Q: Why do some movies have bleeps for censorship but others have dubbed-over words?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

It seems to be a matter of taste for the broadcaster, and a matter of budget.

If you're a network and you want to play a movie that was produced for theaters (where people can say whatever they want as long as they're willing to take the higher audience rating), you basically have three options: you can play a loud "bleep" sound over the not-TV-friendly word, you can simply mute the sound while the word is said or you can play a version that overdubs the offending word with something innocent (anyone who's watched a Die Hard movie on TV knows what McClane was really saying when they heard, "Yippee-ki-yay, melon farmer" or "Mr. Falcon").

In a question-and-answer session on the social media platform Reddit (these sessions are known as Ask Me Anythings, or AMAs), a TV network employee who works in the censorship department said that cost is a notable factor.

"Mostly we just drop audio over a word in a movie if need be," said the employee, who chose to remain anonymous. "Recording over the voice is handled by the studio and can be quite costly since it involves bringing in actors or impersonators."

But the other options have their own drawbacks, too.

Dropping the audio leads to a lot of silence in a particularly foul-mouthed movie, to the point that viewers might think there's a signal problem. Meanwhile, bleeping draws more attention to the censored word than a silence or an overdub (unless it's a "Die Hard"-level bad one), meaning the bleep is arguably the more political choice.

"The bleep of censorship invariably draws attention to the material it was intended to conceal; circles it, if you like, by loudly omitting it," TheVerge.com columnist Maria Bustillos wrote. "Bleeping also serves as proof that there is a watcher: someone looking out for us in advance."


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