Posts filed under “Popular Entertainment”


Like every generation before it, the current generation of performers likes to believe that we have at last solved the problem of naturalism in acting. Older styles of acting were ritualized and unrealistic, but now our performance methods have reached such a peak of accuracy in the reproduction of real human speech and behavior that our acting is indistinguishable from real life.

Scientifically speaking, this is balderdash. Our current styles of acting are stale and ritualized, almost liturgically artificial. The only reason we insist that acting in our current movies and television entertainment is “natural” is because we have agreed to consider certain clichés as standing in for nature.

We say scientifically speaking because Dr. Boli has proved his assertion by a scientific experiment that does not depend on the reaction of a human audience. He asked the dog. If you have a good watchdog at home, you can try the same experiment yourself.

First, you can play a movie or television show on your computer so that the dog can hear it. Result: Dog does nothing. Dog knows that dog is not hearing real people talking: it is ritualized performance recorded somewhere else, at some other time, and is of no concern to dog.

Now make a video call to some friend from the same computer, so that the sound comes out of the loudspeaker at the same volume. Result: Dog leaps into a barking frenzy to warn you of a perimeter breach. Dog can hear that this is a real person talking. It is not ritualized performance at all.

Nothing has changed in the quality or source of the sound. The only thing that has changed is the rhythm and expression of the person talking. Dog ignores the fictional character because dog has learned that fictional characters are not real people and do not invade the house.

The same, incidentally, is true of news and information programs. Reporters have their own ritualized expression, which is completely uninteresting to dogs. Dogs understand the difference between television personalities and real people—a lesson we humans would do well to learn.

So the next time you hear someone praise the utterly natural performance of a certain actor, ignore the critic. Ask your dog instead. Your dog is a better judge.


The management of the Four Chord Music Festival has announced that this year’s festival will feature a performance by Miss Diana Smoulder, the ravishing heartthrob of the hurdy-gurdy. According to judges, all her submissions met the entrance requirements with three chords to spare.

The Earl’s Own Early Music Ensemble invites the public to a Sing Along with Palestrina concert at O’Brady’s Bar and Grill on Saturday at 8 p.m. Three-drink minimum.

Popular middlebrow band The Luxurious Socks have denied the rumors of a breakup, saying that the band simply needed some “apart time” and will be going to separate continuing-education classes to learn more about, like, psychology and stuff.

Rap-jazz fusion artist Felonious Thelonious will be guest-hosting Face the Nation this Sunday.

British rock legend Sir Jeremy Freakout has released his first single in five decades. Titled “Nothing Freaks Me Out Anymore,” the song consists of a rhythm track, a number of repeated cues from late-night public-affairs programming, and Sir Jeremy’s own distinctive snoring.


Announcer: And now Business Records Consulting Services LLC, the new service that takes your business records where you’ll never have to see them again, presents…

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer: The Adventures of Mush Marlow, Private Investigator!

[Music: In full, then under for…]

Announcer: Tonight we find Mush busy at his desk when his secretary Betty opens the door.

[Music: Fade. Sound: Door opening.]

Mush: This better be important, Betty. I’m reading Proust here.

Betty: There’s a lady here to see you.

Mush: I don’t know whether I have time to see any ladies. I was just getting to the exciting part.

Betty: Well, I think you’ll want to see her. She’s a knockout.

Mush: Oh, a boxer, huh?

Betty: No, I mean “knockout” as in the slang term for an unusually attractive woman. You know, the word you never use when you’re talking about me, for some reason.

Mush: Oh, you mean the kind with legs up to her hips?

Betty: And arms up to her shoulders.

Mush: What’s she look like, anyway?

Betty: Well, she has titian hair—

Mush: Titian? Isn’t that just a fancy word for “brown”?

Betty: Well, I think it means more russet. Cupreous. Auburn, maybe.

Mush: Isn’t that a city in upstate New York?

Betty: Yes, but it’s also a hair color.

Mush: They named a hair color after a city on Owasco Lake?

Betty: I don’t think the hair color was named for—

Mush: My uncle lived in Auburn. He used to go sailing on Owasco Lake, but he had grey hair. Almost white. Why didn’t they call that auburn hair, huh? It’s disrespectful to my uncle, that’s what it is.

