Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Subtitles and Censorship

The first time I visited India, I was surprised to see English television shows and movies with English subtitles. It seemed to me that if you were going to benefit from subtitles, then they should be in your native language. It would have made more sense to see them in Hindi or Telugu. When I asked why this was, it was simply explained that in some scenes, the actors speak very fast, or use words Indian's aren't familiar with, so have the option to read the script helped them understand the dialogue.
I also realized that having the subtitles displayed allows for a certain degree of censorship. Of course the normal cuss words are changed in the subtitles. Some apparently don't have an alternative, so they are just ***** in the subtitle. Even if in the dialogue the actor says the swear word, and you hear the swear word, it will still be replaced in the subtitle.
Some of what's chosen to be censored (and for that matter, not censored) surprises me though. For example. The other day I was watching "Two Broke Girls" and Max and Caroline kept saying "Crap" and it was censored in the subtitles. However, the next day I was watching the episode of "Sex and The City" in which Charlotte's love for art leads her to have a painting of her lady bits hung in a gallery, and the word "Cunt" was used repeatedly and appeared without shame in the subtitle. Two four letter C words, one significantly more profane and offensive then the other, yet the milder of the two, in my opinion, was the one censored. I'm not sure who's actually responsible for determining what appears in the subtitles or what is **** out but perhaps they don't know the meaning or connotation with the second C word.
I'll tell you, having the English subtitles displayed really takes away the anticipation of what a character is going to say. I haven't gasped at the television in a long time. It also makes watching stand up comedy a waste of time because the punchlines are displayed on the screen before the joke's been delivered. Even the background music lyrics are subtitled.

When subtitles are present, I can't ignore them. It's as if they are little eye magnets so "watching" television might be better considered "reading" television. I guess I should be wearing my glasses.


  1. Hello Ameena,

    my native language is not English. But when watching movies in English I also prefer to watch them with the English, not the German, subtitles.

    So does my Indian fiancée.

    The English subtitles not only help to understand the spoken word better but also ameliorate the overall language competency: one is forced to understand unknown words soley with context help and new words will be remembered easier since two learning channels (auditive and visual) are being used.

    As for the censorship: I personally find it especially annoying that movies are being cut and scenes with (usually) sexual content are being deleted.

    In your example I´d assume that the people in charge simply didn´t know the meaning of "cunt"...Otherwise I couldn´t explain the fact that they used it in the subtitles...not in somewhat-but-not-as-much-as-before prudish India.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Lyn. You mentioned cutting out scenes, which is common, especially in movies (certainly network TV wouldn't have anything so racy that it needed to be deleted). Recently the remake of Starsky and Hutch was on. The entire ending scene where they discover the drugs in the trucks of the cars that were up for auction was deleted. The entire plot of the movie leads up to that final scene but before the scene was aired, the credits started rolling. It's not even so racy and I have to say, it suprised me especially considering the themes and scenes you see in something like Crime Patrol.