Subtitles. When most people picture their favorite movie, television show, or online video, they do so without the presence of captions filling the bottom of the screen. If you do not have any hearing disabilities and can make do with the audio and visuals alone, it makes sense that you and most people would not need subtitles. If you can hear a girl screaming for her life in a horror movie, chances are you don’t need captions at the bottom of the screen telling you what you already heard. However, according to a poll conducted by YPulse in 2022, more than half of Generation Z opts to turn the subtitles on rather than off.
The question then is, assuming the majority of Generation Z doesn’t have any hearing disabilities, why is more than half of the generation turning them on? While I may not be able to speak to all the reasons for Gen Z’s affinity for captions, as a subtitle enthusiast myself I can name two main reasons I turn them on.
subtitles help me ensure I’m not missing any information
Some shows are easy to follow along with. Take The Office for example. Odds are that no matter which episode you choose, you can enjoy it without knowing the information from the prior episodes. Jim pranks Dwight, Michael makes an inappropriate and awkward joke, Stanley is apathetic and doesn’t care for any of the chaos of the office – you get the gist. Don’t get me wrong, The Office does have moments in certain episodes that build upon each other, but overall, you can laugh without knowing the lore of the show.
Now, take the Star Wars saga, Harry Potter movies, or the Lord of the Rings film series. If you pick a random movie from any of those series, I bet you a million dollars that without watching the prior movies you will be lost. That’s where subtitles come in. I’ll use Star Wars as an example. Not only are some of the names difficult to remember, but the places, terms, and backstory of the series are not easy to recall off hand. That said, subtitles ensure that when I hear a term I have a better chance of remembering it for later.
sometimes headphones or earbuds just don’t cut it
Be it a blender or a crying baby, there’s a time when you might struggle to hear the audio from your movie even when you have your headphones on and turned to full volume. Rather than rewinding, pausing the video, or moving to a quieter location, I turn the subtitles on. For whatever I don’t hear with my ears, I can read with my eyes.
This applies to the actual audio of the video at times as well. If a character is mumbling or whispering, I want to know what they’re saying. So rather than saying, “Darn–Hopefully, that wasn’t important” I can ensure I heard what they said rather than leaving it up to chance. For instance, originally I thought the lyrics in Taylor Swift’s song Blank Space were, “Got a long list of Starbucks lovers” instead of the actual line “Got a long list of ex-lovers” for the longest time. How did I find out my mistake? A quick check of the lyrics of the song and I knew I had made a mistake.
It’s true, not everyone likes to read what they’ve already listened to. Trust me, watching AMC’s The Walking Dead with captions and reading, “Zombies Growling” isn’t the most cinematic thing. That said, they do help me cut down on my rewinding and clarifying quite a bit. Love them or hate them, we’ll have to see if Generation Alpha follows suit with Gen Z and carries on the newfound love of subtitles for the future.