Betty: Let’s just say her hair is reddish-brown. Do you think you can deal with reddish-brown?

Mush: Well, fine, so she’s got brown hair. Lots of women have brown hair. Why should I interrupt my Proust for brown hair?

Betty: She’s also got blue eyes.

Mush: Now we’re getting somewhere. And how’s she dressed?

Betty: She’s got on a violet taffeta gown, like she’s—

Mush: What’s “taffeta,” anyway? You women say these words when you talk about clothes, and I have no idea what they mean. I think you just make them up.

Betty: Okay, it’s silky. It’s silky and violet.

Mush: Is it violet like at the blue end of violet or violet like at the purple end of violet?

Betty: It’s violet. Why do you care what kind of violet it is?

Mush: I have to know whether it’s worth interrupting Proust for.

Betty: It’s a very expensive gown. I can tell you that much. She looks like she’s dressed for going to the opera, not for walking up two flights of stairs to a cheap detective’s office.

Mush: Maybe I won’t be cheap if she’s got that kind of money. Send her in.

Betty: Okay, boss.

[Sound: Footsteps in high heels, door opens and closes.]

Mush: Hate to interrupt my book, but I guess there’ll be time to find out what happens with those madeleines later.

[Sound: Door opens.]

Betty: Sorry, boss, but she left already.

Mush: Aha! So it’s a missing-persons case now! Call Lieutenant Baxter at the city police and tell him we’ve got a missing-persons case. Tell him to get over here right away so he can threaten to have my license if I don’t spill the beans, and I can play coy with him so he knows he’s being misled. Then put out my flask and my rubber-soled shoes. We’re on the case.

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer: And so once again Mush Marlow finds himself hip-deep in titian-haired trouble. Tune in next week for more of the hard-boiled adventures of Mush Marlow, Private Investigator!

Now here’s a message for the busy executives in the audience. Are your business records piling up all over the office—on desks, on windowsills, in the bathroom, under the pool table? That’s when you know you need to call Business Records Consulting Services LLC. Business Records Consulting Services will take your business records away to an undisclosed location, and you’ll never have to look at them again. Then when some board member or government inspector or something asks you whether the legally mandated records for your business are being kept, you can confidently say, “Yes! As far as we know!” Call Business Records Consulting Services—so you can get back to business!

[Music: In full, then out.]


…You Can’t Actually Click On

Which dead novelist is your guardian angel?

Which letter of the Cyrillic alphabet are you?

Which part of the horse are you?

Which yappy little toy dog is your spirit guide?

Which common lawn weed are you?

What does your Social Security number say about your gullibility level? (Enter it here to find out!)

What’s the vibrational frequency of your thyroid?

Which brand of dental floss matches your personality?

What’s your sartorial I.Q.?

Which brainless clickbait online quiz are you?


In Victorian times, stage plays were straightforward affairs. You had a virtuous maiden and a sneering villain, and the plot was some contrivance by which the sneering villain would attempt to rob the virtuous maiden of her adjective. Mortgages were always useful weapons in the arsenal of a stage villain, but the better playwrights came up with more ingeniously dastardly plots than the simple but reliable mortgage-on-the-farmhouse.

By many accounts the first American to make his living as a playwright was Bartley Campbell. He wrote for theaters in Pittsburgh, whence his plays propagated across the country. They were perfectly suited to the middlebrow tastes of the American theatergoer in the later 1800s. No one’s heroines were more virtuous, no one’s villains sneerier than Campbell’s.

His most successful play by far was The White Slave, which played every stage from big-city theaters to hick-town “opera” houses for decades. It’s set in the antebellum South, and it’s about a virtuous maiden and a sneering villain who comes up with a humdinger of a wicked plot. He convinces the heroine that she is an “octoroon”—that one of her great-grandparents was Black. Under Southern laws, that makes her Black and a slave.

This poster shows the two most famous scenes from the play:

The White Slave poster

In the first, the villain has just threatened to put our heroine to work with the common field slaves unless she consents to become his favorite. In reply, she speaks the most famous and applause-gettingest line in nineteenth-century American theater: “Rags are royal raiment when worn for virtue’s sake!” The other scene is the villain’s inevitable comeuppance, in which an authority figure reveals that our heroine is a Genuine White Woman, and thus ineligible for slavery. Notice that nineteenth-century audiences did not worry about “spoilers.” They knew how the plot would come out, but they loved to see virtue in action. They came to cheer the heroine and hiss the villain.

