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In Praise of Captions

Maybe chalk it up to how, when I was a kid, my mom used to walk up to me as I was watching TV and just start asking me things (at which point, I would miss whatever was being said on TV, because I was hearing my mother instead), but I’ve really grown to love captions. Of course, what’s been said on TV is really important. Whatever my mom was saying must not have been. And back then you couldn’t pause live TV.

Well, it’s decades later, and I don’t live with my mom any more, but I do appreciate those captions. A loud banging comes from our neighbor’s yard while I’m watching TV. A plane flies overhead. People upstairs are yelling about God knows what. The character onscreen is mumbling. No sweat. I still know what they’re talking about on my favorite show of the moment, all thanks to captions.

Of course, captions are not without their faults. First of all, some people think my wife and I are freaks for liking captions. Uh, we’re not deaf. And the captions take up a huge amount of screen space on the TV. We’ve also kind of become dependent on them… at least I have. If I’m watching a show that doesn’t have captions I’m like “What? I can’t understand what they’re saying. What’s going on? It sounds as if they’re speaking English, but what are they saying?” Worse yet, sometimes the captions are just wrong. Wrong word. Wrong foreign language.

My favorite caption screw-ups for foreign language are when they guess the wrong foreign language (in Pretty Woman, when the valets are speaking Cantonese and the captions say they’re speaking Japanese, for example) or don’t know a foreign language that should be fairly obvious (in a Dexter episode, when someone is speaking Spanish, and instead of saying Speaking Spanish, the caption says Speaking Foreign Language).

Well, Mom. Thanks for making me appreciate captions.

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