Confessions of a Closed-Captionista

Nov 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

I read as much TV as I watch.

I bought a new TV set that had the capacity to display closed captioning during one of the last Winter Olympics carried by CBS. I brought the set home to my New York apartment, hoisted it atop the bookshelves on which it had to fit, sat back and turned on the closed captioning, not because I needed it-I like my TV and music loud, but hearing loss doesn’t set in at my age in my family-but just to make sure that I indeed could see it.

The picture showed a woman skiing at high speed down a steep slope. The announcer said the skier was “one step closer to immortality.”

The captioning said the skier was “one step closer to immorality.”

I was hooked. The captioning at home has never been turned off.

Because the ultimate goal of captioning is to recreate as faithfully as possible for the deaf or hearing-impaired the experience a hearing viewer has, captioning reveals the title of music being played. Captioning usually includes the lyrics, if they don’t conflict with dialogue or if it is a musical performance.

These are the only times I understand most rap lyrics, but I confess to feeling better about my own limitations when a real-time captioner loses his or her way midway through a rap performance and just puts a couple of musical notes on the screen to indicate that music is still playing.

I know a producer has changed his mind about which music to play during a scene when the song doesn’t match the captioned title. Another closed-captionista who watched “CSI” in its early seasons says the music choices for the closing montages on the hit procedural were always changing after captioning was completed.

I know when dialogue or other creative elements were changed between the captioning process and the broadcast.

I know I’ll never miss one of the throwaway quips on “House.” I’ll never not get the jokes on late-night shows. But when the studio audience does not react well to a joke, the cleverest real-time captioners will indicate the late-night host was rewarded with a “smattering of applause.”

I know what can happen when captioning, which, like court reporting, builds phrases from chunks of words, not from individual letters, shows up as what I refer to as phonetic misspellings.

In such cases, NHL player Martin Berber’s name is displayed on the screen as “Martin Beer Beer.” Or a dinosaur described as an ankylosaurus is displayed on the screen as “anclio sawyerous,” which is particularly ironic because the reference appears during the local news program preceding “Good Morning America,” home of Diane O’Sawyerous Rex.

In other words, I get more entertainment bang for my buck and I feel so clued in-I would never know what music is playing during my beloved “Veronica Mars” or “The O.C.,” on which I run more cold than hot this season, were it not for the pop-cultural prompting I get from my handy-dandy captioning.

At the risk of offending people who truly need the closed captioning to make use of TV or people who produce captioning, especially real-time captioning for news and live TV events, against gigantoid challenges, I know the good, the bad and the ugly-as well as the giggly-of closed captioning.

And I love it. I love it all.