I’ve been finding Sean Zdenek’s Reading Sounds interesting on a few fronts. For one, I love pieces that dig into something that I often taken for granted–like captions.
But extending this, I confess that my “taking for granted” largely came down to a glib acceptance of caption as a subtitle equivalent, what Zdenek calls “undercaptioning.” I didn’t really take stock in the nonspeech sounds, like birdsong and grunts, or the nonspeech information (NSI), like character names and emotion. But even more deeply, I completely missed the deeper, more rhetorical understanding that Zdenek brings to captioning. As he writes in his preface:
“Definitions of closed captioning too often stress the technology of ‘displaying’ text on the screen over the complex practice of selecting sounds and rhetorically inventing words for them. In most definitions, the practice itself is simplified, reduced to a mechanical process of unreflective transcription. No one has really treated captioning as a significant variable in multimodal analysis, on par with image, sound, and video. No one has considered the possibility that captions might be as potent and meaningful as other kinds of texts we study in the humanities. In short, we don’t yet have a good understanding of the rhetorical work captions do to construct meaning and negotiate the constraints of space and time.”
While this is a lengthy block quote, I think it does a great job capturing the gist of his argument, or what I’ve read so far. Zdenek wants to replace a conception of transcription as “unreflective” and “mechanical”–as simply putting a script on a screen–with the rhetorical impact of picking and choosing the words that communicate the context, narrative, feeling, etc.