The Activating Captions magazine features texts by art writers, scholars, and poets that reflect on captioning from a range of personal perspectives and experiences. Read more.
5 Captions on Captions
Late afternoon, Philadelphia, PA—Sara (31, centre) is sprawled on the couch watching Queer Eye. The heat index is 112 degrees F, she is 40 weeks pregnant, and she is pissed. For the most part, the antics of the Fab 5 is a balm for her discomfort, until she notices the word “fuck” on one of the men’s lips. The captions say “frig.” Why is she being sheltered from curse words? Do the powers that be think we don’t say “fuck”? Listen up, motherfuckers, this is infantilization of the disabled. If you’re too cowardly to provide equal access, you could at least write [expletive]. She sends a strongly worded email. A few hours later, she will go into labour.
9:32 AM? PM? Who knows. Los Angeles International Airport—Sara, (age 25, centre) lies prone on the floor of an empty Alaskan Airlines gate, in tears. She’s just disembarked a flight from Melbourne, Australia on which the vast majority of the in-flight entertainment library was uncaptioned. As a result, she has just watched the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada 8.35 times. Now she waits for her connection back to NYC and cries. Not about the captions. She has other stuff going on.
Early morning, Brooklyn. Sara, (age 22, far right) sits on a cracking pleather couch with friends (Travis, 25 and Niral, 25), coming down after a night of too many picklebacks. Someone’s laptop sits on the makeshift coffee table, playing Law and Order: SVU. As the opening credits roll, her friends devolve into hysterics—what’s so funny? They’ve noticed a descriptor of the theme song says, [funky mystery music]. Her friends discuss whether the music is, in fact, funky, and whether funky music is an appropriate title theme for a show like SVU. Define funky, one of them says. Define music, she thinks.
Evening, Zagreb, Croatia. Sara (age 17, far right) stands in her relatives’ kitchen leaning on the back of a kitchen chair. The evening news is wrapping up—complete with sign language interpreter superimposed in one corner—and the channel’s nightly movie is about to start. She recognizes the opening scene at once, a classic: You’ve Got Mail. The movie, like all foreign media in Croatia, is subtitled. For once, she and everyone else in the room are having the same viewing experience. She marvels at what the “more developed” world has yet to develop.
Evening, Northeast Philly. Sara (age 13, left) watches her family (Dad, 38, Mom, 39, sister, 9) watch television; she’s sitting beside them but she’s not with them. They have forgotten to turn on the closed captions. Again. Should she ask and bear the weight of her mother’s sigh?
She releases a sigh of her own instead, takes out a notebook, and begins to write.
Sara Nović is the author of the novel Girl at War (2015) and the biography collection America is Immigrants (2019). Her second novel is forthcoming from Random House in 2022. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.