation has a 100% subtitling rate, no less) the drama was subtitled – it was just a matter of turning them on.
(Top tip: pressing ‘menu’ on your remote control, followed by ‘settings’ seems to get you to the right place, or if you’re really lucky, your remote may allow you to turn subtitles on with the push of just one button.)
Before Christmas I met one deafie who told me that she’d struggled to hear the television for years before discovering subtitles when an enlightened friend came over.
I couldn’t believe that this could happen in the 21st century, but what the Mail’s article tells me is there’s still a remarkable number of people who don’t know subtitles are out there, alive and kicking, ready to lend a helping hand.
All of which made me extra pleased to read this blog post from a hearing film fan this morning – called Experiencing Open Captioning. The blogger describes going to see a film, only to find that subtitles were appearing on screen.
Her initial reaction was that someone had made a mistake, but then she realised the subtitles weren’t being added accidently, and decided that “the idea of leaving or seeing a different film simply because the film had open captions felt ridiculous.” She stayed and gave them a chance.
Better still, she loved the experience.
She found the subtitles gave clarity to dialogue in the film, made her more aware of sound effects (and their possible significance), helped her remember character names, and weren’t so hard to adjust to because she’s used to watching subtitles on foreign films.
I’m still getting over the shock of finding a non-deaf film fan who likes subtitles (when I wrote this article for the Guardian about cinema subtitles, I found many examples of the opposite).
Let’s hope a few more people not only give them a chance but also become aware that they’re actually available, if you only turn them on.