An Open Letter to CW: Caption The Chronicles of Cisco

I can't review what I can't watch. What do I mean by that? Follow me below the fold....

What does captioning mean to you? Some people call it a form of access. Other people say it's a convenient way to watch movies in the office. I think it's time to call captioning what it is: a form of standardization which helps build the American community. When we watch the same show, we connect to each other in our analysis of it. When the CW network decided not to caption the Chronicles of Cisco–a web series offshoot of The Flash–they decided to privilege who gets to be part of the Flash community, and that's a shame both for the people who depend on captioning and the people who find it convenient. For me, as a Flash reviewer and lover of the show, it goes against the very spirit motivating national love for the fastest man alive.

Captioning is a huge issue for me. I'm old enough to remember the days when televisions had no captions. I used to make them up, as many other Deaf people have, concocting stories rivaling the depth and dramatic breadth of the actual scripts. My first captioned television program was Star Trek: The Next Generation - "The Child," after spending $200 for a captioning box to add on to the television. This marked the beginning of my ability to connect fairly anything to anything. So few shows were captioned that I was limited to Trek, the Golden Girls and a few other shows. But imagine your first show ever being something as stimulating as Star Trek. 

I am also old enough to remember, and have actually been there, at Gallaudet University in 1993 when the nation announced new policy requesting all televisions above 13" to have captioning chips built in. That was the start of it - the recognition that all Americans were part of the American community. It's not about accessibility. It's about making a place at the table. After that, I started becoming a regular television watcher.
I love you so please #captionTHIS
for captioning is always right.
These are the shows I hate to miss–
I love them, so, please, #captionTHIS
the natterers, the bores, the wits–
all human darkness and its light.
I love you, so, please, #captionTHIS
for captioning is always right.
Now, online captioning is the biggest issue, and it's a huge frontier. There's an online movement called #captionTHIS encouraging the industry to caption their videos. The triolet above was written when I began getting involved with this movement. I spoke this year at Stanford MedX about YouTube autocaptions - I pointed out that they were actually craptions, and anyone who cared about making sure their message was clear wouldn't use them. Legally, captions for online products are sort of mandated and sort of not. This means online University courses, news, and yes, entertainment, might be captioned or might not. Again, we're leaving some Americans out of the discussion–in an age where #deaftalent like Marlee Maitlin, Sho Stern, Nyle DiMarco and others are out there on television programs influencing national thought! Far too often the response is: "Let's pass the buck." "It's not our responsibility." "What's the point?" How about making it your responsibility?So much is available through a simple Google search, like the following video from 3Play Media:

The issue of whether or not to caption, really can't be about helping "poor Deaf people" any longer. Too many of us have proved we're hardly "poor" or incapable, and that we have a lot to contribute. This is about something bigger. This is about creating a forum where all of us have equity. So this isn't a "please caption this" open letter. This is a letter to REQUEST that you, CW Network and all other networks, to STOP slamming doors in our faces, because we see it happening, and it's going to affect our engagement with your shows. I don't think Deaf people are alone in wanting a place of equity. This morning I read a fantastic piece by George Takei about Marvel whitewashing its Dr. Strange characters, casting Tilda Swanson in a traditionally Tibetan role. I don't blame the media for making mistakes. I do cast blame when I see people not learning from those mistakes... because it hurts them as well as us, and frankly, doesn't help anyone's bottom line.

What I hope is that the Chronicles of Cisco finds captions mysteriously added to its episode over the next couple of weeks. There's no excuse: it's what Barry and Cisco would do. (Wells would just explode another particle accelerator.) Thanks for reading.


JRS said...

What are your issues with captioning? I know lots of people get frustrated with captioning issues in different places - please feel free to share.

Katherine said...

I love CC, it is nearly impossible for me to enjoy a show without it.

I did however manage to irritate my DH, who has become accustom to CC.
I watched a movie in English but with French CC.

He felt he had been deprived of half his viewing experience, he didn't mention it until the end, but I won't ever do that to him again.

But that shows me how much we've both come to depend on this feature.

Thanks for the good essay.

Lei said...

Being that, although hearing, I am very active in the deaf community I do feel it is a must. It is why many deaf that I know have humongous screens at home. They are not privy to head out and enjoy movies at any time of the day. They have to strategically schedule their movie viewing to catch a showing that has captions. Or search for theatres with personal caption screens. Deaf should have all forms of media at their disposal. It something that hearing folks take for granted.

Good for you. And you do an excellant job reviewig.

Billie Doux said...

What a terrific post, Joseph. I was particularly touched by your comment about how before CC, you used to make up what the story was about. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be deaf and have no captioning available at all.

My hearing is okay, but I use captioning all the time because I'm a reviewer and it's easier for me to absorb and track the dialogue if I see it as well as hear it. When I was deeply into Quebecois actor Roy Dupuis, a few of his older movies were only available in French with no English caption translation or dubbing available. In those cases, the French captioning allowed me to follow maybe 90% of the story (I took French in college, but I'm not fluent). If the French captioning hadn't been there, I wouldn't have been able to review those particular movies.

And then, of course, there are accents and non-US slang. Sometimes I have no trouble following stuff, but there are some UK and Australian movies and shows where I miss a quarter of what's going on if I don't turn on the captioning.

The CW needs to get its act together. Get your act together, CW! Being available only on the internet is no excuse!

JRS said...

From what I understand the law says online content must be captioned but there's a loophole that it doesn't have to be captioned IF it's online material for an existing show in production on a network, or something. I get this is "just entertainment" but at one point, so was Shakespeare.

BTW, I also love learning languages through captioning. Not that great at it, but I keep plugging away.

Terri Strotman said...

AMEN!! I am a hearing person, but my hearing has diminished with age [and too much rock concerts in the 1960's LOL]. I don't watch any TV without CC because I miss too much and can't follow the story. Online CC would be fabulous!

Josie Kafka said...

Yahoo screen, in general, hates me. I've tried to use it on my laptop (constant crashes), an iPad (sluggish), and my Amazon Fire Stick.

That last option was the best in terms of actual streaming, but it never remembers that I want the captions. And when I reset it, I wind up with the full menu options on the screen for the entire episode. Like, a play button and other episode selections and so on. It is so annoying.

FWIW, I think Yahoo Screen is technically defunct these days, although as of last month I could still stream the last season of Community using its platform.

John Oliver's show on HBO is worth mentioning, too. The captions lag behind is speech to an absurd degree, and sometimes they omit entire lines in what appears to be an attempt to catch up.

Re: Foreign languages: despite years of schooling, my spoken Spanish still sucks. But I can understand Spanish-language films and TV as long as there are captions in Spanish. :-)

Deborah Gallegos said...

I would be interested in captioning my YouTube videos, but am not sure how to do so?

Josie Kafka said...

Deborah, it's very easy. I've done it before, and it's just a matter of editing the video to add the captions. Here's a tutorial: and I think that YouTube has instructions lurking on the internet somewhere, too.

You do have to type out the captions yourself, though. I don't think there's a good automated voice-recognition system in place (for free) yet.