I Look at You, And I Get Homesick

The above is one of my favorite quotes from Farscape. For the life of me, I don’t know why I like it so much. There’s nothing super memorable or moving about the scene. In it, Crichton tries to explain away his willingness to work with his mortal enemy based on the fact that his species looks fairly human. Therefore talking to Crais is the closest he’s going to get to “guy time” with another human male: “I look at you, and I get homesick.”

But I think it is an apt description of the way familiarity, no matter how vague, can evoke the feelings of home. I found this with one of my coworkers who we will call, for purposes of this blog, M. M is from South Georgia. She has a heavy southern drawl and tales about her father’s backyard wine making operation and her grandmother taking gin soaked raisins for her arthritis. I’m not from anywhere near South Georgia. I’m not even from the Deep South. But I was raised by a Texan and a woman from South Louisiana. My mother also recommends gin soaked raisins for arthritis—and she’s a nurse! From a family standpoint I tend to think I’m as Southern as they come. Not Tennessee Williams Southern and not Jeff Foxworthy Southern, but something else entirely that you don’t see on television. And sometimes, I talk to M, and I get homesick.

Because now I live in the Midwest. And there are wonderful things about the Midwest, but it’s different. Compared to what I’m used to people here seem standoffish. No one ever smiles if they pass you on the street. The food is bland (and racism is at a level I’ve never witnessed before, but that’s another matter). My program seems to be full of people from the Midwest and the Northern Midwest, which is another region entirely, but just as foreign. I love most of my colleagues, but sometimes I feel like we speak a different language. We also have very different experiences (except for my one friend from Detroit who is the only other person I’ve ever met who was taught to kick out a tail light in elementary school. That’s another story too.)

M and I started grad school at the same time, so our first year here we had a lot of classes together. And since we both took the bus to campus we tended to get to class early, and we had a lot of time to talk. Later we were assigned to teach the same class, wound up with overlapping office hours, and had a lot more time to talk. M is an amazing person to begin with and I like to think we’d have been friends without the shared experience of being southerners, but it’s certainly helped. It’s like when I lived in Peru—I speak Spanish just fine. I would and could go entire days without speaking a single word of English. But sometimes I would be sitting in a restaurant or an airplane and hear someone next to me speak English, and it was so nice to be able to speak English for just a few minutes. That’s how it is talking to someone “from home” when you’re in a foreign land. That’s why it’s always been so refreshing talking with M when one of us says something about our family and then adds, “Well you know…” Because I do know. It’s nice to know when M says, “Well you know what the expectations are, being a Southern daughter,” that I know and she knows and someone gets where I’m coming from. All the good and bad that goes along with it.

M has just received an amazing job opportunity. One that fits perfectly with her experience and expectations and will allow her to get paid while doing her dissertation research. Unfortunately this means she’s moving this Summer. I’m thrilled for her. And on some level I’m a little sad for me. As it so happens, a lot of my friends are moving this Summer and next year will be different for me in a lot of ways. But somehow that little self absorbed part of me is extra sad about M leaving, because from now on I know when I get homesick I’ll be homesick alone.

Move Over Cary Elwes–You’re Not the Only Bad Accent In Town

Some of you may remember that we here at MTVMPB do, on occasion, hand out our own awards for the less-recognized aspects of film and television.  Things that even Mtv Movie Awards doesn’t bother to recognize.  These awards have nothing to do with new releases–any work is eligible whenever we damn well make it so.  On the list of elements we choose to recognize is the “Worst American Accent”–an award meant to honor those from outside the US who try–and utterly fail–to imitate one of our many native accents.

We usually refer to this as the “Cary Elwes Award” as his work in Twister was what inspired this particular category.  While he still reigns as the only winner in the Feature Film sub-category, we are honored to finally recognize another outstandingly bad attempt to sound American, this time in the sub-category of “Miniseries.”

A truly realistic Southern drawl may be something easily conjured for the purposes of a quick, mocking comedic impression, however the convincing level of execution needed for a dramatic miniseries is far more of a challenge.  After all, Southern accents come in so many subtle variations from sweet seductive drawl of a Georgia peach, to the piquant twang of Central Texas, it’s no wonder that so many fail in the attempt to pull this off.

But few have failed in a manner as epic as Miranda Otto in the BBC miniseries The Way We Live Now.

