When you listen to a professional newscaster, you are hearing an “all-purpose” American accent, very similar to how black comedians make fun of white guys. It’s a mode of speaking designed to be understood by a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. It’s also totally alien sounding, especially when they lapse into a Spanish voice for words like “Nicaragua”.
In 1990, I relocated from New Jersey to Georgia. Originally, I had a curt New Jersey accent, like Jim Norton. My first year, I roomed with a guy from Rhode Island, and when I went back to Jersey for vacation, my friends couldn’t believe what a horror show my speaking voice had become. I was the caricature of the braying Yankee.
I wasted no time in setting myself upon the females of Georgia. They spoke in a undeniably sexual contralto, and seemed to have the ability to molest you with their eyes alone. In wooing them, I inevitably softened my aural polyglot into a low-American drawl. The attitude towards Northerners among the male relations of Georgia is not a positive one, so I worked to hide my honking Tri-State argot.
Anywhere in the USA, Americans will judge you as soon as they hear you speak. If your accent is funny or silly (and you’re white), Americans will destroy you. For example: how well did George W. Bush’s Southern accent reflect upon him? How hard did Hillary Clinton work to disguise hers, while Bill Clinton did not? How prevalent is Donald Trump’s New Yawk patois, compared to Bernie Sanders’? What’s the average opinion towards a woman with a pronounced Southern accent?
Then there’s the California accent, which Pauly Shore and Moon Zappa buried, even though Frank Zappa had the best Cali-tone I’ve ever heard (and he was from Baltimore). Frank could spin a yarn on stage like no other, thanks to his distinctive voice and resonating shnoz. Californians that aren’t Hispanic generally hide their accent now, because to the layman, it just sounds stoned, bruh.
The Minnesota idiom is one of the most beloved, thanks to the Coen brothers’ excellent movie Fargo, but as you can see there, it’s almost impossible to make serious. Farther north is the “Chicaga” accent, which can turn poetry into abuse. Oh, and Boston, Massachusetts? Every word they speak is abuse.
This is the power of the American accent. The beauty part: the rest of the world has no idea. None!
So in the early ’90s, I ran with this.
I established a personal policy of regional ambiguity. No longer would I be judged on the location revealed by my accent. I appropriated specifically-pronounced words from a panoply of inflections and dialects, and randomly peppered my speaking voice with them. I might say “sorry” as the Canadian “sore-ey”, or “ascot” like Joe Pesci with a perfect Kansas City accent, in Casino. I am figuratively spinning a roulette wheel of voices in my head while I’m talking. (It’s not insanity. Swear to god, it’s not!)
Result: the average dude has no clue where the fuck I’m from. They just know “elsewhere”. Advantage: me.
(PROTIP: If you try something in jail, and it works, it works.)
If you listen to my podcast, you’ll notice it, especially in contrast to Joe Pickles’ deep speaker-rattling Southern. If you live in the South, it’ll sound normal to you. That is my “regionally ambiguous” voice. This is why sober, I’m not a talker, and a lot of what I say is actually spliced from obscure old movies. (It’s NOT SCHIZOPHRENIA. If it were, I wouldn’t bring up schizophrenia at all.)
And, it’s why I can’t do “small talk”.
I’m “always on”, so when I’m “off”, I’m actually asleep. If I must make small talk, it comes out in my old Joisey grunts. Every word is “fuggin”. On rare occasions, someone innocently catches me off-guard, and it’s ugly. Like, Exorcist ugly.
Even though I blew up a dorm toilet in college, the closest I came to expulsion was for forgery. This taught me an important lesson about what Hunter S. Thompson called “not burning the locals”. Regional ambiguity is my special form of agorism, a way of meeting everyone else respectfully in the middle, while scratching my enlightenment itch. I can communicate vocally with a wide range of persons without appearing sarcastic, or condescending.
What do you mean, “I don’t know what voice is my own anymore”?! Of course I do, and it’s more distinctive than half the voices out there. I just explained how. I’m communicating in two ways: with my English, and with the “English” I’m putting on top. Same as I’d do with a comic strip, where the aesthetic tells as much as the text. Or being provocative on social media, thus spotlighting the futility and control of the medium. See? Meta-life.
(This is higher Poddist theory, by the way. If you’ve made it this far: congrats.)
Before you get your dander up about ingrained racism or sexism in America, you might want to look into the sacrifices that successful people have made. Some of us* had to give a part of our identity away, to become part of the greater community. And I’m not even someone who had to be issued a new name, on arrival from elsewhere. All I did was soften my speaking voice, to avoid prejudice and injury.
(*I don’t mean to imply that I am successful.)
Think about how people vocally communicate with each other today. It’s obvious who has something to say, and who is just screaming. I respectfully sanded down the edges of my voice out of diplomacy and respect for other people. I didn’t shriek for attention. I assimilated. I embraced the station of American artist, which, if it existed, is what my Wikipedia page would say, anyhow. I’m standing on the soil that afforded me the ability to do what I have done. To be who I am.
It’s ironic, but in trying to sound like I came from elsewhere, I ended up sounding like I came from only one place.