Ignorance or Intention?

I recently began watching the series Breaking Bad on DVD (side note: I’m hooked!) and I noticed that the Sony disclaimer was available in three separate languages. First English, second French, and third Spanish. We’ve all seen the disclaimer before, but if you need a reminder it goes a little something like this:

“The following Interview and Commentaries are for entertainment only. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the individual speakers and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment or any of their respective affiliates or employees.”

No big deal, right? I probably wouldn’t even have noticed if it weren’t for the three prior warning messages including one from the FBI that were eating into my viewing pleasure (just let me watch my show already!). It seems like overkill, but as someone who works in an office primarily responsible for enforcing regulations, I can’t really say that I blame them. However, I must admit that it got me thinking. How do they decide which languages to use? Why English, French, and Spanish? Why not more? Why not less?

As someone who is not familiar with the regulatory policies governing the distribution of film and television content, I do not have an answer for you. Instead, I have a related observation. While running errands last week, I was stopped at a red light when I noticed a “No Trespassing” sign at the entrance of a members-only recreational club. I normally wouldn’t think twice about a sign like this, however, upon further observation I noticed that the sign was written entirely in Spanish. As bilingual signs are quite common in this area, I expected to see an English translation of the same message nearby. To my surprise, there wasn’t one. Instead, I noticed a second duplicate sign, again, written only in Spanish. Now, I was stumped. What kind of message is this sending? Was it really the club’s intention to only warn the Spanish speaking community? This certainly could not (well, definitely should not) be the case, right? Is it okay for everyone to trespass, except Spanish speaking individuals? Do they assume that only Spanish speaking individuals are likely to trespass?

Perhaps they posted the sign without realizing its hidden meaning, but perhaps they didn’t. Whether the sign was posted out of ignorance or intent, there is certainly an opportunity here to reflect on how we practice intercultural communication. It isn’t enough to just acknowledge that we live in a multicultural society. Learning how to successfully engage in intercultural communication is certainly paramount. Getting back to the Sony disclaimer, I am sure there were certain legal obligations that led to their multi-lingual message, and as they are a large corporation I wouldn’t be surprised. But do we really need government intervention at the personal (or small business) level? Do we need laws to govern what should already be a part of our cultural perception?

4 Thoughts

  1. Casey W. says:

    You’re right to question what messages we are unintentionally sending to others with something as simple as a warning sign or label. In fact, things like this are a statement of our society – the times in which we live – a summation of our culture and its trials and tribulations. Do we overregulate? Yes, I think so. But as you pointed out, all of these things really boil down to philosophy (and treachery) in the legal realm. Having worked in the legal profession for several years and having earned a Paralegal degree, I can definitely attest to the fact that even though it may seem like overkill, specifying things that should be common sensical is necessary because there is always someone there to twist and bend the rules of common sense and complain about this or that. People manipulate our world and prey on the innocent everyday to the point that practically regulating everything is a way of protecting ourselves from the manipulators. However, with this comes consequences, as we all know. Our freedoms are curtailed to an extent, and juggling all of these regulations becomes incredibly cumbersome, almost to an unmanageable point. And, as you said, unintended messages can result from this, spawning a whole new beast to tackle. Its a nasty vicious cycle it seems.

  2. Ryan G. says:

    America is, of course, a multilingual as well as multicultural society, celebrating traditions from all around the world. However, based on advertisements being seen by other countries around the world, one would not be able to come to that conclusion. While watching quite arguably the biggest multi-cultural event in the world, the World Cup, I have noticed that all of the scrolling sideline advertisements during the games are not only in English, but are predominately advertisements for American companies. Castrol, Budweiser, and McDonald’s are a few of the companies that appeared on these sideline ads during the France and Mexico game today, in South Africa. Mexico just went ahead 2-0 on a penalty kick. This kick will be re-shown on every channel in the world on sports highlights reels tonight, and every viewer around the whole world will get to see the incredible play, as well two very large Continental Tire ads. Neither of the two teams playing in the game are from primarily English speaking countries, yet the McDonald’s advertisements that, at certain points, scrolled around the entire field, all said “I’m Lovin’ It” in English. What is the reason for such an English, and more specifically, American presence in World Cup ads? I would understand if all the television commercials were in English, because one could assume that the local television commercials would be tailored to suit the immediate viewing demographic. But ads on the field during games are seen by all networks covering the games. What does a French fan, in France, watching his team think about seeing ads for American tire and food companies throughout the duration of the game? This comes back to the initial question of intention or ignorance. American advertisers are not concerned with what “hidden messages” they are sending though their ads. If a person in Mexico had never been to America, and all they saw were advertisements for American companies written in English, they would not be able to know that America has as many Spanish speaking citizens as it actually does. It almost seems as though American advertisers have made a conscious decision to portray our country in that way. On the other hand, maybe it just so happens that the companies with enough money for international campaign endeavors prefer to have all their ads in English, and just never thought twice about it. Either way, though, whether or not the messages being sent were intended to be interpreted that way, that’s how they were interpreted, in my mind anyway. Go U.S.A.!

  3. Tina Cipara says:

    @Ryan G. You’re absolutely right that the World Cup is one of the biggest multi-cultural events in the world (let’s not forget about the Olympics!) and I too think it is interesting how the advertisements are predominantly in English. I think it is especially interesting that the advertisements in question are for McDonald’s. McDonald’s has been very successful all around the globe and much of their success is due to their ability to adapt. They have a history of customizing their menu items and advertisements to cater to different cultures, so I am very surprised that they wouldn’t apply this same philosophy to their World Cup ads. I haven’t watched any of the games up until now, but I may need to check it out! Who knows, it may inspire another blog post 🙂

  4. Tina Cipara says:

    @Casey W. I think your background as a paralegal brings an interesting perspective to the discussion. Thank you for your insight!

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