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Now Hear This

More and more individuals—not with hearing problems, nor watching foreign films—are choosing “subtitles on” for video. Carrie and I started noticing this and didn’t know whether it was “a thing” until she sent me an article by Devon Gordon that explained in detail why it is indeed so. (I remember when everything was a thing and some things were trends, but anyway….)

The lengthy article explained the trend quite well, so I’m not going to recap, agree, or disagree. I just wanted to validate before rambling about it. It is what the people want, for whatever reasons.

Somewhere around twenty years ago, we started seeing those rom-com love monologues given in throwaway-cue-card style. This has made its way into recent TV commercials, perhaps ironically (as in the sense of doing something outdated, yet it’s cool because you’re doing it fully aware that it’s not cool—which I’m not positive is strictly “ironic,” but regardless, I’m describing it knowingly with the word “cool” in 2023, so that’s sick).

Sorry, back to the cue-card/posterboard thing. If people aren’t listening, use these! You probably have a few go-to axioms that are important to you: insights you want people to know. Get that fat marker out, write those platitudes up, all-caps, on some sturdy posterboard, and prepare to be “heard.” Nobody can take their eyes off those things, especially when you throw them down rapid-fire. (If you plan to re-use, of course, make sure you pick them up and sort them for next time). If yours is a romance-related message, you might consider flipping through the cards while standing in the rain—fat Sharpie marker technology has come a long way since 2000, and these two rom-com schemes may be combined.

So basically, everyone is now getting their own posterboard emphasis by making any possible image into a meme, watching some little video clip privately by reading it, or selecting the “Subtitles – English[CC]” on their streaming services. By the way, “Closed” captioning means that the subtitles aren’t embedded or burned-into the video (which would be “Open” captioning)—rather, they must be activated by the viewer. If the current trend continues, subtitles become the default setting, and we have to actively remove them, then they’ll need to be called Opened-But-Closeable captions (“Subtitles – English[OBC]”).

Perhaps my number one recurring nightmare is me struggling to teach a roomful of students something that I’m passionate about: hardly anyone is listening, and those who are trying are unable on account of the general din punctuated by specific rudeness. An acute dream? Or simply a vivid, previously repressed memory? (I was a schoolteacher in the aughts and 2010s, so you decide.) Regardless, I now realize that instead of retorting loudly with the spoken word (in which they would inevitably hear frustration or sarcasm, neither helpful), I just needed to quietly start writing stuff on the board. Not outlines or diagrams, just phrases. In all caps. In “Impact” font if I could pull that off. The room might not have quieted completely, but students would have begun looking up in succession to read my content. Even if it was unrelated advice couched in a meme, “THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZE YOU OVERCOOKED THE PASTA…”, I would have had the satisfaction of knowing that something was communicated.

Who of us really cares that “The following contains sequences of flashing lights or patterns”? But now we know they are coming—we might even be looking for those sneaky sequences now. If that warning was just spoken, I’d likely ignore it as a strange disclaimer, but since I had to read it during an anticipatory pre-episode pause, I feel like I signed up for something. Or was reminded that I’m only a sliver away from having a seizure or stroke. And by the way, I almost had a seizure recently on account of a meme that combined an ugly cat, Keanu Reeves, and Comic Sans. How about some warnings for that?

Although there are industry-related nuances explained in Gordon’s article, my basic takeaway was that people are putting much less effort into listening. So, I’m glad I’ve been humor writing. If I ever try stand-up or do the singer-songwriter thing, I won’t even bother with an audience, but just post video clips with strongly captioned content, and regularly include “[Crowd Bursts into Laughter]” to create the illusion of the room’s great energy (not for the songs). Now that I think of it, my comedic delivery isn’t so great, and neither is my singing voice, so I’ll just make all posts free of audio altogether. (“Man, something wasn’t streaming right so I couldn’t hear it, but the dude’s hilarious!”)

Copyright © 2023 Richard Berndt – All Rights Reserved.

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