On the Subject of Subtitles

By Nicole O’Connell Contributing Writer 

You are reading these wonderful words of mine on the page of a newspaper (or, perhaps on The Torch’s website!), but would you still read them if they were at the bottom of a video screen? Well, you probably would not see my words specifically, but what about any words? I’m talking about subtitles. 

By now, you’ve probably heard of Bong Joon-ho or at least his many-award-winning 2019 film, “Parasite.” Joon-ho sparked a bit of a conversation about subtitles during this year’s Golden Globe Awards where “Parasite” won Best Foreign Language Film. 

“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said in his award acceptance speech on January 5th. 

Though award shows get a good deal of flak, “Parasite” has done well, earning over $163,000,000 worldwide according to Box Office Mojo. People are flocking to see “Parasite,” and many of them don’t speak or understand Korean, meaning, subtitles get their time to shine. 

I’m sure we all have some sort of opinion on subtitles. Maybe you’re watching something with a subtitle friend, and you, who has never ever turned on closed captioning in your life, are shocked, appalled even, at how your dear friend can live like this, can watch like this. 

Or, maybe you’re the subtitle user. And you go to a friend’s house to watch something. And you really are having trouble comprehending everything that’s going on in the video, but you’re the guest and you don’t want to impose by demanding that your friend pause the video right this instant and turn on the subtitles so you can finally watch and understand in peace. 

Or, maybe you don’t have a strong opinion either way. 

Hear me out and see my words, subtitles are a true gift.  

Video watchers use subtitles for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s difficult for you to hear the dialogue. Maybe you want to read to reinforce what you’re hearing. Maybe you want to see how the characters’ names are spelled. Maybe you don’t know how to turn them off. 

For those of us who watch everything with subtitles and are disappointed when they are not an option, there can be some scoffing at those who detest the little words at the bottom of the screen.  

They usually are not a distraction! They usually don’t get in the way of anything! They usually are timed well to match up with the dialogue being spoken! 

Key word: usually. 

Still, subtitles are not for everyone. Sometimes they can be hard to see and hard to read. Sometimes they might block something happening on the screen. Sometimes they are not perfectly aligned with the words being spoken. Sometimes a subtitle might block another subtitle that is automatically included in the video 

And then there’s the tragedy when a scene involves a piece of text but the translation is not presented in a subtitle! 

Sometimes there’s some guesswork involved. 

But back to foreign films and foreign television. As Joon-ho said, there is a whole world of videos not in the English language that are waiting to be watched. Streaming sites, dropping more and more media every single week, offer a variety of foreign-language options for viewing. 

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth even offers an Italian film series with English subtitles. So, if you want to give a foreign film and subtitles a shot, and, please do, you can try it right here on campus. 

Don’t let subtitles scare you away. 



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