Holy.  Shitballs.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re Miranda Otto fans around here.  She rocked the Rohan thing when she played everyone’s favorite shieldmaid, Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings films.  Sure, we wanted to see more with her and Faramir in the Houses of Healing, but we were all pretty damn happy to cheer at “I am no man!” when she sent that Nazgul back to meet his maker.  And, beyond that, she was also great in comedies like Danny Deckchair.  Seeing her name in the opening credits for this miniseries seemed like a fantastic sign for what lay ahead.

Until she opened her mouth.

Oh, for the love of all that is holy.

It’s clear it’s supposed to be Southern, but it’s so fake, so generically over-the-top that it is literally painful to hear.  And it’s sad, because the character to which she’s attaching this audiological abomination is actually an interesting character (two words: pistol. packing.).  The acting is great, it’s just that the accent with which the lines are delivered completely throws one out of the moment.  And also, it makes me feel….bad.

Which is why it deserves an award.  If it’s going to be that awful, we’re going to turn it into something positive by pinning an honor on it.  Woohoo!

So, for “Worst American Accent in a Miniseries” we salute Miranda Otto.  Now go find the vocal coach who trained you on that and pinch him/her on the arm.  Hard.

Reflections on my Voicemail

Yesterday I noticed I had a missed call from a colleague, but no voicemail.  Knowing that he and I normally communicate via email anyway I checked my email to see if I had a message from him there and I did.  It began, more or less, “Can you send me your phone number?  I called the number I had from you, but I got this very southern sounding voicemail that didn’t sound like you at all…”

Now I’m totally aware that I sound southern on my voicemail.  I’ve had a lot of messages that started out, “Wow!  You sound really southern on your voicemail!” For my part, I don’t hear it, but I don’t hear my mother’s accent either and I’m totally aware that she has one.  But this is the first time someone has flat out not recognized that person with the southern accent as me.  Which got me to wondering if I’ve really changed my accent that dramatically.

Last year I wound up driving a colleague of mine who is from China back from a conference.  She asked me about region differences in the US.  Evidently, she had gone to an interviewing workshop our department put on and at the workshop people were giving a hard time to one of our professors about being very… direct.  They chalked it up to his being a New Yorker. Indeed, said professor does hail from New York City and does seem to have the bluntness we associate with New Yorkers and northeasterners in general.  She asked me if it was the case that northerners tend to be more direct while southerners are friendlier.  I told her that at least fit with our stereotypes.  It seems they have the same north/south stereotypes in China.

But there does seem to be a bit of a distinction.  I related to her the story I had heard from the wife of one of our other professors.  She told me that her husband, who grew up in rural Virginia, actually had a heavy accent as a young man, but one of his high school teachers took him aside one day and said, “You’re incredibly smart and you’re going to get out of here and go places.  But no one will ever take you seriously if you sound like that.”  So he started lessons with that teacher every afternoon until he lost his accent.  Today there’s little hint of southern in his voice.  My Chinese friend was confused as to why he would do this and I explained that in the US people with southern accents are also often seen as less intelligent.  She exclaimed, “But why would people think that!  That’s so superficial!”

And… she’s absolutely right. Strangely, it wasn’t until that moment that it occurred to me it could be otherwise.  I just always took it for granted that sounding southern would make me sound less intelligent and certainly less sophisticated.  If you need proof, look at the case of Bill Clinton:  Politics and sex addiction aside, a lot of the jokes about him are built on the crux of him being stupid.  In fact, on a purely intellectual level, he’s probably one of the most intelligent presidents we’ve had.  But his accent characterizes him as stupid. (Interesting note:  apparently the same on both counts can be said of Gorbachev.)

So I guess what bothered me most about that email yesterday was the thought that I might have deliberately shed my accent to meet others’ expectations.  If I’ve lost my accent naturally because I live in the Midwest, well who cares.  But if, on some level, while getting all this book learning, I’m playing into the same superficial stereotypes as all those people who see my fellow southerners as backward… well that would make me sad.  I’d rather be the person disproving the stereotype than the person hiding from it.  But I really don’t know where that accent went.

But I do know I’m not changing my voicemail.

