I’m Sick Of These Mute Muting Mutes In this Mute Muting Movie

If you’re a certain kind of person, the idea of a device that could cut all of the bad words out of movies and TV shows might sound just dandy to you. And if it could also swap those words out of the closed captions and replace them with nicer ones? Even better!

But I would hope that, even if you were that sort of person, you would spend 20-30 seconds thinking about it and come up with a fairly hefty armload of reasons why it almost assuredly wouldn’t work well, assuming it worked at all. And even if you didn’t catch all of the technical ones like the captions not being in sync with the dialogue or not being delivered in the singular way that your device is designed to intercept them, you would come up with the logical ones like what is this show about in the first place and does it have a setting for taming what’s on the screen as well?

This is the TVGuardian, a 1990s gadget that still appears to exist for some reason.

The implementation was kind of clever, I’ll admit. It would decode the closed captions baked into almost everything on television or VHS tapes as they were sent, scan them for terms in its database and then, when it found something, mute the audio momentarily while simultaneously replacing the offending phrase on screen with a tamer one (“Oh fuck” might become “oh man”, for instance) so that everyone but blind people could keep from losing the plot.

But of course, that’s what it does when it works perfectly, which it can’t, because it is a content filter. Like every other content filter, it only knows what it knows and can only work with what it’s given. So if you’re watching something live and the captionist is behind, cuss away, my friend! Ditto if it’s not live but the person doing the talking is speaking faster than the caption chunks are appearing. And there’s the context problem, of course. How have you been, Tyson and Rudy? And naturally, it can only change words, not subject matter. So even if naughty words aren’t ok with you, murder or porn or any number of other unsavoury things are going to have to be.

I’m sure glad my parents trusted me.

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