Admittedly, I have taken Closed Captioning for granted all my life. That was until this evening when I discovered Polish Sign Language Lady.
Polish Sign Language Lady is a portly, bespectacled, beyond middle-aged woman who sits in the bottom right hand corner of the television during the broadcast of the Polish soap opera M Jak Milsoc (L as in Love) on TV Polonia’s Channel 2. Nothing separates her from the actual program, such as a box or different colored background, so she appears in the scene itself – signing away as the actors speak or sitting quietly with her hands in her lap during less talkative moments such as the scene where a bikini-clad woman inexplicably sauntered around her friends to a vaudeville soundtrack.
One might think having a hyperactive Polish elder in the corner of every scene would prove to be distracting. It totally, totally is. Perhaps with training one can try and pretend that there’s not someone flailing away in the southeast corner of your LCD display during a dramatic exchange, but the untrained Polish soap opera watcher such as myself is hard-pressed to avert his or her gaze. I can’t really follow the show anyway – my Polish isn’t up to snuff, even for soap dialogue – so I became transfixed by the ever-present grey-haired temptress in the corner.
She lost me briefly during a scene with an exposed breast, but only because I momentarily freaked out about the FCC’s reaction to such a provocation. However, she had my attention moments after I remembered I was in Europe and not subject to the whim of repressed puritans and the government bureaucracy that goes to bat for them. Here, the only reason Janet Jackson would have made waves with her boobantics is because only six people in Poland have ever seen a black breast, much less one with a starfish on it.
But back to Polish Sign Language Lady.
On occasion, during moments where there was an extended dialogue-free period, Polish Sign Language Lady would dissolve away, only to re-appear instantly when dialogue commenced. All this did was draw my attention even more, as a miniature old lady suddenly appearing on a man’s shoulder during a scene about an affair is, frankly, kind of funny.
Why hasn’t TV Polonia 2 upgraded to more conventional means of reaching the deaf Polish audience? I don’t know. Perhaps there’s a powerful union of Polish sign language interpreters in cahoots with the industry. Perhaps Polish Sign Language Lady has had the gig for 30 years, and no one has the heart to fire her. Or perhaps they haven’t figured out a way to type closed-caption dialogue on the fly for a language that’s mostly a maniacal jumble of consonants. Regardless, Polish Sign Language Lady is one of my favorite shows, and I’m not even quite sure what it’s about.