Frequently characters will have to read something onscreen as part of the plot. It could be anything from a newspaper to a book to a computer monitor. Back in the days when TV sets used CRTs [cathode ray tubes], that text was largely unreadable due to their low resolution.
The march of technology has now replaced the old CRT with LCD flat panels and plasma screens with incredible resolution where even the smallest details in an image are discernible. This can be anything from informative to embarrassing, depending on whether the producers took this new technology into account when composing any onscreen text for the characters to read.
See Also: Crystal Clear Picture
, compare with Freeze-Frame Bonus
. Not to be confused with Dead Man Writing
, which may use "If you can read this" as a stock phrase.
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Anime and Manga
- There is a eye chart in the background in Return of the Living Dead where the letters read "Burt is a slave driver and a cheap son of a bitch who's got you and me here."
- The newspaper articles in Fight Club all have the same nonsense text, whether the headline is "Fountain Befouled" or "Feces Catapault Seized" or "Stolen Lab Monkey Found Shaved".
- The Daily Prophet newspapers in the Harry Potter film releases.
- A surveillance console displaying a lot of scrolling small text in A Scanner Darkly is actually scrolling through Blade Runner's screenplay...in screenplay format!
- American Beauty has a sign in Lester Bernam's cubicle at work that simply reads "Look Closer." This was just something the set designer just felt like decorating the set with. Director Sam Mendes noticed this after seeing the footage in the editing room, and the phrase "Look Closer" would eventually become the movie's tagline.
- The Star Wars prequel trilogy (and other EU sources) does this quite frequently...in an alien alphabet, called Aurebesh. If you transcribe each character for its Roman equivalent, it is just plain English. Some examples make sense in context (such as the screen of Anakin's Naboo Starfighter in Phantom Menace) but most are simply inside jokes made by the creators of the material.
- The license plates in The Fifth Element read "New York, the 'Fuck You' State".
- In Sin City, the newspaper that shows Marv arrested for Cardinal Roark's murder has interesting articles: namely, transcripts for the opening scene (The Babe Wore Red) and the first few scenes of Marv's story, "The Hard Goodbye" - with a byline of F. Miller.
Live Action TV
- The Blu-Ray release of the original Star Trek makes things visible that weren't before. E.g., in "Spectre Of The Gun", the text of a newspaper was taken from a 1960s financial section. In "Bread And Circuses" one of the columned Roman-esque buildings shown in stock footage says "Massachusetts Institute Of Technology" across the front. And, in "A Piece Of The Action", the infamous book about Chicago gangs appears to actually be a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation's set designers had one heck of a sense of humor, and built in a ton of Shout Out in-jokes which they expected no one else to ever see. Then the Technical Manual and DVDs came out, and the rest of us got to see them.
- The dedication plaque on board the Enterprise-D that the engines were built by Yoyodyne, and listed many of the producers and writers as members of the engineering team who designed and supervised its construction.
- The warp engine schematic in Main Engineering also labeled one obscure part of the warp reactor the "Oscillation Overthruster".
- Also, the sickbay monitors had one bar labeled "med ins rem" for "medical insurance remaining".
- The main schematics on the bridge and in Main Engineering showing the deck layout of the ship had other in-jokes, from a DC-3 prop plane in the shuttlebay, to a hamster wheel in the main warp reactor room.
- A list of shuttlecraft barely visible in the shuttlebay set lists shuttles with unlikely names such as "Indiana Jones" (named for the famous archaeologist) and "Pontiac" (named for the car company whose commercials at the time featured voice-overs by Patrick Stewart).
- There was an episode where someone calls up a list of names on the display, and most of the list comprises of the actors who have played a certain Doctor.
- Many of the pipes and ducts in the Jeffries tubes and inside the walls were labeled as "GNDN", an acronym for "Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing". Tiny labels elsewhere on the set featured the birthdates or initials of various members of the behind-the-scenes crew, or short poems or snippets of lyrics to songs from The Beatles to the theme tune from Gilligan's Island.