Big Foot Sightings

The local news had a story about a North Carolina man who was out chasing coyotes and encountered Sasquatch.  I dearly love Sasquatch sighting stories, moreso when they’re taking place East of the Mississippi.  Inevitably you get a red-neck fella in a camo baseball cap relating his tale through a thick accent with a completely unmasked tone of shock.  It’s fantastic, and, I’ll admit:  I think at least a portion of them are dead-on (the rest were just communing with the still and we all know it).

Yes, that’s right.  I believe Bubba when he says he saw Big Foot.  Why, would I, a semi-intelligent and moderatly well-educated young woman set any store by the grammatically incorrect ramblings of a fellow who thinks Bach is just one of them fancy beers?

Because I’m pretty sure I once saw Sasquatch in Tennessee.

Those who’ve known me long enough might just chock this up to my own humbly rural roots, but I swear it’s true.  Sometime after midnight, late in December, under a bright full moon, my family was driving back to Virginia from Texas.  In Tennessee, climbing up out of a river valley somewhere East of Nashville, I looked out the car window, wide awake (I rarely sleep in a car–just can’t do it).  In a slight clearing in the trees, I saw several deer nibbling at what little vegetation was poking up from the snow.  They were far enough away from the road and slightly down an incline that I knew I didn’t have to warn Mom (who was at the wheel–she doesn’t sleep in cars either) about any unwanted jay-walkers bounding into her path, so I just stared as we got closer.  As we zipped past, I saw it, a dark figure near the edge of the clearing.

It looked like it was watching the deer.  Not moving toward the, and not stalking them.  Just watching.  I calmly announced to my mother, “I think I just saw sasquatch.”  To which sIhe said, “Um, Cammy, do you think you need to crawl in back and try to sleep there?”

I assured her, as I assure you now, gentle readers, I was not sleep deprived.  I’ve also run through the other possibilities.  I pondered that it was just a man in heavy clothing–a hunter or naturalist out to observe wildlife–but the size of the figure relative to the deer was entirely too large for the average male.  Maybe one with a hormonal disorder.  Maybe.  I considered that it may have been a bear, but the build and stance were all wrong for any bear I’ve ever seen.

That leaves Big Foot.

I’m too practical to believe in most things of a weird nature.  On the spectrum of X-Files, I’m definitely more to the Scully than the Mulder.  But, in keeping with the logic of our favorite FBI redhead, I’m willing to believe that there’s at least a possibility of a small number of creatures living in Appalachia which have evaded the eyes of man for a significant period of time.  It’s improbable, yes, but not completely impossible.

So, I’m off to find my camo baseball cap.  The accent?  Well, I already have that one.  Bubba?  I believe you!

In Recognition of Butchered American Accents…

I have some great friends who hail from the UK, and I love them dearly, but one too many times I’ve been subjected to these friends, and some mere acquaintances, railing about American actors who don British accents for a part and fail miserably in the ears of anyone native.  It’s not that I don’t agree, but the rant is a little old hat at this point.  Yes, we Americans suck at British accents, we’ll never understand the subtleties and complexities and we ought to be heartily ashamed.

But, my dear friends across the pond, I-35 runs North AND South ’cause y’all suck just as much at getting American accents down pat.  I’ve heard the evidence.

Knowing that recognizing the bi-lateral nature of the situation will never be enough to actually end the ranting, we at It’s My TV, It’s My Peanut Butter have opted, instead, to recognize those from outside the US who attempt to emulate one of our numerous accents and fail miserably.  If we can’t stop the butchering, we might as well celebrated it!

The benchmark for this failure was one we identified years ago.  While watching Twister we couldn’t help but cringe at Cary Elwes’ attempt at, well, we think he was trying to do a Southern drawl, but the jury’s still out.  It was obviously supposed to be some variant of a US accent, but instead it came off as what it was:  a British guy trying to do an American accent.  It grated on the ears and totally threw whatever suspended disbelief I had in the movie (which was admittedly very little) right into the swirling vortex of the CGI-tornado on screen.  I’m not sure if this was meant to be some form of payback for American actors butchering accents over the years, or if it was just an example of how hard it is to really capture the dialect of a place you’ve never lived.

It takes guts to stink up an accent that much in front of so many, and for this, recognition is order.  For” The Worst American Accent in a Feature Film”, our inaugural winner is Cary Elwes in Twister.  Congratulations.  Now, never try to be southern again, sir.