Archived Story

More details on closed captioning

Published 10:09am Friday, October 21, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

My interest in the closed-caption option on television is firmly based on growing up with hearing-impaired (deaf) parents. Thus, for them and others, this particular feature on the screen provides a way to somehow enjoy this part of life.

Before television, there were films. When my parents were growing up they could enjoy movies on an equal basis with other people. That’s because the films were the silent type with captions. When sound was added this caption gimmick was generally eliminated. Sadly, for my late parents and other deaf folks, the films were still silent without most of the captioning.

However, there are two exceptions to the last sentence. Does anyone recall the more recent era when the words to popular songs were shown on the bottom of the screen and a bouncing ball was used to help guide the audience to sing along with the music? The other use of film captioning comes about when several actors are speaking a foreign language. As a result, the movie theater version of closed captioning is shown at the bottom of the screen. A good example is with the Patton film when the focus shifts several times to German Army headquarters as the enemy officers try to figure out what the American general was going to do next.

Now let’s shift the focus to what can be seen with closed captioning on television sets today.

While doing the research for this column, I noticed several details about this particular aspect of television viewing. Please note that I’m stressing the viewing, not the hearing.

As I indicated in the last column, there’s a time lapse between what’s said on the screen and what comes up with the captioning about 10 seconds or so later. This certainly applies to live telecasts. Yet, when it comes to reruns the closed captioning can be advanced to more closely match what’s actually said by the person on the screen. After all, when a person’s lips are moving, there should be printed words to match. The one place where this seems to work best is with older films and television shows.

There are some distinctive details with close captioning worth noting. For example, music is designated with a note symbol. If there are words being sung for a song, then the lyrics are shown on the screen. At the end of the song the caption will usually have the words “cheers and applause.” If a joke is told, the caption will be “laughter.” And if a naughty word is said in the dialogue, the word “bleep” will be used as a substitute.

One of the very popular television shows at the present time likes to be known as “DWTS.” That translates to “Dancing With the Stars.” Some of the printed dialogue, like on some other programs, will actually identify who is speaking. Then again, the closed captioning will be just words and not indicate if the male or female is speaking.

I was curious about one detail of “DWTS.” How would the dancing be interpreted? The answer was based on the words of the song being shown on the screen. Dancing by the couple was just an added sight detail.


Cornstalk comment

I’ve watched “DWTS” enough times to be able to declare those Hollywood folks are missing out on a form of dancing that could add still another lively touch to their programs. What I’m promoting is the polka. After all, popular tunes like “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Pennsylvania Polka” and “Chicken Dance” could be a fine salute to Americans who happen to like those and other melodies and the dancing they inspire.


With just three exceptions, Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.