Tuesday, November 1, 2011

That Vulgar Close Captioning, or Maybe Not

image linked from msnbc.com
We have two televisions in our house, and we set both to close caption. My wife has a hearing impairment, one which makes it difficult for her to hear some voices, and so the FCC mandate about captioning is a boon for her. It doesn't bother me to have the captions scrolling. In fact, when I see a television without captioned dialog, I feel as if something is missing.

Live close captioning isn't perfect. Sometimes there are significant gaps. Captions on films and other recorded programs are generally complete. However, over the years, and especially as television networks have become more liberal in their broadcasting standards, I've noticed there is an oddity in captioning curse words and vulgar words.

For example, on network television programs, I have seen vulgar words bleeped or re-recorded -- Monkey-lover! -- while the caption renders the original uncensored.

But until a few days ago, I have never seen the opposite. On Starz or perhaps Encore, I watched a film with uncensored oral dialog with the captioning either deleting the vulgarity or rewriting it.

I am not conversant enough with technology to know whether "live close captioning" is voice-to-text, something like the computer programs available, and so I do not see any real motive for the deleted elements in live captioning. I do know, however, that the choice to sanitize language in close captioning a film is deliberate human intervention.

Vulgarity, cursing, is beginning to lose its effect in this world, become something close to cliche, something a lazy person (or writer!) relies on, something akin to a verbal/oral parallel to smoking. With that, the oddity of captioned cursing, or captioned cleansing, is of no import. All I know is that there's a comedy routine in this funny little tiptoeing around a hearing impaired person's sense of decorum, but I'd need a roomful of Letterman's writers to get it on paper.
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