It seems that every blog out there that has anything to do with literature or language is posting opinions on the recently publicized and new edition of Huck Finn. How could I pass up this opportunity to conform, and late, to the writing norm? Well, I'm passing. I just saw on my little feed updater (technical term) that The Economist's blog, Johnson, has now made public their stand. Well, I have already stood (via Facebook, email, and a comment at unmoderatedcaucus.blogspot.com, not to mention a pertinent post on the issue at hand here at The Wall). However, I heard a bit of local news recently (local to here in Utah) that reminds me, obliquely, of our current culture's particular tendency to change things in the name of correctness (and isn't this stupid coming from the same industry that invented shock value?).
A local theater troop is putting on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of being Earnest (or maybe it was An Ideal Husband). Anyway, as it will be a local production, most auditioners will surely have an accent with dominant influences almost certainly Western, and likely Utahn, not to mention linguistic quirks specific even to just Utah County. Despite this, the ad in our local paper says that interested parties must be capable of speaking with a British accent.
(Now allow me to step upon my soap box.)
Maybe it's just me, but I think this is spectacularly stupid. Aside from the fact that there's no such thing as a "British accent," the likelihood of a consistent accent is so slight as to render to product utterly muddled to distraction from the actual intent of this (either) brilliant play. Of course, maybe the audience wouldn't notice; and not that I'm some expert in accents, and not that the local audience is so stupid. Quite the contrary (either). But if the audience is unlikely to notice discrepancies in accent, and if said accents are implemented, and also if said accents fit the pathetic stereotype United Statesians hold for Britons' accents (though apparently this director thinks there's but one), then would they notice if the actors simply spoke with their own "American" accents, or at least some other standardized accent?
I see this as precisely the opposite problem of the demonized changing of the "n-word" for slave, done in effort to palatize a book with otherwise distasteful words to our modern palate; that is using an accent one believes to be British to make more "authentic" a play that, well, can stand on its own two amply strong, well-balanced, and -proportioned feet without some misguided director's decision. If that director wanted truly to be accurate in re-representing the accents from the time and location of the play's original and intended performance (and does anyone really think Oscar Wilde would have had such limited purview?), that director would have to train all his actors in using accent (the noun "accent" left deliberately indefinite and abstract) not only from a specific part of England, but of the specific time.
BUT ACCENTS CHANGE WITH TIME!
Okay, I'm stopping.
I had to get that off my chest.
DO IT IN STANDARD ENGLISH! Words = important. Don't change the words. The words alone are more than adequately representative of time and place and culture. Accent = unimportant (well, accent nationality), unless the intent of an accent is to represent archetypes of education or social status, in which case, consider how the movie Airplane (though I've never seen it, I know the story) was translated into Italian: in the original there is a scene where an actor uses a heavy "Ebonics" accent (time and place, people). In the Italian translation, instead of having the voice actors overdub with Italian words in an "Ebonics" accent (not only absolutely absurd, I'm sure you'll agree, but--I'm pretty sure--impossible), a deep Southern Italian accent was implemented and to equivocal effect.
Dear Utah County Director of Oscar Wilde's Play, An Ideal Husband (or The Importance of being Earnest): there is a wide array of American English accents available and ample enough to supply all the linguistic needs of economic, educational, and social stereotypes present in the play. Our English is good enough!
Okay. Now I'm really done.
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