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The Culture of Dubbing and Why Italians Can’t Speak English

Robert de Niro in Italian sucks.

It isn’t just Italians, though. The Spanish, the Portuguese, even the Germans all watch television and movies with home-grown actors dubbing the original voices. Within the limitless depths of a TV screen in an apartment in Rome you might believe that the entire world speaks Italian. Even those Chinese actors in the latest martial arts movie. They must have a really great education system over there…

Try to imagine Robert de Niro in German. Woody Allen in Portuguese. True, there are actors in other countries that dedicate their entire lives to following the career of an English-speaking actor to learn the expression and intonation. But try as they might, the voice will never belong to the body you’re watching on the screen and the entire magic atmosphere created by watching a movie shot in Japan vanishes when submitted to the merciless treatment of dubbing.

Just picture it, 2 samurai masters facing one another as dawn paints the temple of Kyoto red.

Hey, bearded one, what gives?

And it’s not just the art that suffers. Strike up a conversation with any 8 year old kid in Israel, Holland or any other part of Scandinavia and he’ll answer back with the latest slang that even you haven’t picked up yet. He’s been glued to the Hypnosis Box for hours – television being the real educator of the masses – but along the way he’s picked up English. Try the same thing with the average 30 year old in Napoli and expect directions to the nearest beach.

Dubbing movies ought to be made criminal. Maybe 100 years from now we’ll have lost the capacity to actually read but in the meantime subtitles exist, they can be downloaded for most movies and in the language lies the charm of the dialogue. Each language has its own inflections, its own aural magic and dubbing destroys all of that in the name of homogenity and lazy eyeballs.

Most Italians would disagree, of course. Then again, I like to tell them about how I was raised on spaghetti bolognese that came in a tin…