Bartley Campbell’s plays were enormously successful, but he went mad from the stress of trying to manage a full-time playwriting career and died in an asylum at the age of 43. Let that be a lesson to all you aspiring writers out there. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where he rests under an obelisk—but a Catholic obelisk, depaganized as they usually are in Catholic cemeteries by the addition of a prominent cross.

Bartley Campbell monument

And if you look a little closer, you will recognize his epitaph:


Imagine our stage heroine—who has been trained from youth to trill her Rs vigorously—pronouncing that immortally alliterative line with a virtuous toss of her head. Imagine the audience jumping to their feet to cheer for her virtue, leaving the villain to shuffle his feet for five minutes before he can finally get on with his next threat. And then imagine one of those audience members years later wandering through the pleasant hills of St. Mary’s Cemetery and coming across this monument. In an instant the most thrilling stage performance of his life rises before his mind’s eye, and he hears that immortal line, and he says a prayer for the soul of Bartley Campbell.

And while we are imagining things, imagine a twenty-first-century play in which the heroine gives up everything for virtue’s sake, and the audience doesn’t laugh at her.

The pictures of the Campbell monument come to us by courtesy of Father Pitt, who in turn was directed to the monument by the noted Lawrenceville historian James Wudarczyk.


Miss Una Corda, the notoriously shy concert pianist, has announced that she will release her upcoming album, Music You Probably Won’t Like by Composers You’ve Never Heard of, in 8-track format only.

Arnold Limesquash, the noted ventriloquist, is suing his dummy for libel.

British rock legend Sir Jeremy Freakout broke his decades-long silence yesterday when he stepped on a tack at the Westminster Home for Aged KBEs. His agent quoted him as saying “Crikey.” Sir Jeremy had not spoken since 1974 in protest against British occupation of the South Sandwich Islands. Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed for calm and said that carpet conditions at the Home would be investigated “forthwith.”

Rap-jazz fusion artist Felonious Thelonious busted a rhyme yesterday at the Greater Aspinwall Independence Day Art-O-Rama. He is listed in serious but stable condition at St. Margaret’s Hospital.

Bozar the Clown has been retained as a consultant for a new motion picture about the life of Stanford White, tentatively titled I Was a Predator but I Made Some Pretty Good Buildings and That Thaw Guy Was Crazy.

Irving Vanderblock-Wheedle, the well-known poet and novelist, gave a reading from his new free-verse sonnet cycle Sunday at the Buzzing Fret Acoustic Café, until the manager on duty told him that if he was going to stand there talking to himself all afternoon he could at least order a latte or something.


Everyone knows that YouTube is where Americans go to have their brains sucked out through their eyeballs. Today we’ll examine one YouTube informational video in detail, and show you why it will inevitably leave you stupider unless you counter it with actual information. It’s called “Why Do Americans In Old Movies Sound British?” and it comes from a channel with 2.2 million subscribers, which goes to show how far stock footage and a nodding acquaintance with Wikipedia will get you.

(You have to make the explicit decision to activate that video because Dr. Boli believes you might not want Google following you everywhere just because you landed on his front page.)

The video is a feast of stock footage, and it is sponsored by a supplier of stock footage. The research was done mostly in the Wikipedia article on “Mid-Atlantic Accent,” also called the “Transatlantic Accent.”

Our narrator (after some preliminary self-congratulation) starts off proposing to answer the question, Why does Cary Grant speak with what sounds to us like an English accent? One satisfying answer would be, “Because he was born and raised in England.” That this answer is not suggested, and that the fact is not even mentioned, may give us our first hint that the hours of research that went into this video have been misplaced. Sometimes truly in-depth research requires more than one Wikipedia article.

The next hint comes right afterward, when our narrator says that “nearly all actors in old movies talk like that.” We’ll refute that statement later. Meanwhile, the video breezes along, telling us that the Transatlantic Accent is “not real, fake, synthetic, artificial, contrived, false, phony.” The multiplication of adjectives, though played as a joke, seems to betray some considerable anger, as if the “Transatlantic Accent” had beaten our narrator and stolen his lunch money every day in the eighth grade. This is not likely, because the accent was already extinct by the time our narrator was in the eighth grade. But there is some lingering resentment here: perhaps a memory of some pedantic English teacher who forced the children to pronounce the T in often. There are English teachers who do that, and an entire wing of purgatory is set aside for them.

