racism

The racist implications of subtitling because of accent

I couldn’t find information about the history of subtitling, so here is a thought about what might have happened.

Since TV is mass entertainment and mass entertainment is sensitive towards audience displeasure, people complaining about weird accents might have been the reason why we now see that habit of adding subtitles to people speaking in a familiar language but with an accent. Often the accent doesn’t really make it more difficult to understand, yet there are subtitles anyway, which can seem insulting.

And since I have studied people’s behavior a lot, what I could imagine is that this was caused by people who simply don’t WANT to understand. There might have been racists or just general pricks who went like: “What’s that Asian guy mumbling about there? I can’t understand a word of that gibberish!” while they could have understood perfectly well if they hadn’t been an ass. And then the entertainment business got afraid that this might harm the audience appeal of the product, so they better added subtitles, just to be on the safe side.
And as is so often the case when people act out of fear, they do a disservice, and to themselves, too.

Again, such things are often merely about willingness to make an effort, even if just a small one, and many people are not willing. It’s the same issue with people speaking foreign words the wrong way just because they want to signal disrespect; are not willing and don’t care enough to make a little effort.
When people admire that I am good at speaking certain foreign words, it gives me mixed feelings, because all they’re really admiring is that I make a little effort and they don’t even try. Many things are damn easy if only you can get yourself to have a bit of interest. And thus, interest is what paves the way to excellence.
If you think “Nobody likes to have a speech impediment.”, you’re wrong. Many of them are even proud of their self-made one; created with the power of the mind.

See this video for a humorous (yet with a deeply serious core) look on the issue:

This doesn’t even cover the more extreme degrees of the issue, like phonetic mistranslations. One example of that that made me facepalm for years is cherries named Schattenmorellen in Germany. Schatten? Did they grow in the shade? And what the hell are morells? Nope, they were originally called “Chateau de Morel” (after Castle Morel), but someone decided that making themselves look like an idiot/jerk by doing this crude phonetic translation was a good idea.

Beef jerky is another example of an equally dumb phonetic translation. That product was apparently named by and after knee-jerks.

UPDATE 2018-12-26: The Wall Street Journal managed to go far beyond this in what one has to assume is politically motivated racism, and the contained cynical self-parody (subtitled Chinese perp vs. non-subtitled Israeli victim) could also be interpreted as antisemitic, ha-ha:

CBS says “Merry Christmas” by blocking my treatise on racism

I uploaded a 5 minutes long clip from a Star Trek Enterprise episode, as illustration of a remarkable and to me memorable scene about a healthy way to deal with racism, and my attached extensive commentary on that topic in the video description, that I later extended into the comment section. (video title: “A wise way to approach racism (Star Trek: Enterprise)”)

This should qualify for Fair Use, and it should also be in everybody’s interest to keep it accessible for several reasons, among them for advertising a good show and for educating the public about racism. But, a long time since I uploaded the video, now it got blocked worldwide.
On one hand, I have ads disabled on my channel, but on the other hand this is quite a clear signal that my channel is non-commercial, AND as I said, this is covered by Fair Use.

Now here comes the usual crappy Youtube situation:
If I decide to dispute the claim, I cannot comment on that or ask whether it would do to modify its appearance or such. I can only tick a checkbox, which basically seems to start a legal process, which could end up in a pissing contest between laywers. Youtube states that if a claim is not valid, it will result in a copyright strike on the channel. But who decides whether it is valid, if I can’t even briefly explain my position? Not justice, not right, but a legal battle. Because, even if I was a lawyer myself, even a copyright lawyer, and was 100% sure that said video is covered by Fair Use, I would still have no guarantee whatsoever that I don’t get a strike on my channel. There’s no reasonable negotiating in this process. Automation equals dehumanization. And this is the often-criticized Youtube policy of encouraging corporate intimidation.

Nice implied statement about your views on racism there, CBS. Really skillful! And wonderful timing!