Disappearing Ink

Way back when people from Georgia used to speak with delicate Georgian accents. I remember hearing them at gas stations and diners when I drove through Georgia on my way to Florida. Vivien Leigh‘s Scarlett O’Hara spoke like a Georgian. Jimmy Carter still does, pronouncing “oil” as “awwl” and so on. But I heard no Georgian dialects during my three and a half days in Savannah. Okay, one or two but just about everyone sounded like they came from Connecticut or Maryland.

Atlanta has always been an uptown burgh, but I’ve always thought of Savannah as some kind of genteel hamlet where you could hear elegant, well-bred Southerners talk like elegant, well-bred Southerners. Remember Kevin Spacey‘s mint-julep patois in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? Nobody talked like that in my presence last weekend. I guess you have to hang with the hicks in rural Mississippi or Alabama or Louisiana to hear people talk with any kind of drawl.

The South used to be an exotic place. Different aromas and assumptions, definitely not the North, a realm apart. It was a fabled territory that created literate, cultivated folk like William Faulkner and Harper Lee and Erskine Caldwell and characters like Boo Radley and Valentine Xavier and Blanche Dubois. It was also the culture of dumb-ass bubbas drinking cream soda and driving pickup trucks with shotgun racks and all that. It was just over 40 years ago when Randy Newman described rednecks as guys who “don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.” I don’t think that line works any more.

I think corporate culture is making everything feel and look and sound more or less the same. This process has been gradually happening since the early ’70s, at least. Rural flavors and particularities are fading away. Everyone eats the same food, watches the same TV shows, wears the same 514, 511 and 501 jeans.

The only non-rural, uptown Southerners who seem to talk Southern-style are U.S. Senators and Congresspersons from southern districts. But I suspect they’re laying it on thick for theatrical effect, or because they suspect that a strong accent will resonate with conservative, low-income voters.

15 thoughts on “Disappearing Ink

  1. DiscoNap on said:

    Having spent some time in the South I don’t know if you’re entirely wrong, but just remember that Savannah is a coastal town with a lot of cosmopolitan features, as well as colleges. It’d be a bit like judging North Carolina by Wilmington alone.

  2. The layers of ignorance in this post would be astounding if I was new to HE, but as is just a not-so gentle reminder of the blinders Jeff goes through life with.

    Even before MTV began teaching generations to all speak alike, Southerners began to realize that having an accent was a detriment in many career, social and other milieus. Too many with Jeff’s prejudices instantly begin to underestimate them second they opened their mouths. Especially for the men. Might be charming for the ladies, but for the guys it simply reduced your IQ 50pts right off the bat.

    It’s really amusing just how ironically provincial Jeff is about these things. He clearly has not been to upstate New York or pretty much any area of Penn. outside of the two major cities: as James Carville so perfectly put it “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.”

    And how would I know this? I spent the first 20 years of my life growing up 3 hours from Savannah and dumped the accent by the time I was 14.

  3. Wells to Cinemaphreak: So a Southern-born gentleman’s feelings have been hurt, I see. He resents the repeatings of prejudicial cultural stereotypes, etc. Otherwise I fail to see your point about this post being ignorant. What you’ve said seems to confirm that Southern accents have been disappearing over the last few decades. I felt that for all the regrettable bubba aspects of Southern culture, the exotic qualities were kind of cool. It’s kinda sad that rural flavor and character aren’t as distinct and noticable as they used to be. Because when you visited the South in the ’60s and ’70s, you were almost in another country.

  4. That’s interesting projection in the opening sentence.

    After 10 years of readership, I give so little consideration to your non-film musings it would take more than the umpteenth example of why shooting from hip leads to hitting one’s own foot to get bothered.

    Disconap has almost hit on it with his reference to colleges and being “cosmopolitan.” A lot of that has to do with the exposure of colleges to their surrounding areas and the general influx of non-Southerners into the major and minor metro areas. However there is a much bigger influence at play here.

    Accents have largely declined over the country as a whole. I think most of the blame can be laid on television in general, as most of the people those of us born after 1950 would see on television did not have regional dialects and those that did (including New Yorker, Bostonians and the like) were almost always depicted as rubes/uncultured/hicks/ignorant/what-have-you.

