If one chances to catch what passes for television entertainment these days, one cannot help but be exposed to the sad virus that seems to have grievously infected the voices of a great percentage of American females. In what is perhaps best labeled “The Kardashian Effect”, scores of young women seem to have sacrificed any attempt at mellifluous speech for the odd and infinitely annoying noise that emanates from these three, oddly Macbethian, sisters that rule the realm of celebrity from atop their lucrative mound of inanity. Once, the sound of these three (which can only be described as a quacking of sorts, blended liberally with a painful rasping whine that is powerful enough to strip paint off any passing vehicle) seemed to be an anomaly, heard only if one chanced upon their “reality” television show by accident and was unable to move one’s fingers quickly enough to change the channel before one’s ears were assaulted. These days though, I’m sorry to report, this newfangled squawk is being heard with more frequency, from the lowly commercial to the six o’clock news. It’s practically rampant on the Home and Garden channel.
Now I realize I am walking perilously close to the edge of that suspect set of opinions that tend to define one’s age. If I say Justin Bieber possesses not a scintilla of talent, for instance, you know automatically I am well past my teen years. Or if I tell you I think Miley Cyrus should be jerked off her current tour and thrown into a strict gruel-serving boarding school for the next twelve or so years, you would guess I am out of my twenties. So it’s possible, I suppose, that the current fingernails-on-chalkboard sound with which so many young women are attempting to communicate is actually appealing to other, younger, people. But before they slide all the way into this cacophonous pit, I beg to remind them of some of the more individual, silvery, harmonious voices; voices that have managed to successfully communicate with sound as well as words. Think of Lauren Bacall’s sultry tones. Or Billie Burke’s whimsical lilt, see the end of my last post for that. Cate Blanchett, Grace Kelly, Annette Bening, Joanne Woodward. Each voice distinct; each voice captivating.
I suppose what I lament more than the disappearing honeyed tone of voice is the encroaching homogenization in our culture. Everyone wants to be like everyone else. This is nothing new of course, it just seems a bit more prevalent these days. As someone who revels in individuality in all its technicolour forms, I think a person’s voice should be as unique as their opinions. Growing up in the South I was privileged to hear many varied accents, some as thick as sorghum syrup on a cold day. Women would tend and cultivate a voice in the same way they honed a personal style. There were ladies whose speech sounded more like music than lyric; teachers who could render my three syllable first name into something much longer and grander than what appeared on the page. One rarely hears such accents today and I must confess that I miss them. After all, none other than that bulldog of a Brit, Winston Churchill, once said, “The most beautiful voice in the world is that of an educated Southern woman”.
Of course I myself think I have no true Southern accent anymore. But I was proved wrong one bright September morning in the tiny village of Ballantrae, Scotland. I’d come into the local post office to mail some letters and the young man working there asked me where I was from. I told him and he remarked on my “Southern accent”. I told him I didn’t think I had an accent, to which he replied, in the thickest Scottish brogue imaginable, that he didn’t have one either. We both looked at each other in amazement for a long minute, then fell about laughing.
In celebration of the truly original voice,
here’s one of the most charming ones I’ve ever heard,
and such a delightful example of a true Yorkshire accent.
Eat your heart out, Kim Kardashian.