The Belvedere Journal
The Younger Generation & Their Obsession With Subtitles
by Erin P
Captions offer more nuance and creativity which is something a lot of young people like us seek in a show. As well as the obvious humorous aspects too!
When asked in a survey, 80% of people who consume content on Netflix use closed captions, and further research narrows this large group down to mostly young people. This caused me to think - what caused this sudden surge in read-watching amongst younger people?
The most obvious reason for the use of subtitles would have to be for those who are hard of hearing or deaf. These people require subtitles, however other auditory issues can appear for those with otherwise perfect hearing. Many people complain that certain actors mumble too much, leading to the audience not being able to hear what they’re saying. But audio factors aside, there are other reasons for the increasing popularity of closed captions.
The emergence of media containing regional accents has caused an influx of people - not only teenagers - who require closed captions to be able to wholly understand what the characters are saying. Shows like Peaky Blinders and Channel 4’s daft and disastrous Derry Girls have become increasingly popular over the last few years, specifically after their Netflix debuts which have allowed viewers worldwide to enjoy these shows.
However, international viewership means some people may not understand the accents used. In Peaky Blinders, a BBC original, Cillian Murphy switches from his usual Irish accent to a more impenetrable Birmingham lilt. Derry Girls, set in the time of the Troubles in Ireland, consists of characters who - as alluded to in the title - have rather rich Derry accents. For some, the regional tongues cause no problems but for others internationally, subtitles are necessary for the most part.
Similarly, a boom in foreign language series calls forth the need for captions. Netflix’s most popular series to date, Squid Game, is South Korean, as well as many other of its successful shows from the Colombian series Narcos which mixed both Spanish and English, to the Spanish crime drama series Money Heist. These shows are mainly enjoyed by those who don’t speak a word of the languages heard in the show, therefore subtitles are needed.
However, closed captions aren’t just limited to speech. Language service providers, or LSP’s, have worked a lot in recent years to make captions more immersive yet sometimes it creates rather hilarious results. On Stranger Things, a creature’s tentacles were said to “undulate moistly”. Captions offer more nuance and creativity which is something a lot of young people like us seek in a show. As well as the obvious humorous aspects too!
Furthermore, I can guarantee that most, if not all, of us in Gen Z and maybe Gen X have used or still use Tiktok which leads on to my final, more worrisome point about the short attention spans of teenagers due to apps like Tiktok.
Tiktok allows its users to see an endless timeline of 15 second videos that are tailored to their content preferences. As revolutionary as this may sound, the frequent use of such an app - especially over a time like the global Coronavirus pandemic where we were forced to limit our communication solely to social media - has steadily decreased the amount of time modern day teenagers can focus. Hence, the notion of watching a twelve episode series where each instalment lasts between 45 to 60 minutes isn’t ideal in our minds - which is where captions come into the picture.
Turning subtitles on allows you to flick your eyes up from your phone and read ahead, then take in the whole scene quickly and look back down. Sounds ideal doesn’t it?
However, not only does this display huge red flags for the way people are developing in a world dependent on technology but it also means filmmakers’ efforts are in vain as people treat closed captions as a sort of televised shortcut. A way to experience the best of both worlds. It can also mean that we don’t get the most out of a scene as meanings are often embedded in settings, clothing and even colours.
Now it may sound like I'm saying subtitles are bad for you, but they’re not! In reality, subtitles have many cognitive benefits and researchers say that everyone should turn on video captions no matter their age as they can improve comprehension, memory and - contrary to my last point - they can boost your attention span.
In summary, plenty is written about the death of reading amongst Generation Z, but those critics clearly aren't taking into account the millions of words we consume every year while watching tv and films.