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Viewers Can't Read

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Characters reading text that's already on-screen aloud.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
pgj1997 on Oct 8th 2018 at 8:26:11 AM
Last Edited By:
pgj1997 on Dec 7th 2018 at 12:45:11 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Characters in media seem to have an odd fixation on reading things aloud, even though what they're reading is already clearly visable to the viewers watching. A character will notice a sign or the title of a book and, out nowhere, start reading whatever's on it out loud. Your response is usually "Yeah, I can read. Thank you."

Of course, this isn't always a bad thing. Depending on the work, reading things aloud might be a good idea (if you're doing an Edutainment Show, it's pretty safe to assume that most of your viewers don't know how to read yet).

Compare Reading Foreign Signs Out Loud. However, it's more justified there, as it's a case where the editors didn't bother to change anything, and the characters are essentially just translating them for the viewer's convenience.



  • The fifth episode of Sherlock Hound has The Villain kidnap Maria Hudson, the housekeeper to Sherlock Hound. He leaves behind a note written in clear cursive, reading "Dear Holmes [sic], I've got Mrs. Hadson. If you care about her safety, wait quietly for further instructions. - Prof. Moriarty." Nonetheless, his image appears, speaking the precise text of the note verbatim.


Live Action TV

Web Original

Video Games

Western Animation

  • Starting with Season 8, Thomas the Tank Engine episodes start off with The Narrator reading the episode's title.
  • VeggieTales always ends on an As the Good Book Says..., displayed on QWERTY (usually), and read out loud by a character.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
    • A scene in "Chocolate With Nuts" has Patrick reading a billboard that reads "Eat Barnacle Chips. They're delicious".
    • In Boating Buddies, SpongeBob writes "SpongeBob and Squidward, Best Boating Buddies Forever" on a chalkboard, and the rest of the students present read it out loud.
    • All of the series' time card are read out loud by The French Narrator.

Feedback: 22 replies

Oct 8th 2018 at 8:35:45 AM

I would suggest doing 2 things:

  • Remove all examples of show intended for anyone under the age of 5 (IE - not likely to know how to read)
  • Add a note to the description that examples of such shows should not be included, as any written text would obviously have to be read for viewers that actually can't read.

Oct 8th 2018 at 9:16:39 AM

I'd imagine this trope would turn out pretty bare if I did that. Tropes Are Flexible. What your suggesting is an example of a Justified Trope, and I see no real reason for it.

Oct 8th 2018 at 9:22:54 AM

It's done on dubbed shows when the writing is not in the dub's language.

Oct 8th 2018 at 10:32:17 AM

I agree with bitemytail. There are loads of examples of characters reading text aloud in shows not aimed at little kids. Removing the young show examples would make a lot of sense because little kids can't read. If not an outright removal, mention that those shows are justified in doing it.

Oct 8th 2018 at 12:20:21 PM

^ My bad, should've read the description more closely.

Oct 9th 2018 at 12:06:06 PM

The thing is, films and/or shows aren't necessarily addressed to people who own 40+inch HD TVs. Nowadays, people watch movies on their phones, tablets, ipads, etc. In such cases reading stuff out loud is necessary, because you really can't see what's written in your, say, 6'' screen.

EDIT: Furthermore, not all people read at the same speed; some are fast readers, others are snails. Having a character narrate is the best way to keep the story flowing.

Oct 9th 2018 at 1:36:07 PM

I think a Reading To The Viewer trope could be viable, but as-is, it's too complain-y about something that's perfectly reasonable for the reasons Round Robin said.

Oct 9th 2018 at 5:33:18 PM

Then there's the possibility that the person in universe simply wants to read it out loud for in inuverse reasons.

Oct 9th 2018 at 5:46:38 PM

^^^That's a very large generalization. Plenty of people still own televisions and the like (any gamer will tell you that a decently-sized monitor or screen is always a good idea). Plus, the text is usually right on-screen in these examples, so you'll probably still be able to read it regardless.

Oct 9th 2018 at 6:33:21 PM

^ What about someone who has bad eye-sight?

Oct 9th 2018 at 7:08:44 PM

Live Action TV:

  • A Running Gag in Monty Pythons Flying Circus is displays of letters supposedly written to the BBC complaining about the proceeding sketches. These letters are always read aloud by a narrator.

Oct 10th 2018 at 5:37:57 AM

Still, what about the times the text isn't visible even in a huge screen? For example, Alice is showing Bob something on the phone and Bob is reading it out loud. It's unnecessary for Alice, because she knows exactly what that text is saying (this is where "I know what it says!" / "Yeah, I read it" comes into play), but it's necessary for us, because there's no way we can see what's written on her screen, especially if the screen isn't facing the camera.

All I'm saying is that while this is tropable (in the immortal words of Cinema Sins: "Reading" [ding]), the description could use some work.

Oct 10th 2018 at 5:50:46 AM

Literacy is not as universal as many people think it is, and as well as those who just have never been taught to read there people with varying visual impairments, cognitive impairments, dyslexia and other learning difficulties, as well as a huge range of display equipment (up until recently a few very old movie theatres had dodgy and decrepit display equipment), so there is a valid reason for narration of written material.

And sometimes people are going to be doing something else as well as watching the show, and just don't want to be bothered looking up from that (Hence the Subbing Versus Dubbing controversies, which ought to be mentioned too).

Oct 10th 2018 at 7:02:26 AM

Also, Sounding It Out exists. So... yeah. Moving to discard.

Oct 10th 2018 at 11:26:31 AM

^That's a completely different trope entirely.

Oct 10th 2018 at 11:58:52 AM

The point is that the description is written rather negatively with little discussion of why this trope might exist. All we're asking is for the description to be more neutral and expansive. There are all sorts of valid reasons this trope happens, and shooting down our responses misses the point of why we're bringing these points up at all.

Oct 10th 2018 at 1:12:19 PM

Yeah this comes off as kinda mean to think that there arent a bunch of good reasons to do this. My family are short sighted and cant really read from that far away, so the way this is written now comes off as mocking.

Going with a bomb.

Oct 10th 2018 at 5:56:49 PM

If only someone else would revive this and make a better description...

Oct 12th 2018 at 12:38:39 AM


  • The fifth episode of Tokyo Movie Shinsha's animated series Sherlock Hound has The Villain kidnap Maria Hudson, the housekeeper to Sherlock Hound. He leaves behind a note written in clear cursive, reading "Dear Holmes [sic], I've got Mrs. Hadson. If you care about her safety, wait quietly for further instructions. - Prof. Moriarty." Nonetheless, his image appears, speaking the precise text of the note verbatim.

Oct 12th 2018 at 7:33:59 PM

Just a couple of thoughts on this mechanism: 1) a printed or written note is highly readable on a theater's giant screen, but gets crunched down much smaller when shown on television. The audible reading is likely a learned-the-hard-way result of complaints about blurry, illegible text sent to tv broadcasters. 2) English speakers can read English text just fine, but what about when this production gets screened or aired overseas? A reading in the audience's native language would certainly help. 3) There might be more to the message than the straight text itself conveys. Hearing the author's voice composing the note would be a jolly fine indicator whether the message is made tenderly or snidely or gloatingly. This would make any subtext readily apparent.