In a recent column, I criticized the intentional film technique of “Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan to make some of the dialogue inaudible. I am still stewing over this. And now I have found that this complaint is not just coming from me.
According to a New York Times article, “about 50% of Americans – and the majority of young people – watch videos with subtitles on most of the time, according to surveys, in large part because they are struggling to decipher what actors are saying.” I do have trouble hearing with background noise present, but I have had my hearing checked and it is normal. So, it is not entirely me.
In this streaming era, as we shift from watching movies in a theater to our televisions, tablets and smartphones, the content is shrunk down, compacted and compressed, which makes clear dialogue the entertainment world’s toughest technology challenge. In addition, TVs keep getting thinner, compromising their own speakers’ size and placement that is aimed away from viewers’ ears.
Sound is important to me. I now have a sound bar and two additional small speakers in an attempt to create a surround sound environment. That and a really good recliner are essentials for any retiree.
My spouse and I are the children of Celtic-born parents. Hers are from Ireland and my dad is from Scotland. We pride ourselves in being able to understand those thick brogues in movies. But there are times when, even we who were raised on those accents, need to turn on the subtitles to understand. Yes, that helps solve one problem, but it creates another. It detracts from the overall movie experience. We may miss an important piece of scenery or a character’s subtle reaction while having to read the caption below.
I must confess that my issue with hearing the dialogue is a subset of a larger worry. Am I becoming a curmudgeon? There is some concern that I will turn into that grumpy neighbor who yells at kids to “get off my lawn!” So far, I don’t think that curmudgeonry has arrived. Yes, I made up that form of the word curmudgeon, which is yet more evidence that I have not entered its kingdom.
I am allowed to alter and create words as my mom regularly read Ogden Nash limericks to me. Nash did it all the time to finish a rhyme. (Ha, Ogden chuckling.) Indeed, I have been fighting this old-guy label by actively inviting my neighbors’ children to play on my lawn, roll around and enjoy it.
When my kids were little, it was important for me to keep a small lawn, even in drought-ridden Southwest Colorado, so that they could experience the joy of playing barefoot on grass. We even started the BBL (Barefoot Baseball League) with my daughter and son competing against each other in family delight. I was the designated pitcher, our border collie, Alex, was the outfielder and mom was the unbiased, cheering, adoring fan. Alex did not have much of a throwing arm, but he could run down any well-hit ball. The rule was that you had to stop when Alex got the ball in his mouth, thus defining singles, doubles, triples and rare home runs.
My lawn has shrunk now with kids and doggone (see what I did there, Ogden?), but those joyous memories are still intact, and I will fight on.
Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.