Sunday, June 13, 2010

All at sea without subtitles

It appears my days of speaking fluent Danish are in danger of ending. So too my abilities in Chinese, Swedish, German, French and, er, Scottish. I will be unilingual again – albeit unilingual with a disconcerting habit of mimicking Irish accents (but who doesn’t?) and throwing in the occasional ‘Ciao’ or ‘Bonjour’ just to show I’ve, you know, been around.

SBS, SBS, how could you abandon me?

(For those who have no idea what I’m on about, SBS is the fifth-most-popular television network in Australia. It’s the most ‘multicultural’ one and the one most likely to be broadcasting boobs after 10pm on a Friday night. It’s also, I’m told on good authority, on the verge of losing its ‘fifth-most-popular’ title to GO!, a channel that seems to exist to run reruns of The Flintstones.)


As reported in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, the 30 or so sub-titlers still employed by SBS TV are to be cut down to 20 – with the threat of further redundancies in the future. According to the article, by Cathy Carey who has worked as a subtitler for SBS TV in the past, the subtitling unit at the station has produced “arguably the world’s finest subtitles” since it began in the 1980s.

I must agree that they are good. To the point where if I watched a two-hour block – such as last Wednesday when I stayed up for the finale of the Danish crime saga The Killing – I was so immersed by the end of the show that I fully expected to turn to The Builder and bid him good night in Danish.

I was there. I was hearing those words and those subtitles were almost unnoticeable – like a good ventriloquist not moving his lips. It was only when I closed my eyes for a moment (just resting…) that I realised that I actually couldn’t understand a word and I’d best start reading again or become lost in the mire of politics and rain.

But it seems our days together are numbered. The station is going more ‘mainstream’ and showing stuff like Big Love instead of obscure Lebanese soap operas. They’re planning, according to Carey, to buy in content that’s already subtitled – presumably to a lesser standard, seeing as SBS is already leading the world. In short, outsourcing their foreign language expertise into offshore hands. I feel as though I should be in the streets protesting - holding up very large placards that spell out exactly what I'm on about.

In the meantime, I’m just hoping against hope that they hold onto the guy who subtitles Trawlermen. I’ve got no chance with those accents without him – even with my eyes open.


  1. Weird. The guy I've just written about (you know the one) - Danish. But didn't want to write that in case it identified him. Part of his name is in Stieg Larsson. Love all things Danish - their design, their customs, their...bacon.

    How will you survive? You must become fluent immediately!

    A friend of a friend did the subtitles for the Princess Di interview - the one where she went on about 'there were 3 of us in this marriage.' She had to have a police escort and be sworn to secrecy before it aired.

    Maybe you should start a petition.

  2. I'm going to need to do something. Or the jig will be up. Princess Mary may take pity on me. I'll have a word with her about it next time she pops down for a holiday.

  3. Oh, that's just so sad. Bowing to the lowest common denominator once again...

  4. They may be getting rid of their subtitlers but I bet there will still be boob after 10 p.m. ... the lowest common (profitable) denominator, as Mary Janes said above. =>


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