The Subtitle Rebellion

So I’ve mentioned a few times that during the last year or two of Dennis’s life, when he got in the habit of complaining loudly in the evenings that he thought it was time for everyone to go to bed*, we humans got in the habit of watching television with the subtitles on, so as not to have to keep pausing and going back to catch missed dialog. Running with the subtitles on also has the occasional side effect of injecting a little bit of extra amusement value, such as describing characters’ speech as “French-like gibberish” or saying things that seem prima facie ridiculous such as “goo snarling“. But then, sometimes, you get cases where the characters say one thing but the subtitles say something completely different and you say to yourself, that can’t possibly be a mistake. To wit:

Now, for a little background or for those who can’t watch it, that is a brief clip** from the very popular*** television series The Big Bang Theory**** in which the character Sheldon, concerned about his health for some reason that I can’t remember and hoping to score some CAT scans and such*****, has sneaked into the hospital where his roommate Leonard’s then-girlfriend Stephanie works as a doctor. Sheldon being Sheldon, he proceeds to … uh … Sheldonsplain things to Stephanie that Stephanie, of course, already knows.****** Stephanie’s spoken response to this?

Stephanie: “Where did you get the blood pressure cuff and the stethoscope?”
Sheldon: “My aunt Marion gave them to me for my twelfth birthday. She thought if I failed at theoretical physics that I should have a trade to fall back on. And by the way, the blood pressure cuff is called a sphygmomanometer.”
Stephanie: “Thank you.”

The Big Bang Theory, “The Vartabedian Conundrum”

Ahhh, but the subtitles tell a different story.

Stephanie: “I know.”

Now of course one of the functions of subtitles is to translate spoken dialog into another language, so one could argue, plausibly, that this subtitle is simply translating Stephanie’s “trying-to-be-nice-speak” into what she actually means. And in fact you don’t really even need the subtitles for that. All you need to do is look at her expression.

Speaking of subtitles, flipping through other offerings on HBO the other day, I stumbled across the fact that they have an entire section devoted to movies by Studio Ghibli, purveyors of anime films that my wife will actually watch (e.g., Spirited Away, When Marnie Was There, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle). One of the movies on offer was one I haven’t gotten around to watching yet: Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind, a post-apocalyptic story involving a “toxic forest” and monstrous insects and steampunk aircraft and—oh crap, what’s this?

Me: “They only have it in English? What the hell?!”
Wife: “Does that mean we can’t watch it?”
Me: “Ugh. I guess we can try.”

Yes, on the infamous Geek Hierarchy, I fall into the “Anime Fans Who Insist On Subtitles” category, as well as a few others, going by, in some cases, past rather than current hobbies and activities, as shown by this helpfully annotated chart:

You may be wondering what “furries” and/or “erotic furries” are. Don’t.

Well anyway, we did watch some of Nausicaa despite its being in English (it helps that Patrick Stewart supplies one of the voices), but it put my wife to sleep in about half an hour. So it’ll probably be a while before we finish that.

But not nearly as long as it’ll take to finish all twelve seasons of The Big Bang Theory.

* Dennis’s brother Tucker also got in the habit of doing this in his senior years but, Tucker having a condition that gradually reduced his once seal-like barks to whispers, he was unable to drown out the television as effectively as Dennis could.
** Fair use, I swear.
*** I remain convinced at least 50% of its popularity was due to the catchy theme song by The Barenaked Ladies.
**** We are currently doing our evening television session as the not-at-all-anodyne I May Destroy You followed by the almost-completely-anodyne Big Bang Theory; my wife refers to I May Destroy You as “dinner” and BBT as “dessert” or “a cookie”, which sounds about right.
***** Because who doesn’t love to get CAT scans?
****** This is not technically mansplaining, I think, because Sheldon does it to everyone.

3 thoughts on “The Subtitle Rebellion

  1. We’ve been leaving the captioning on because the “background” music often drowns out the dialog. Is that the reason why you need subtitles when the movie is in English, is it just because?

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    1. That happens sometimes, sure, a notable example being the 1990s version of “Last of the Mohicans”. Of course, some of the stuff I watch, it’s explosions and whatnot drowning out the dialog. But, you know, same concept … 😉

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  2. I’ve inadvertently learned something new here with sphygmomanometer, so thanks for that. Sheldon does have a tendency to explain to everyone so we can let him off the hook for mansplaining. Think I’ll give Nausicaa a miss though. Was it the film itself or the lulling of Stewart’s voice that sent your wife to sleep?xx

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