Friday, August 16, 2013

The Accent Shell Game

Like most interesting discussions, it begins with Rachel Griffiths.

{this is the point where historically I would include a picture of her to remind the philistines amongst ye who I'm talking about.  Unfortunately, due to my ongoing issue with suddenly learning that there is a thing called 'copyright', I am unable to do so at the present time.  I promise that I'll resume amusing imagery once I get the swing of public domain artwork.  In the interim, remember any of her memorable scenes as Brenda on Six Feet Under - Possibly take a moment to pleasure yourself (it's not about judging) - and then come back to us}

It's fairly common knowledge that the best movie in the whole world is Murial's Wedding.  Not only is it a great script on its own, but it also gave the world Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette - Which means that it is directly responsible for The United States of Tara, and so you probably should go ahead and send the universe a thank you card at this point.

The relevant info here being that Rachel Griffiths - like Toni Collete, not that you'd know it from The Sixth Sense - is from Australia.

Which means that her natural speaking voice involves a quite nice Australian accent.

So the other night, as I was channel surfing out of lack of anything productive to do, I came across a show on some broadcast network that featured Rachel Griffiths* and was completely unsurprised to hear her speaking with an American accent.  That is, after all, what Aussie actors do these days.  See also: the Thor/Avengers franchise.

*It turned out to be something called Camp.  I'd never heard of it and initially thought it might be Parenthood, but that's just because that features Peter Krause - -who was her boyfriend/Husband on Six Feet Under - and actually DOES have an American accent as he comes from my own home state of Minnesota, but in deference to the Hollywood machine plays down the long 'o's and delightfully casual attitude toward diphthongs that the Minnesota accent normally entails.  Amazingly enough, this will all become relevant in a few paragraphs from now.

Which brings me to England.

Or more specifically, to portions of England that don't, in the strictest manner of speaking, actually exist.

There's a thing in British Television, Film, and Broadcast News called 'Received Pronunciation'.*

* I should acknowledge for the British Readership (and hello there Mr. Quinn - looking fabulous as always, and my word have you been working out?) that I'm getting a lot of this third hand and besides which have a noted tendency to just make shit up when I'm not certain of the details.  So feel free to gently correct me in the comments below if I get something egregiously wrong.

As far as I can make out, this was initially developed in parallel with the rise of film and telly as a way for the upper class to be able to saved from having to hear anything at any time that might remind them that poor people exist.  What it meant in practice (and still does, largely) is that anyone at all involved with being filmed or recorded at any point was taught quite vociferously how to pronounce words in a very specific, vaguely upper-class way in which no one actually spoke in real life.

Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer uses received pronunciation, if that clarifies exactly the tone and cadence I'm talking about. As does Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, played by Alexis Denisof.

In reality, Anthony Head (who played Giles) speaks in roughly East End style and actually sounds more or less like James Marsters' Spike on the same program.

Which is amusing, because James Marsters is from Northern California and sounds almost exactly like Keanu Reeves in Point Break.  As does Alexis Denisof, for that matter.

In order to accommodate the various needs of drama the British Broadcasting Corporation (founded - sort of - after World War II in order to force the population to have access to culture) also taught actors 'Mockney' (which is really what Spike of Buffy sounds like - a sort of parody of Cockney that actual EastEnders would speak) and something that they call a 'Mummerset' accent, which is roughly the equivalant of the standard US 'Ignorant Southern' such as is spoken by Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel on The Simpsons.

The way it breaks down on British programming until very recently was-

Received Pronunciation = Educated.  Probably Middle to Upper Class.
Mockney - Devious, clever, and probably wanted by the police
Mummerset - From anywhere in England that wasn't London.  Stupid.
Scottish - Cheap and Angry
Irish - Drunk

Things are loosening up now of course, to the extent that when Christopher Eccleston took on the role of The Doctor in the 2005 Doctor Who revival he was actually allowed to use his real accent (Salford) and furthermore, even had that correctly identified as 'Northern' as opposed to just 'Not London'.

It was slightly let down by Scottish-accented David Tennant following him up with pure 100% Mockney...  But still.  Progress.

The point of the story - If you want to work in Television or Film, you should probably put on a ridiculous fake accent as far away from your own as possible if you want to have any chance of being able to use your actual accent in your working career.

Also, you should really watch both Six Feet Under and Murial's Wedding, because Rachel Griffiths is freakin' AWESOME in both.

Vizsla out

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