Saturday, August 21, 2010

Between the Lines

A number of the English language channels I subscribe to have recently begun subtitling most of their content. This is probably helpful for people who can't successfully decipher American and European accents, or for those who like to get their reading done while watching television. 

A totally unremarkable development? Yes. Unworthy of attention or comment? Again, yes - until you begin to consider these subtitles as living experiments in navigating the treacherous waters of Indian Sensibilities. There's a great game of Taboo being played out here, to hilarious effect. Some examples: 

Slut = 'Jezebel'  
Whore = 'Bad woman.'
Man-whore = 'Man-whore' 

I'm tempted to read a patriarchal and chauvinistic sub-text into this lapse, but to be honest, what else are you supposed to call a man-whore? I'm not sure there's a Biblical equivalent for 'Jezebel,' but if there is, I now know where I can expect to find it. 

More examples: 
Breast = No known substitute, so it is consequently beeped out.
Sex = Same as above. Except that sometimes you hear the word, sometimes you don't.
Screw = I am yet to observe a consistent pattern here.
Damn = Darn

While I have no objections to broadcasters making viewing more ‘family-friendly,’ I’m not sure I understand what subtitles have to do with this effort – if the accompanying visuals and dialogue leave very little to the imagination, what is prudish subtitling expected to achieve?

Perhaps subtitling is the broadcaster’s tentative defense against the three C’s that are routinely invoked by the Indian morality vigilante – the Corruption of our Culture and Children. Perhaps subtitling is part of a systemic hypocrisy in which everyone – censors and channels – is complicit. In any case, I’m going to file this one under ‘Fig Leaf, at risk of Immediate Decomposition.’  

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