- The LCARS displays are also shown to have formerly indiscernible markings on them. It's generally numbers and letters placed in some esoteric order to give the illusion of specific purpose, but the detail is remarkable nonetheless.
- The Promenade Directory on Deep Space Nine continues the fun with entries such as:
- This ultimately lead to a "Sure, Why Not?" moment on Star Trek: Enterprise. Enterprise was the first Trek series shot and broadcast in true High Definition, which meant that LCARS computer readouts were legible on screen. The production crew didn't think this was the case and proceeded to write out a complete history for Captain Archer on a computer screen for an episode involving time travel and the infamous Mirror Universe. Details included how he was eventually promoted to Admiral, was elected President of the Federation, and died peacefully in his sleep the day after he witnessed the launch of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701. After fans posted screenshots of the entries online, the writing staff was left with no choice but to canonize the details, whether they'd planned to or not.
- In the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an invisible girl is (eventually) taken by the government and put in a classroom with other invisible children. They are asked to open their textbooks. We learn today's lesson will be on infiltrating a cult compound to assassinate its leader... the textbook is readable in DVD format, and consists of the lyrics to "Happiness is a Warm Gun" by The Beatles.
- The final challenge of The Amazing Race 16 required the teams to place psychedelic posters of the eliminated teams in the order of their elimination. They also had to place three posters representing the three non-elimination legs. These posters featured host Phil Keoghan's complete Opening Narration that was played along with the show's opening theme in Season 1.
- On Babylon 5, the Starfury pilots wear flight suits complete with patches for the various fighter squadrons based on B5, with slogans such as "Ugly But Well Hung"note At first, producer J. Michael Straczynski thought he was Getting Crap Past the Radar, and only later did he learn that there effectively was no radar - the network had not bothered to assign any censors to look out for such things.
- In Kickin' It, Falafel Phil's displays an "A" from the health department in the front window - a Running Gag on the show is that Phil keeps a live goat in the kitchen.
- Beginning with season 12, Degrassi has posted most printed material shown onscreen to the show Tumblr.
- Sonic Colors plays this straight. In the final cutscene Tails translates Yacker's speech on Miles electric, which is in Hexadecimal format. The first two lines of hex translate exactly to what Yacker was saying. But the additional bit at the bottom display reads, "If you can read this, you are a geek."
- A computer monitor in Mirror's Edge displays a humorous personal email of someone saying he pities whoever has to monitor his porn usage.
- The Guardian Legend: All of the exposition is given to the player in the form of giant floor monitors.
- Vexx has numerous instances of text in the game's Fictionary slash Substitution Cipher, Asataran. The longest of these is a very lengthy book title. If you actually take the time to translate it (not easy, since no translation guide is provided with the game manual—you've got to piece it together yourself—and the texture is blurred)—the title of the book turns out to be "A Lesson in Patience."
- Left 4 Dead has graffiti all over the place. In Left 4 Dead 2, you can even find some by Frank West!
- The computer screens on the desks you pass in the later half of Portal display the cake recipe later said by the second Personality Core.
- In Half-Life 2: Episode 2, at least one computer screen within the missile silo displays the numbers from LOST.
- In the original Halo, if you activate a computer console in Zanzibar, it says "A total FU exception has occured at your location. All system functionality will be terminated. Press any key to power cycle the system. If system does not restart, scream at top of lungs and pound on keypad."
- The occasional tactical display in the background of mission briefings in Wing Commander IV had scrolling poetry.
- The various background signs, boxes, and papers in Rugrats often contain amusing jokes and gags, as well as Continuity Nods. One memorable box is for "Unsweetened sugar."
- Invoked in Futurama, where Amy mentions that old fashioned CRT TVs can't resolve her dirty tattoo. Of course, neither can plasma/LCD TVs.
- In the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Lights Fantastic" (Freleng, 1942), a neon and lights sign displays a vision test, courtesy of eye doctor I.C. Spots.
If you can read this...(standard size letters) you are average.
If you can read this...(letters smaller) you are above average.
If you can read this...(even smaller) you are exceptional.
If you can read this...(tiny; zoom in to show Chinese characters) you are Chinese!