Or perhaps it is because the idea that any pronunciation could be correct is “racist,” which comes up in a little burst of sarcasm (“super-not-racist idea”) seconds later. This is an interestingly American point of view. In America, it is commonly (though not universally) possible to distinguish Black speakers by their accents. This is a curious fact of American culture; if you turn on a British television show and close your eyes, you cannot distinguish the races of the speakers. But Americans are so used to the distinction that many of us seem to believe that African ancestry causes the accent. (Dr. Boli remembers one very painful conversation in which a gentleman who was certainly not a racist explained in detail how the shape of the African head caused the Black American accent.) So, oddly, it would be racist to propose that everyone should speak a “proper” English that, according to the video, neither White nor Black Americans naturally speak. It would be racist to suggest that there should not be a linguistic distinction by race. —But Dr. Boli is bored with this particular absurdity, so we’ll move on to another.

The videomakers’ Wikipedia research seems to have failed them when they trace the Transatlantic Accent to the 1920s. If they had read the Wikipedia article more carefully, they would have seen that it was already the American prestige accent in the 1800s, as evidenced by the earliest recordings. Dr. Boli will now add to the sum of human knowledge by connecting the accent with Worcester’s Dictionary, the most popular American dictionary of the middle 1800s. Worcester was preferred by educated Americans over Webster, and it was Worcester’s belief that there was and should be no essential difference between educated American and English speech. Many editions of Worcester’s Dictionary incorporated the pronunciations from Walker’s Pronouncing Dictionary, the famous English guide to pronunciation, so Americans who turned to Worcester would get the same pronunciation guidance that English readers relied on.

So the elite boarding schools of the 1920s were simply doing what the elite boarding schools of the 1860s or any other arbitrary period in American history were doing. They were teaching their pupils to speak properly, and “properly” was defined with an English bias.

But “why did nearly everyone in old movies use a Transatlantic Accent regardless of whether or not their character would have attended an elite Northern boarding school?”

Oddly, these words are spoken over a clip of Jimmy Stewart. If you know who Jimmy Stewart is, you are already astonished. If you do not know who Jimmy Stewart is, search on YouTube, listen to him talking for fifteen seconds, and then come back here.

So clearly Jimmy Stewart was the wrong example to pick. But most Hollywood actors of the time would have been the wrong example to pick. Some certainly were known for the “Transatlantic Accent.” Cary Grant’s Wikipedia article notes specifically (in the second sentence) that he was “known for his transatlantic accent.” But he would not have been “known” for it if every other movie star in Hollywood spoke that way—it would be like saying Tom Cruise was known for speaking English in his film roles. Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Judy Garland, Joseph Cotton, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Ruby Keeler, Orson Welles, Fred Astaire, Van Johnson, Joan Blondell—these were some of the biggest names in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, and they are not Transatlanticists. None of them regularly spoke with that fake, synthetic, artificial, contrived, false, phony accent. Some could code-switch, as the linguists say today: Ginger Rogers and Una Merkel get a lot of comic mileage out of switching between Park Avenue and street-smart chorus girl in 42nd Street. But the idea that almost all movie stars spoke like products of a Northeastern prep school could be held only by someone who knows old movies from four-second clips on YouTube.

There is more misinformation to come. Dr. Boli will only note in passing, for example, that Carnegie Mellon did not exist when Edith Skinner was teaching (doubtless our narrator meant to say “Carnegie Tech”), and anyway Edith Skinner was certainly not responsible for all the actors who adopted the Transatlantic Accent—some of them, in fact, came from elite Northern boarding schools.

Then we come to why the Transatlantic Accent vanished. Why did World War II make Americans want to be more differentiated from the British, the allies we fought with (not against, it may be necessary to explain to younger folks)? It’s just obvious, apparently. So, “having learned from our mistakes”—

What was the mistake? What did we learn? Was it that pronunciation is not a skill that can be taught? That sounds so absurd when we hear it stated that we would wonder whether anyone could be fool enough to believe it, but it seems to be current educational dogma anyway. If pronunciation is not a learned skill, then where does it come from? Dr. Boli is reminded of the old story of the young couple who were taking a crash course in Russian so they could understand their newly adopted baby when she started to talk.

