Sunday, November 25, 2012

The NPR Voice

I think the success of a show like Moonshiners
 is in part down to the interesting
regional accents on display
Regional accents are the delight of the English language. You dont have to be Henry Higgins to spot a Scot or a Yorkshireman or a Cockney. And boy are those accents fun to listen to. I can identify (and imitate) about twenty different British and Irish accents and I love them all. Every accent has its own pleasures and as an accent connoisseur I can appreciate accents that some people aren't so keen on such as West Belfast, Brummie and the strange sounds that come from Geordieland. Those latter 3 accents used to be despised but they've all made something of a comeback in recent years, perhaps reflecting a rebirth of regional pride. Americans, I feel, dont appreciate their regional accents the way we do currently in the British Isles. Americans are going through the phase now that Britain went through from 1950 - 1980 when regionalism was discouraged on the radio and TV and a received pronunciation BBC English was the stultifying and rather boring norm. Back in the day in the UK newsreaders were only trusted if it sounded like they had gone to Eton and even comedians/satirists only got on the telly if they had been president of the Cambridge Footlights. But all that changed in the 80's when regional accents became seen as more authentic than the clipped and rather boring RP English. Nowadays on BBC's radio flagship Radio 4 and BBC TV's flagship's BBC 1 regional accents are everywhere. 
National Public Radio is often presented to me as a beacon of progressive thought in an American media world dominated by vast corporations who have evil hidden agendas. It's a fair point. ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS are all part of massive corporations whose primary and only duty is to their shareholders. (When Diane Sawyer is reading the news you know that she'll never report anything bad about the Walt Disney Corporation.) And the American talk radio landscape is worse by far: a fetid sink of articulate paranoid, quasi fascist, God bothering hackery. So yes NPR is a lone voice of calm in a swirling tempest of shouting nutjobs...but and it's a big but (insert Kardashian joke here) NPR is actually kinda crap. NPR is the way Radio 4 used to be twenty five years ago. Its a network for older white college educated suburbanites and its oh so patronising and complacent and dreary. And the thing that really drives me up the wall is the voice. That awful NPR voice! Bland and slow and so deadly dull. All hint of emotion or regionalism or humanity has deliberately been removed from the presenters and announcers on NPR for fear of offending someone or being misunderstood, but this policy is completely misguided. American regional accents are fantastic and beautiful and need to be cherished and loved, not crushed under by the bland sameness being pumped out by national networks in DC or New York or LA. American regional accents are dying as people move around more or feel it necessary to hide their roots in order to move up the corporate ladder. NPR is in part responsible for this with the subconscious message of conformity they pump out every morning. I lived in accentless Denver for 8 years and now I live in accentless Seattle and I can see how much richer the culture is in Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Memphis...places with a regional identity and a regional voice. 
NPR needs to do what the BBC did in the 1980's and embrace regionalism, not suppress it and if it does I'll bet the quality of its programming rises too. The BBC is still dominated by a privately educated clique who look out for one another (hence the Jimmy Saville scandal) but it is changing - slowly - and NPR can change to. America is 3000 miles wide with dozens (maybe hundreds) of unique subcultures, let's hear some of them on National Public Radio and we'll all be better for it.