Posts filed under “Popular Entertainment”

CELEBRITY GOSSIP.

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.

WATCHING THE DARKNESS DESCEND.

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.

OUR MENU OPTIONS HAVE CHANGED.

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.

AN OBSERVATION ON POPULAR MUSIC.

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.

IN ENTERTAINMENT NEWS.

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.

APOLOGY.

The management of Heptagon Gardens would like to extend its sincerest apologies to Miss Alexandra Polkska, the famous ballet star from Poland who performed last night. Upon mature reflection, we agree that we ought to have expected that advertising her as a “Pole dancer” might be susceptible of more than one interpretation. At any rate our advertisements seem to have attracted the wrong crowd. In fact, we’ll go ahead and say that some of those people owe Miss Polkska even more of an apology than we do. According to her manager, she is still pulling dollar bills out of her leotard. This is not the sort of behavior we expect in the Cultural District, now is it? You should be ashamed of yourselves.

COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU.

The Big Problem. The very existence of the entire universe is threatened by an evil so omnipotent, so pervasive, and so grimly set on apocalyptic destruction that only a man with a pretty good knowledge of Chinese martial arts can stop it. Starring Theodore Naphtha as the Lucky Dragon and Anthony Quagga as Evil.

YOU WANT TO SEE THIS MOVIE.

A Victim of the Mormons

Do not tell Dr. Boli that you do not wish to see it, because he will know you are lying. It is called A Victim of the Mormons, and the still above, from a scene “In the Temple of the Mormons,” shows you the kind of scrupulously accurate research that made the reputation of the picture.

Well, you are very fortunate, because you can see the Danish original right now—with the titles translated to Spanish for your convenience.

And although the film is on Wikipedia’s “List of incomplete or partially lost films,” this copy appears to be complete: the caption above specifies that it is a three-reeler, and the file is more than 50 minutes long, which is about as much film as could be crammed on three reels. The scene depicted above begins at about the 38:30 mark. You probably want to skip to that point, and tune out about half a minute later, because the rest of the film simply cannot live up to that set.

ASK HERBERT THE PSYCHIC FLOUNDER.

Dear Mr. Flounder: I have been thinking of a change of professions, since there seems to be little future in my current career track. Have you any advice to help me sort out the many possible directions for a man in my position? —Sincerely, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Dear Sir: It is always wise to place life-changing decisions in the hands of the spirits. Their direction is always reliable, though metaphorical. In this case the spirits sent me a vision very promptly. I saw a route 91 Butler Street bus outside the Wood Street subway station, and the driver of the bus was an emu. Another emu was trying to board the bus, but the driver emu insisted that no one could board without a proper rutabaga. The passenger emu offered a turnip, but the driver emu turned up his beak and drove off. Then a vendor cart rolled up the street selling rutabagas, and the passenger emu told the vendor, “Fat lot of good that does me now, I just missed my bus.”

Of course this vision requires some interpretation in order to apply it properly to your situation. After some thought, I have concluded that you ought to go into some line of trade involving the letters E-M-U, such as emulators or emulsifiers.