    However, there are still plenty drawling along in the major cities that do not tend gas stations or sling grits at diners, but do find it irritating that even otherwise educated people think “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Gone With The Wind” have some relevance to the South today.

  5. Atlanta proper is about half black and half Northerner. I’m joking, but, in all honesty, Atlanta’s become more and more like Los Angeles since the Olympics – it’s almost impossible to find a native Atlantan in Atlanta.

    You can definitely still find the Southern accent away from Savannah and Atlanta. Head toward Macon on I-16, and you’ll find the accent alive and thriving in any of the towns you drive through. That’s pretty much true in all the non-Atlanta/Savannah areas of Georgia.

  6. Accents are interesting. As CinemaPhreak says, they are a social indicator of class. This is from an Australian, but I find various Southern accents kind of charming to hear, and easy on the ear because they a little soft and not too nasal.

    How many name actors in Hollywood retained their accents? Billy Bob Thornton, Sissy Spacek, Walton Goggins.

    Renee Zellwegger retains something a Texan twang in real life, judging from interviews and DVD commentaries as has Matthew McConaughey.

    But not Reese Witherspoon, really, nor a lot of others. Though keep in mind she is the daughter of of a doctor and a university professor, so it is unlikely her accent would have been really ‘thick’, in the traditional sense, to begin with.

  7. Accents are moronic… I lived in a dozen cities before I was 12 and thus had no roots, but when we’d live in some place like Boston or Pittsburgh, I’d be like, “Why don’t these assholes just NOT speak with this stupid fucking accent?” Like those idiots in Boston, they REALLY don’t realize they sound so fucking stupid and pronounce words like nobody else does? Same with Pittsburgh, all Yinzing with that “Weens guuuuhnn dahhhhhntawwwwwn n at, Stillers n at….” Like, how about just NOT having a fucking accent?

    An accent is a sign of LOW BREEDING.

  8. You were around the SCAD crowd in Savannah. Trust me, there are a lot of good southern accents down there if you meet the natives. Most of the real folks from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil had excellent accents. I lived in Savannah in the mid-eighties and knew a lot of those folks.

    I’m from the south, so I’m a little biased. No one down here thinks I have an accent, but the folks I work with in NYC definitely think I have one. I’m not genteel, but get a few drinks in me and I definitely sound more southern.

    I’ve always blamed the perception that the south is a land of hicks on my distant cousin Grady Sutton. Cousin Grady played the stupid southerner in many WC Fields films. It’s also taken as fact down here that British actors found it easier to do a southern accent that the traditional American, so that became the comic staple.

    TV, and most importantly, broadcast network news anchors who were trained to have a bland, mid-western accent, killed the regional sound of most of America. It’s still there, but you have to go beyond the cities to find it or sit with natives in their natural habitats, front porches or bars, to hear people let their guards down.

    I know that we have not always been the most enlightened folks down here, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of where I grew up.

    There’s a saying down here that the scariest thing a person can see is a Yankee with a U-Haul.

    I think they’ve run out of U-Hauls in the North.

  9. How many people from the South were even born there? I think any city over a certain population will have its fair share of people who left NYC, LA and many of the other rotten Northern hellholes that fell apart in the last forty plus years. You know it’s bad when northern BLACKS moved south.

    Most of America is Phoenix, Arizona.

  10. “I think they’ve run out of U-Hauls in the North.”

    Nope, they just can’t afford to sell their houses to move. YAY FANNIE MAE.

  11. In areas with prohibitively expensive real estate like Savannah, Atlanta, and Charleston, the accents are disappearing because the only people wealthy enough to afford the property are Yankees (or quasi-Yankees) whose children then adopt their parents’ accent. And the kids who are raised 100% on television of course adopt the vaguely midwestern dialect of all American TV shows.

    In actual rural Georgia or Alabama or Mississippi, you’ll find plenty of strong Southern accents although there are major, major variations within the region and even within individual states.

    I was born in rural Alabama and I’ve got a fairly strong Southern accent that I can turn on and off to a certain degree. I’ve found that a Southern accent (the deep Carter, Clinton-esque kind, not the fake, clipped, shrill Eric Cantor or George W. Bush variety) is a pretty big asset in certain circumstances.

  12. It feels really weird when you get home and people cant understand you because you loss your accent. We should cherish it before it disappears.. disapperaring ink

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