Reposted comment by Susan M. DiGiacomo
John Tagliabue’s New York Times article on the new Catalan law mandating the dubbing and/or subtitling of 50% of foreign films into Catalan (“Trumpeting Catalan on the Big Screen,” March 10, 2010) contains a number of inaccuracies and tendentious arguments not easily recognized as such by the uninformed reader. Catalonia is represented as a place where all things Spanish are subjected to nationalistic backlash: Catalan schoolchildren are “required by law” to receive their education in the Catalan language, and the Catalan Parliament, “in a further blow to Spanish culture,” was poised to end bullfighting in Catalonia. Would any reputable journalist write that French schoolchildren were “required by law” to be educated in French? Since when is the torture of animals as public spectacle defensible on “cultural” grounds? We need only recall the general revulsion inspired by the case of the NFL star Michael Vick, found to be operating a dogfighting ring and personally treating the animals cruelly. The photograph accompanying the article shows a poster of the film “Precious” at the Verdi Park cinema in Barcelona announcing “V.O. subtitulada en català en exclusiva.” This means that the Verdi Park cinema was the only theatre where moviegoers could see this film subtitled in Catalan, but the photo caption translates this incorrectly as “subtitled exclusively in Catalan,” suggesting, falsely, that nowhere in Catalonia could the film be seen with Spanish subtitles. The message of the article is that Catalans’ defense of their own language and culture is a negative phenomenon based on opposition to Spanish language and culture. Tagliabue neglects to point out that the hegemony of Spanish is overwhelming in the media. Having thus laid the groundwork, Tagliabue practices a kind of journalism that advertises itself as “balanced” and “objective” by seeking out opposing opinions, juxtaposing them, and letting readers choose the opinion they prefer: the Catalan minister of culture Joan Manuel Tresserras arguing that if the public does not go to see films subtitled or dubbed in Catalan it is because there are so few of them; or the theatre owners, film distributors, and major producers arguing that there are few films in Catalan because the public isn’t interested in seeing them. Unless readers know better, their choice will be heavily conditioned by the way the issue is framed. What this article demonstrates, more than anything else, are the limitations of context-free journalism.