The Stewie Effect

In the genre of surreal cartoon humor there seems to be some debate over the creation and upkeep of closed captions. Specifically, in reference to the program “Family Guy,” the controversy revolves around the opening song lyrics, particularly, baby Stewie’s solo line of “laugh and cry.” While it is noted that the program’s creator, Seth MacFarlane, has clearly stated that Stewie’s line has always been “laugh and cry,” early closed captions of the show have appeared as “effin’ cry.” So the question has arisen as to whether Stewie’s alleged potty mouth was the result of a captioning error, or an honest interpretation.

The answer can be complicated.

While it is possible that some joker caption editor intentionally captioned the lyrics incorrectly as a prank, that is unlikely, due to the fact that “Family Guy” is a higher quality pop-on style captioning, and pop-on captions usually receive a QC that would require a second set of eyes to review. With that observation in mind, many people have the opinion that the lyrics were changed to the cleaner version after season one, possibly at the request of FOX Television. If this is the case, then it is reasonable to assume that the captions in question were accurate. But if the lyrics have always been “laugh and cry,” as MacFarlane maintains, then why weren’t the captions eventually corrected?

Well, for all you hyper-perfectionists out there, it may pain you to know that closed captions are rarely corrected for errors once sent to producers. Cost is always a limiting factor in these situations, so even if the words have always been “laugh and cry” the chances that the early programs were sent back for corrections are slim, although it is possible.

Most closed caption companies, Aberdeen Captioning included, will make corrections to overt errors and re-send caption files to clients upon request at no additional cost. However, corrections made for changes in program content are not typically covered in contract argreements. And while the burden on the caption company to make corrections is minimal, for producers, the logistics and time involved in replacing encoded files for a syndicated program that is already airing on multiple TV stations could be too much to bear.

So whether it was a straightforward transcription of lyrics that were eventually changed, or simply a mis-interpretation for whatever reason, keep in mind that all captions are NOT created equal . And while Seth MacFarlane may offer a dismissive in-show critique of the issue as the voice of “Family Guy” character Peter Griffin: “Stewie, go on get outta here…laugh and cry, effin’ cry…what’s the difference?” Our response would be that there is a difference, Aberdeen Captioning.

At Aberdeen we always go the extra mile for our clients, which includes in-process communication and customer clarification to ensure accurate captioning.

If you are a producer and have experienced more crying than laughing with your program’s captions in the past, we invite you to contact us at Aberdeen Captioning and find out what the difference can be.

Written by: Rich E., Sr. Caption Editor