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31 July 2012 @ 05:38 pm
Thoughts on accent diversity in podfic  
There's a great conversation happening right now at amplificathon regarding accents in podfic. I won't try to repeat points other people have already made (and better than I ever could), but I'm really happy to see this conversation going on, and to see the podfic community rallying around accent diversity.

As a couple of people pointed out, accents are subjective anyway. We all have them. And yet it comes up again and again as a reason why new podficcers are afraid to dip their toes in the water. It makes me sad.

I want to talk a little about my own accent. I have the kind of US accent Americans sometimes refer to as "neutral," in that there are no obvious regionalisms in my regular speech. I grew up on a US Army base in Europe and attended an International high school, and since then I've lived in central Texas and the American midwest. My parents are from opposite ends of the continental US. I can channel some Texas Hill Country from time to time when I want to, but by and large I've never been exposed to a single distinct regional accent intensely enough to internalize it. 

Until just a couple of years ago, though, people still asked me about my accent. Customers at the restaurant and grocery store where I worked randomly asked me where I was from. Every once in a while coworkers would try to guess, and I'd have to sit through another round of well-meaning people parsing my speech, making me repeat words or phrases, and speculating about my heritage. It always baffled me, because to my ear my accent was very generic mainstream television American. I couldn't hear what they were hearing, and their attention - even though it was friendly - always made me feel like even more of an outsider.

I don't really have an "accent" in the way those people meant. I never did. What they were picking up on was my occasionally unusual enunciation and cadence. When I was a teenager, relatively few of my peers were American, and many weren't native English speakers. I was used to enunciating clearly so that everyone could understand me. Also, some words and phrases that I use aren't coded in my native accent (or, for that matter, English) - in my head, I hear them as my friends and teachers would say them, and while they don't come out of my mouth in those accents, they don't sound quite American, either. It took me a long time to hear it, but when I did, I was mortified. "Where are you from" is my least favorite question in the universe. The thought that I was inviting that question every time I opened my mouth horrified me. (But gets into what being a third culture kid means to me - another story for another time.)

Most of those idiosyncrasies have faded over time. I still have a few, though - for instance, I was glad when I turned 30 because I was so sick of being made fun of for always saying "twen-ty" instead of "twenny", and I still edit myself around some people so I don't get called out for saying "should do" and "could do" instead of "should" and "could." (i.e., "Are you going to do the readings for class tomorrow?" "I should do, but I probably won't.")

In my personal experience, when people talk about accents, they do it to point out differences. Talking about accents implies the existence of a real mainstream, a genuine neutral. It establishes a binary - native vs. foreign, majority vs. minority. And I'm sorry, but that's bullshit. In life and in fandom. 

For me, fandom is about being inclusive. When you create a fanwork, you're engaging in conversation with both canon and fandom. It's not a binary. It's not fandom vs. canon; it's you plus canon plus all the other voices in fandom, exchanging ideas and co-creating the experience of fandom. Your fannish voice in that conversation will always be informed by your personal experiences and your cultural heritage. Always. There is no "neutral" accent in fandom. 

That's why accent diversity in podfic is important to me. As creators who transform other transformative works, podficcers engage in the fannish conversation at kind of a slant. The words (usually) don't belong to us - we contribute with our energy, with the decisions we make about vocal delivery, music, and sound. We contribute to the conversation through performance, with our voices. If a writer or vidder or graphics-maker doesn't need to share the canonical language and accent to take part in the conversation, why should podficcers? Our differences are a part of us, and a part of the larger conversation. That's kind of the point. I hate to see podficcers cutting themselves out of that conversation for fear of "doing it wrong".

I don't think my train of thought is going to take me much further today. If you have anything to add, or see anything I missed, or just flat out think I'm wrong, please say so. I welcome the conversation.

An acknowledgement: I know that English seems to be the lingua franca of fandom, at least as far as English language TV, book, & movie fandoms go, which means some might argue it is the "neutral" accent. But it's not the only language fandom is performed in, any more than English language TV, books, and movies are the only sources of canon. I also know that ESL issues do come up in English language fic writing. That's another worthy conversation, closely related to but not exactly the same as the one I'm having here. My impression is that, proportionally speaking, people are less likely to avoid/give up writing fic due to ESL issues than they are to avoid/give up podficcing due to "accent" issues. I could be wrong, though.