Americans have spoken: no reading for us

Sorry to disappoint you, America: "Pan's Labyrinth" is a Spanish film. Get over it.

Let's face facts here, people: Americans hate to read. Our rocky relationship with literature stretches back to the dawn of our proud nation, when Thomas Jefferson refused to read through the lengthy Declaration of Independence, proclaiming that if he wanted to read, he'd "pick up a damn book." It was furthered when George Washington banned every book devoid of pictures from the White House. (Authors note: neither of these events actually occurred – I am simply attempting to solidify my point by lying.) Our society's apparent hatred of all things written has bred a lazy, convenience-centered culture of tabloids, news blurbs and minimal subtitles.

Picture the average American man. We’ll call him John for our purposes here. John is an upstanding gentleman, fairly well-educated, successful in his business, patriarch to a small but loving suburban family. Close-cut, well-groomed, clean-shaven; he is White, middle-class. He drives a four-door Sedan to work everyday. On the occasional Friday night outing to the local multiplex, John likes a good action film with car chases, explosions and plenty of danger. For John, a movie means an escape from the mundane. Like all Americans, John likes to be entertained.

For John, the only acceptable subtitles are the ones appearing below a discussion between a couple of Russian terrorists. “Silly Americans,” one says in a guttural, overly-spitty accent. “Indeed,” the other terrorist (this one has a nasty scar across one eye). “Soon they will be ours.” And this is about as much as John can take. The studio knows this. And so, for whatever reason, they opt to have the Russians speak English a majority of the time. With other Russians. English. A second language.

For the Russians, of course.

We’re Americans, and we speak English. We like to hear people speaking English. And if they’re speaking a foreign tongue, they damn well better be villains.

Because we hate reading. We don’t go to the movies to read. John doesn’t pay $9.50 to read. He pays $9.50 to see Vin Diesel jump out of airplane naked while shooting three rocket launchers into a falling car before leveling a building with an bomb strapped to his waist (granted, that actually sounds pretty cool, but that’s not the point).

Americans go to the movies to be entertained. They don’t like to think, they do enough of that at the office. They don’t like to read, they don’t like to feel and they most definitely don’t like to be offended at the movies. Generally speaking, we are a culture that has drifted farther and farther away from the written word.

And this is apparent with film.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” was released on DVD yesterday. It’s a brilliant film, it truly is. Beautifully shot, splendidly told, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a film I’ve been recommending to folks for months now. Today, at work, I realized I was wrong to think that the average suburbanite could appreciate such a cinematic gem. My faith in humanity was misplaced. I have never been more disappointed with people. Ever.

We received several dozens complaints via phone today from people realizing that the film was in Spanish with English subtitles. The “Pan’s Labyrinth” DVD does not feature an English dub. People were disappointed, frustrated; sadly, people were downright pissed. They asked for refunds, exchanges, explanations. “Why didn’t you tell me that it was in Spanish?” they queried. “Because I assumed you weren’t an insular moron, dumbass,” I wanted so badly to retort. Instead, I resorted to “I’m very sorry. If you would like to bring in your copy, we can do an exchange for you.”

It felt so wrong, and I felt so hopeless.

We are now required to inform people renting “Pan’s Labyrinth” that it is a Spanish language film. A few don’t mind, most put the movie back on the shelf. Their faces pinch in disgust as I tell them. “Spanish? Are you serious? Well, I’m putting this back and renting ‘Stomp the Yard.’”

Not to stifle the cinematic genius that is “Stomp the Yard,” but I was truly disappointed in each and every customer that refused to rent the movie based on its language and country of origin. Every disgruntled look, every disgusted sigh hit me hard. It stung, knowing that people have become that lazy.

And all because they have to read a little bit.

John, you should be ashamed of yourself. You really should. And I’m just about done with trying to save you from yourself.


  1. Humanity makes me want to die.

    Your post succeeded in making me wish for the apocolypse would come to wipe out all of humanity including myself, however you have got to stop trying to "save them" from themselves. They don't want to be saved; they're perfectly content in their moronic bubble. You have to realize this and stop expecting more. Just realize that you aren't the only intelligent human being in the U.S., and that you're writing for those people who are as open-minded as you, or on the brink of being so. Otherwise, you're doomed to fall into the pit of dispair that your post put me in, because the majority of U.S. citizens will always be stupid.

    Maybe, on your last day there you can hope that someone complains about "Pan's Labyrinth" so you can call them an insular moron before you are fired on the spot. It won't matter and you'll feel loads better. In the mean time, remain polite when they ask if you knew it was in Spanish and say "Yes, however it's still an amazing movie. I recommend you give it a shot." (say movie. Film rings like you're an elitist, artsy-fartsy snob). I don't think that's overtly "f you."

  2. I still haven't watched "Pan's Labyrinth," but literally everyone I've talked to says it's great. And I know more than one person who want to see it BECAUSE it's in Spanish. Including myself, but I think you knew that already if you know anything about me.

    I'm just gonna side with Jess - there are plenty of ignorant people out there who don't deserve to live. But that's cuz the rest of us live our lives quietly, reading our foreign film subtitles while snuggled closely in our blankets. The people who like these kinds of movies probably don't go to Hollywood video with the rest of the idiots you encounter at work because we Netflix like 8 foreign films a day. You won't see us poking our heads out soon because we know what it's like out there. I'm surprised you're still alive. Keep on truckin', soldier.

  3. I was wondering why the clerks at the video started telling me the foreign language films I was renting were in a different language. A look of utter confusion would spread across my face as they said all the movies I rented were in another language. I could not understand their statement. It seemed almost farcical. Now reading your blog, it seems to be a very sad commentary on the state of culture in this nation. If you can call what we have culture.

    It should be no mystery to us why so many around the world hate us.


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