Tag Archives: The Wire

The Joy of Text


It’s come as a great relief to learn that a recent survey has revealed that 80% of those who use subtitles when watching TV are not deaf or hard of hearing. I am, it would seem, not alone, and it’s reassuring to know that my increasing subtitle-dependency (particularly when watching DVD’s) does not mean that other writing is on the wall – that I’m losing my hearing, or that I’m of the age when it is impossible to follow TV drama without some help.

The truth is that my relationship with DVD box sets has become very much like my relationship with the world – the more I watch the less I seem to understand. And, just as I find reading about the world is the only way I can properly appreciate it, so I find that when I watch a DVD  I’m also in need of some written illumination. Such illumination has come in the form of the subtitles button. The more I’ve used it the more I’veenjoyed it, and the more I’ve enjoyed it the more I’ve used it.  And now I can’t kick the habit.

The Wire

It started with The Wire, but somehow, as a white middle-class man, that seemed acceptable. I was not alone in finding it almost impossible to work out what was being said in the Baltimore drug world with its corner-hoppers and its re-ups and its burners. But even then I was made to feel guilty. One of the creators of the show said “We wrote it so audiences would have to work at it”. That’s all very well, and I’m more than happy to ‘work at’ whatever I choose to watch, but to stick with a five series show understanding only half of it simply because you haven’t a clue what most of the people are saying is making a big claim for the virtues of ‘working at it’.


Other shows pushed me slowly but firmly down the road to subtitle dependency  and Europe was to blame. If the characters in ‘The Wire’ seemed as if they were speaking a foreign language, those in other shows definitely were – ‘The Killing’, ‘Borgen’ and, best of all, ‘Spiral’ (‘Engrenages’ in the original French version, and up there with the very best). The beauty of subtitles here was that it meant nothing was missed and, given that few are expected to be fluent in Danish and French, the experience was entirely guilt-free. No-one was going to walk into the living room and question my viewing decisions.

true detective

I’ve since carried my subtitles habit into all my DVD viewing. I wonder how much of ‘True Detective’ I would have got without my little helper, but I  also wonder how much of many other shows (‘Mad Men’, for example) I might have missed.

And yet I’m still made to feel guilty. Many think that using subtitles is some kind of cheating, some kind of bastardisation of a pure art form, some unacceptable blending of what is seen and heard with what is written, and I often feel the need to offer excuses –  failing hearing in my right ear, for example, or advancing age and decreasing powers of concentration.

The truth, though, is that I love subtitles. They both intensify the experience and increase the pleasure. This doesn’t mean, Mr Wire Writer, that I’m not prepared to  ‘work at it’ – it just means that I like to choose the tools I work with. It also means that when I’m watching TV (even British TV )  I don’t have to rewind to listen again to lines whose significance seems to have some inversely proportional relationship to their audibility.


Not Going Out



The WireWest_Wing_S1_DVD



Someone very wise –it may even have been Homer Simpson – once said; ‘why bother going out? you’re going to end up back here anyway’. Some might still be living the kind of exciting life where this is not always necessarily the case, but for the majority, and certainly for me, those words are wise indeed. Why go out? Why put yourself through it? Why not cut out that awkward bit between being at home and coming back home later?

It’s difficult to tell when, exactly, Not Going Out started (yes I know there’s a BBC sitcom of that name which started in 2006), but it was probably a very short time after the arrival of kids. With young children going out becomes such a nerve-racking experience that the post-traumatic effects can last well into your children’s adulthood. First there’s finding a babysitter (together with the small fortune needed to pay them), then there’s worrying that your kids won’t behave or go to sleep, then there’s the worry that your evening is likely to be interrupted by a phone call (and for those of us old enough to remember pre-mobile days such a call involved public embarrassment), then there’s the thought that you’ll return to find your kids running around the house and the babysitter demanding danger money.

The idea is that once the kids get older, once the function of babysitters becomes nothing more than meeting legal requirements and ensuring that you don’t get arrested for neglect by leaving under-age children alone, you start to go out again. And then when the kids start going out themselves and then when they leave home you go going-out crazy, enjoying your new liberation in a spree of socialising which would tire and embarrass the most party-hungry teenager.

But some, like me, just get stuck.

Friday Night LightsGilmore GirlsBreaking BadMad-men-title-card

Other things came along. The Sopranos. The Wire. Mad Men. Breaking Bad. The West Wing. Friday Night Lights. The Gilmore Girls (no really, check it out). And that’s not mentioning Seinfeld and Frasier and all those shows you missed because you were reading bedtime stories and being a fantastic all-round, hands-on dad. DVD box sets became my new babies and I would stay at home watching their progress with a loving parental gaze. When I finished each series I felt strangely bereft, as if one of the children had just left home.

And what have I missed in these stay-at-home years? Cinema? Why cope with rustling sweetmunchers, loud teenagers and afternoon OAPs when you can watch it in the comfort of your own home? Theatre? Don’t make me laugh – it rarely did. Music?  Huge prices, huge venues. Dinner parties? You’re joking. Football? Well, OK, I did still go to football, but as this involved watching QPR I regarded it as nothing more than further proof that going out led only to pain and disappointment.