Are We Too Lazy For Subtitles?

Subtitles are tricky. Unless you are a seasoned pro, most people just can’t be bothered with them. Besides, if you wanted to read you’d pick up a book!

It’s understandable, after all most people tend to use the medium of film and television in order to relax and unwind. Who can be bothered with all that concentration and focus malarkey? After a hard day’s work you just want to put your feet up and watch TV without feeling like you’re sitting an exam. With the continued popularity of soaps and an increase in reality shows, this ‘zoning out’ phenomenon seems to be on the rise, as well as the standard of what we’re watching on telly appearing to require even less and less brain power. Did you catch Super Tiny Animals last night? Yeah, cute wasn’t it.

I’m not saying everyone who rejects subtitles is happy to veg out to this type of mindless entertainment (and of course everyone loves a bit of it now and again). The concentration required to take in subtitles as well as everything else happening on screen can actually be quite difficult. Sometimes despite my own best intentions, I find if something has subtitles it might put me off watching before I even begin. It’s like a challenge… no speaking, no popping in and out to make a cuppa, concentrate or you might miss something! Oh I just don’t know if I can commit…

But am I missing out due to my own laziness?

It appears so. Take the original version of crime drama The Killing for example. Receiving critical acclaim and gaining incredible popularity with audiences, the first episode of the second series aired with over eight-hundred thousand viewers tuning in. For a crime thriller shown on BBC4, that ain’t half bad. For a Danish drama with subtitles, it’s even better. The Killing is evidently a cracking watch and clearly viewers are so enthralled by the quality of the production they don’t mind the subtitles.

So our reluctance to put up with subtitles is a combination of laziness and previous experience of being bored to death by a foreign language film. Who can blame anyone for turning over to a bit of Eastenders on such an occasion? (No subtitles required there, although I don’t know about you but I reckon ‘Fatboy’ could do with some). However if the standard of the piece is as good as it is with The Killing, maybe we might be more inclined to stick with it.

If a laziness towards subtitled programming does exist, then another cause of it could be the fact that we Brits are a bit spoiled when it comes to TV. No other country (besides America) produces the amount of drama, so we are spoiled for choice and have no need to go further afield. In this case The Killing is probably the exception that proves the rule.

It is not only television programmes that prove subtitles can be enjoyable. Amelie, Spirited Away, City of God… these are just a few foreign films which seem to always come up trumps in the ‘greatest movie’ rankings regardless. So perhaps the next time something comes along which requires you to read along, don’t be so quick to dismiss it. It might just be worth your while.