Not so long ago the Catalonian government took it upon itself to increase the profile of the Catalan language by compelling films to be dubbed into Catalan. I haven’t taken the time to analyse the proposal but hey, here’s my tuppence worth: it’s a terrible idea, really, it is.
Where should I start? I suppose that I might as well be up front about the fact that I am an entrenched detractor of any kind of dubbing in films, unless of course, if it is one of those films with talking animals. But why? Well, here go a couple of reasons.
1. The final product is always sickening, maybe not terrible but just plain weird, stylised and false. Just a mere shadow of all the Stanislavskian effort that went into making the original sound right.
2. It never does justice to the quality, sound or ‘feel’ of the original. Really, moving past any personal criticisms of dubbing itself, the process obliterates a crucial dimension of any film: the way it’s characters sound. I’m not just being petty, just try watching poor Russell Crowe playing Maximus in Gladiator, first in English then in Spanish.
3. There is no variety. It seems to me that there are six or seven stock characters that they ‘copy and paste’ onto any and every character that comes along. Not only that, but the voices used don’t appear to have changed whatsoever in the last fifty years. Maybe I’m exaggerating, lets say forty years. Seriously though, the tone, the timbre, the diction, the inflexion, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is the same, and frankly, that is just not believable.
4. The availability of so many English language films cements the competitive advantage of Hollywood films over those from anywhere else. It is hugely damaging for the Spanish film industry, the Catalan film industry and every other film industry other than the US film industry. If films were shown in their original language, national and ‘international’ (non-US) films would fare a lot better. This would be a win-win situation for everybody, except Hollywood of course, and it would ensure that the best films rose to the top regardless of language.
5. It encourages cultural isolation and ignorance. True, it is less so a problem in Catalonia than it has been in Spain as a whole, but Catalonia is getting in on the action pretty late in the game. Maybe Catalonia is too small, and inherently outward looking, in the context of our pretty globalised world, to become truly insular and self centred. It is, nonetheless, a bad example to set when it comes to language learning, and to showing an interest for the international and multilingual world. It is also a wasted opportunity from the perspective of helping a society to pick up English and other languages. This is a major problem all over Spain (Catalonia is just as bad in this way), and no opportunities to improve the understanding and use of foreign languages should be passed upon.
mmmm… Well, maybe I could think up more reasons without repeating myself too much, but that’s not why we are here. The point is that, regardless of nationalistic objectives, dubbing films is very damaging if you want your society to be multilingual, open and cultured. Even more importantly though, it means making life much easier for Hollywood films to the detriment of all other national film industries, including Castilian and Catalonian language films. You want proof? Think about this: Many of Spain’s biggest productions have been filmed in English, why? Well, why did Abba sing in English?
…My point is not finished yet. So you want to encourage the use of Catalan in cinemas? Fine, put a limit on the number of dubbed films, tax them higher, give a tax break to subtitled films, whatever, there are many ways you could go about it. Just don’t let me believe that the cursed dubbing industry is having its interests protected even in the midst of a Castilian-Catalonian socio-cultural fracas.