Friday, August 10, 2007

Closed Captured

That's what I say when I need to grab my wife's attention while she's watching television. She has a specific frequency hearing impairment, and so she's quite attentive when viewing one of her favorites -- CSI, in one of its various forms or perhaps TNT's The Closer.

Closed captioning was new to her when we met. She was beginning Master's degree studies, and I offered to buy a television equipped with the feature.

"No," she replied. "I see it in stores, and I can't pull myself away. Closed captioning really pulls me into the story, and, well ... it's like seeing television for the first time."

I knew what she meant. I returned from overseas in the 1950s as a child, and my grandparents had a little black-and-white television that received about five or six channels broadcasting in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. I stuck to that RCA Victor like the little dog in the logo.

But, about 15 or 18 years ago after she completed her studies, we bought our first television with closed captioning. We've had several televisions since, and we leave the captioning on continuously.

In fact, I am often closed captured myself, sometimes to the point of feeling as if I'm missing an essential part of the performance because I'm not reading along with what I hear. After nearly two decades, I find myself reading the script as it pops up in its little white-on-black box. I'm intrigued when it strays from what's being said. I'm intrigued when nasty language marches across the black square so that I hear Shoot! but read the scatological term for excrement.

Despite my whimsical interest in the closed captioning of what television I watch, it was only last week that I noticed a peculiarity that sometimes brings a smile. That I noticed it so late doesn't bode well for makers of commercials and the advertisers who purchase them.

A good number of commercials aren't closed captioned, but the digital stream that carries the captions remains embedded in the display. Or, to offer an example, a commercial for a detergent or toothpaste may incorporate smiling actors cheerily miming their way through a script where every word has been parsed for maximum influence, and the screen displays ...

"Another one of those kids dies, you'll wish you were ... "

or

"The victim at the pier is Karla Garber ex-husband ... "

References to murders and corpses do not encourage me to seek a double cheeseburger, but I've recently become so ... well, intrigued is the right word, that I am paying more attention to commercials in order to discover to most incongruous label inadvertently appearing in an advertisement.

Stay tuned.
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