Anyone who has spent time in front of a TV in Latin America can testify to a simple truth: Los Simpson en español is not nearly as funny as The Simpsons in English. Lisa speaks in a voice that can be heard only by dolphins, town drunk Barney Gumble is named Barney Gómez, and Homer's catch-phrase D'oh! is truncated to the less-humorous ¡Oh!
When I lived in Costa Rica in the early aughts, I subjected myself to many chuckleless hours watching Los Simpson, until one day—quite by accident—my butt discovered the SAP button on my remote control. Suddenly, Bart was speaking English again. And I rediscovered the joy of laughter.
It turns out that Spanish-dubbed TV isn't just a mild gringo discomfort. A growing number of Latin American viewers are also causing a stink over various networks' recent decisions to dub popular TV shows into Spanish for markets south of the border.
Under the hashtag banner #NoAlDoblaje (No to dubbing), a small but vocal group of disgruntled TV-watchers across Latin America is demanding that U.S. networks, especially Warner Bros., revert its programing back to English with subtitles. A petition on Change.org is calling on Warner Bros. to eschew all dubbing and has generated more than 11,400 electronic signatures across the hemisphere, quickly closing in on its goal of 15,000 names. They don't exactly represent a majority of the millions of TV viewers in Latin America, but their impassioned campaign appears to be winning converts.
Many longtime viewers of U.S. programming say they feel betrayed by the networks' sudden decision to change the voices and language of their favorite TV characters, after years of comfortably navigating English-language shows with subtitles. For fans of programs such as The Big Bang Theory and Friends, some viewers say they feel a sudden disconnect with the imposter voices that are falling from the mouths of their favorite TV characters.
I can relate. I'm still recovering from when CBS tried to replace Bo and Luke Duke with their previously unknown cousins Coy and Vance, two scabs who were hired to circumvent a contract dispute that nearly derailed the fifth season of Dukes of Hazzard. It was a moment of considerable consternation and childhood trauma for me and my neighborhood friend Mike DeFazio, as we raced around the neighborhood on our dirt bikes, straightnin' the curves and flatnin the hills.
Now many Latinos are going through a similar thing with Warner Bros, AXN, Sony and Cinemax.
"I am signing this petition because they changed things out of the blue, without any viewers asking for it. The dubbed voices are really bad and have nothing to do with the characters; I miss the real voices…this was done without our consent," writes Change.org petition signatory Diana Roxana Quispe, from Lima, Peru. "Now I have to watch other channels because it really makes me angry to listen to Sheldon with that terrible voice, or Friends, or Two-and-a-Half men or argh! Please fix it!"
Here's what Quispe is complaining about.
Was dubbed into this scene:
The no-dubbing movement's main battle cry is to conserve The Big Bang Theory, which is enormously popular in Latin America. Not everyone in Latin America has a TV with a SAP button, and apparently even those who do don't want to be bothered with pressing it switch the audio back to English.
"Spanish is a beautiful language, but not in the mouth of Sheldon Cooper," writes Change.org petition-backer Yadira V.M. of Mexico.
Warner Bros., however, remains tip-lipped about the matter. When asked for reaction by Fusion, a network spokesman said no comment. Or, as Sheldon might say in a foreign voice, "sin comentarios ¡Bazinga!"