Oh, yes, you say to Dr. Boli, but do you have a better explanation?

We could, in an optimistic moment, say that educated Americans no longer speak this way because fashions have changed. If we were feeling more pessimistic, we could say that educated Americans no longer speak this way because there are no more educated Americans.

But we have already pushed this article past the limits of our readers’ patience. Let us therefore press toward the conclusion and compile a list of hidden assumptions in this video, so deeply hidden that the makers are certainly not aware of them.

  1. Educated is fake. Real means uneducated.
  2. Pronunciation cannot be taught. It grows naturally, like warts.
  3. Midwesterners are real Americans. East-coasters from New England or New Jersey or South Carolina who speak with a non-rhotic accent are not really American at all.
  4. If people spoke differently from us eighty or ninety years ago, it was because they put on a fake accent for show; at home they talked like us.

But the real point of this long essay (we explain to the two or three readers who made it this far down) is not to mock a random video into which its creators put a lot of research (by reading an exceptionally long Wikipedia article) and a lot of work. The real point is to show that the new Dark Age has already begun. There has been a complete and irreparable break in cultural tradition.

Now cultural archaeologists are forced to comb through the ruins for clues to what civilization was like eighty or ninety years ago, before the darkness descended. Naturally their conclusions are mostly wrong. Archaeologists are usually wrong in their first attempts at reconstructing an ancient civilization. But they are making those first attempts. They deserve praise and encouragement. This is how science works: by proposing a hypothesis, working it up into a theory, and then finding that the facts don’t fit and the theory is rubbish. We call that progress. Our videomakers have completed the first two steps, and Dr. Boli has kindly filled in the third for them. Now they can get back to work on a new and better hypothesis.


Thank you for calling the Glatfelter Automated Answering System Corporation, where We Have All the Answers service mark. Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed. For the office you used to get by dialing 4, please dial 1. For the office you used to get by dialing 2, please dial 6. For Spanish, oprime el ocho. “Oprime el ocho” is all we know how to say in Spanish. For technical support, please dial 2856 and that key with the tic-tac-toe sign on it, whatever that’s called. For the complaints department, please hang up and dial a different company. If you would like to speak to the receptionist, good luck. We haven’t seen him since Easter. If you know your party’s extension, you think you’re pretty smart, don’t you? Well, think again, because we changed all those, too.


Listen to the loudspeaker as you walk past a store or some such place where the radio is set to a current-pop-hits station. Dr. Boli does not suggest that you spend a long time listening, but just enough time to confirm his observation that current popular music is obsessed with the first three notes of the diatonic scale.

Now ask yourself why that should be. Formulate a hypothesis, and see if you can accumulate enough evidence to elevate it to a theory. Dr. Boli will start the game. It is his hypothesis that sticking mainly to the first three notes of the scale makes composing a serviceable melody the least possible effort, and causes an occasional foray up to the fourth or even the fifth to strike the dulled senses of the casual listener with an unexpected thrill.


According to police reports, rap-jazz fusion artist Felonious Thelonious was arrested last night for driving under the influence of Miles Davis.

Miss Diana Smoulder, the ravishing heartthrob of the hurdy-gurdy, will employ a paid crankist for the rest of her Endless Whine tour, owing to repetitive-motion injuries sustained in her cranking hand.

Bozar the Clown has signed with the Dumont Network to produce a ten-part series tentatively titled Towering Passion, based on the unusual events that brought Daniel Burnham to design a skyscraper in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Taking some liberties with the source material, Mr. Bozar plans to have the role of coal baron Josiah V. Thompson, who commissioned the building, played by Gal Gadot.

The Great Blando has been rehearsing a new act under conditions of the strictest secrecy. Mr. Blando’s manager will not reveal anything to the press about the performance, other than that fans of William Allingham will be pleased.

Theodore Naphtha, the classically trained Shakespearean actor best known for his role as Irv in the 2006 comedy Herb and Irv Hit Themselves on the Head with Hammers, has sold his house in Hollywood and is moving to Ohio. According to his agent, with the proceeds from the sale of his three-bedroom ranch house on North Orange Drive, Mr. Naphtha was able to buy Youngstown.