Everyone’s Doing It: Why Millennials Watch TV with Subtitles

Jul 6 2023 Laura Swanson
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Millennials and their impact on various industries have been subject to much discussion, being accused of “killing” industries and products from everyday sodas to department stores. However, a recent article highlights a new accusation: millennials are killing the art of films through the widespread use of captions and subtitles. While the writer argues that he only takes issue with people who he says “don’t need” captions, a different approach might be to accept that if someone is using captions, there probably is a “need” even if not a formal or diagnosed reason why millennials watch TV with subtitles and captions. 

The writer does recognize that sound mixing, particularly on streaming platforms, is no longer of the same caliber as in the past when the volume was more closely anchored to dialogue. That alone is one good reason for everyone, including millennials, to watch TV with subtitles or captions. But the writer also seems to see using captions as something that takes away from the viewing experience, where many who do use captions, even if not for a disability, find they actually enhance their viewing experience.  

For instance, a show like Fringe, with its complex time travel concepts and multiple timelines, might prove more challenging for a viewer to understand without subtitles. Similarly, without captions, many American fans might have missed the charming nuances of the beloved Ted Lasso due to some of the fast-paced dialogue or unfamiliar (to American ears) accents.

Highlighting dialogue through captions also allows viewers to appreciate the wit and humor that can often go unnoticed in a show like 30 Rock, where every other line is a joke, and makes iconic TV moments like Luthen’s Andor monologue all the more memorable. Considering the current issues surrounding show writers, appreciating a show’s dialogue specifically, should not be overlooked. 

It’s also worth remembering that hearing loss sometimes is referred to as an “invisible disability” so it’s not always readily apparent whether someone who’s using captions specifically “needs them.” Hearing loss often develops gradually over time, affecting many individuals, even without a formal diagnosis. 

Additionally, it’s important to recognize that captions benefit individuals with a range of other disabilities, including ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Autism, and Auditory Processing Disorders. Notably, millennials affected by ADHD rose by almost 40% in the last decade. Against this backdrop, it becomes clear that millennials adopt captions and subtitles not as a quirk or trend, but because they’re adaptable consumers and viewers willing to accommodate themselves and the needs of others.  

As a generation also accused of having “killed” the fine dishware industry, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that millennials simply value practicality over appearances. In this light, it only makes sense for millennials to fully embrace accessibility tools. 

Enabling accessibility in various forms goes beyond meeting the specific needs of individuals with disabilities. It aligns with the societal expectation of inclusivity. Captioning films and television shows serves as one of many examples of accommodations that help a wide range of people, whether they are aware of the precise reasons or not.  

While an artist’s desire for their work to be experienced as intended is understandable, this article raises questions about whether a certain viewing purity is more important than offering accessibility. By limiting the viewing experience to a select audience who don’t use captions, artists, in effect, disregard the potential impact their work can have on a wider demographic. 

Furthermore, it’s crucial to remember that art, particularly in the form of media and film, is inherently subjective to various contextual factors. Filmmakers may also argue that films should be viewed in theaters, with optimum sound quality and ambiance. But not everyone can afford theater viewings, and external constraints such as financial limitations or physical and geographical factors may prevent individuals from accessing traditional viewing options.  

In today’s world, many viewing alternatives exist, enabling people to enjoy and engage with media. Why limit the audience for one’s creations? By considering the inclusivity and accessibility dimensions, artists can broaden their perspectives and create universal experiences. 

Ultimately, the rise of subtitles and captions is not merely a passing trend fueled by some sort of millennial quirkiness. And their use shouldn’t be viewed as unnecessary or as a cardinal sin against the filmmaker’s original vision. Instead, it represents a newfound emphasis on inclusion and a passion, not only for art, but for making sure that it is shared as widely as possible.