I was sitting in the King’s Head sipping a pint of Spit-fire, a lovely beer, and a great name. Can we look forward in the future to beers named Trident or Kalashnikov? In front of me was a large TV and a beautiful lady was forecasting the weather. For the hard of hearing, which included everyone in the pub since the TV was on mute, subtitles showed us what we were missing.
So, for example, I was told that: ‘Rain followed by some scattered Samba will reach the Midlands by late Steven’. Other forecasts have been equally surreal, such as for example: ‘Snow falling on the Staffordshire Mormons’ or ‘a cluster of Sharons are moving across the Midlands.’
Welcome to the wonderful world of auto-generated subtitles.
For those not wishing to risk LSD but who enjoy the surreal, or those who simply wish to maximize the disorientating effects of strong beer, subtitles are both essential and addictive.
You sip, you muse: So ‘Howard Carter discovered Tooting Common in Egypt.’ A contemplative sip: ‘The Nazi dictator, Adult Pickler held rallies at gnomeburg’. It begins to make sense, as does the ‘hospital patient in a korma’, the ‘Toon Army that hit Japan’ I shouldered past similarly bemused viewers to the bar. Time for a refill. The world is going mad but the beer is good.
I’m back just in time.
Ah, the beautiful TV historian. I don’t need an introduction. I know who she is. But no, subtitles have their own relentless momentum. So instead of: ‘And with us now…’ We had ‘And with a snout Bethany Hughes.’ Subtitles are no respecter of persons. Barack Obama greatly excites them: ‘Back the bomber flew back from Europe’ or sometimes ‘Back the barman met with the Queen’.
Subtitles can make forceful police tactics sound like fun. In the real world the police moved in on an illegal traveler’s camp at Dale Farm using Tasers. But in the wonderful world of auto generated subtitles, I read that ‘police deployed teasers’, which is much nicer. I pondered on the gentle mockery used against those gypsies who refused to move.
Subtitles can also be subtly feminist. The extremely rich entrepreneur Theo Paphitis has no fear of women with quotes like:
"are we seriously saying that 50% of all jobs should go to women… (women) get themselves bloody pregnant and ... they always argue that they'll be working until the day before, have the baby, go down to the river, wash it off, give it to the nanny and be back at work the following day, but sure enough, their brains turn to mush, and then after the birth the maternal instincts kick in, they take three months off, get it out of their system and are back to normal". The subtitles got their revenge by referring to him as ‘The Foetus’.
There are residential homes where the TV is always on and where auto generated subtitles have become the new reality. What are elderly residents to make of Vadim Muntagirov talking of his dancing partner, Daria Kilmentova: ‘I really love dancing with Diarrhoea,’ cars called ‘Toy hauteur’ or ball room dancers attempting the ‘Pasta dough blade’?
Opium might make sense of it all, or in subtitle-speak ‘Open Yum’