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An Argument as to Why we Need Subtitles

By Faiq Farooq

I saw a meme the other day which was a screenshot of someone on Twitter saying, “Imagine falling in love with someone just to find out they watch TV with subtitles.” I thought to myself, people who don’t like subtitles just can’t read fast. Obviously, this was a satirical account of the deep divide in our society regarding closed captioning in our media. As far as I can tell, there’s three main factions: the people who think that subtitles are the basis for all sin, the radical defenders of closed captioning, and the apathetic group. As someone who’s a part of the Hard of Hearing community, I vehemently defend it, often at great personal cost.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 5% of the world's population suffers from disabling hearing loss. Five percent may seem like a small number, but that totals to over 360 million people across the globe. Captions for TV shows or movies are a necessity we need to understand media on a screen. Of course, we also have to account for the other 95% of the global population. The most obvious argument anyone could make in favour of subtitles is to use them when one is eating chips (or any crunchy food), as chewing them drowns out the audio from speakers. But there are tons of other perfectly valid reasons to be using captions.

Compared to classic movies from years ago, it just seems like movies are harder to hear these days (and I’m not just saying this as a deaf guy). Despite the advancements in film technology, classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Gone with the Wind have much more clarity and are much easier to understand than today’s films. No one can hear anything anyone’s saying with the music tracks and explosions and general tomfoolery in the background of modern TV shows and movies. I find myself constantly rewinding, as I strain to hear when there are no subtitles. What’s so frustrating, is at home, in front of the TV, actors won’t repeat themselves. In my opinion, it is the damnation of any good actor’s career if they mumble. Yet, this is another case as to why we need mandatory subtitle integration. There’s also an issue of comprehension. It’s been proven that people absorb information better when reading something. This, combined with the visual nature of films will make mandatory integration of subtitles a one-size-fits-all gateway for absorbing information.

Have you really been impacted by a movie, to the point where you just can’t stop thinking about it? I feel that if I can really understand a movie, I’ll keep coming back to it. Whatever cost associated with creating and integrating subtitles into a film reel will probably be offset by people constantly rewatching movies. A movie production company will probably acquire increased revenue streams by people buying and viewing different formats for movies. Once we gain the information necessary to legislate the hell out of subtitles, we’ll obviously be able to give exact data to companies to get them on board. Another aspect that may be appealing to corporations is the social side of it. Even if captions aren’t mandatory, increased thought and awareness for the Hard of Hearing community makes a corporation look compassionate, and compels buyers to stick with that particular company. I wholeheartedly believe that mandatory integration of subtitles will not only be good for the consumer, but will help the supply-side of the film industry as well.

Subtitles have been around since the 1970s; they’ve been used by everyone, deaf and hearing. They are essential for deaf people and English language learners, and have been scientifically proven to promote reading comprehension and retention. Unfortunately, subtitles have only recently become essential for many TV and movie watchers. Though there is a group of people who want to watch movies without those pesky words (however wrong they may be), they are ultimately in the minority. There is increasing online praise for subtitles, telling you it’s the only way to watch, that it’s our God-given right and that it’s the natural way. Whether you’re Hard of Hearing, watch things at low volume (for some strange reason), want to eat chips or make general ruckus while watching, subtitles will help everyone understand the strange, beautiful, art form that is film. After all, if there’s something we can know, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to know it; even if it’s just a movie?

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