Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Janet Albrechtsen, and striking the wrong note while blathering on about the wrong accent ...

(Above: found here).

I know, I know, we signed a scrap of paper at the pond promising we wouldn't mention the federal election.

Dearie me, how easily the punters are fooled. May we refer you to hapless Neville Chamberlain clutching his wretched scrap of paper promising peace in his time. (BBC On this Day).

As any feul wold now, especially Molesworth, scraps of paper mean nothing, and as Samuel Goldwyn clearly explained, an oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on. You take your chances with any non-core promise ...

So it's back to the future, and time to invade Poland, and throw a few dollars into the Godwin's Law swear jar.

Heck, that's a bit extreme, why not simply read Janet Albrechtsen's Mea culpa time? Not so fast.

Now you might think Albrechtsen is heralding a mea culpa for her stupidity in brooding about Julia Gillard's accent.

Not so fast.

Start with something so basic it barely gets a mention.

Actually it gets a mention all the time, by commentariat commentators of the vulture school of debate, like Christopher Pearson.

That voice. Gillard's accent is curious. Especially if, like her, you grew up in Adelaide, had a working-class background and went to public schools. I'm often asked why I don't sound like Gillard. Easy. No one in Adelaide sounds like Gillard. Certainly no one who went to Unley High School, hardly a school of hard knocks. Could she have manufactured those broad nasal vowels, so different even from her Adelaide-accented sister, to fit her political emergence within Labor's left-wing factions? You feel so cynical even suggesting it.

You know, there's something profoundly, deeply offensive about this line of attack. If you speak like an average Australian, you're suddenly bunging on a do, putting on an air. You should talk like a middle class person from Unley, or even more reprehensibly, like the chattering class represented by Albrechtsen. To do otherwise is fake or false. Yes, to speak like an ordinary Australian living in Altona is to make yourself a forgery, designed to fit within Labor's left-wing factions.

Does this mean that ninety per cent of Australians speak in a way designed to fit within Labor's left wing factions? Does this mean I'm surrounded by socialists speaking in the common way like riff raff?

The contempt for the way ordinary Australians speak is extraordinary. Indeed the contempt for ordinary Australians generally is only thinly veiled. As if somehow to speak like a gherkin ponce from Unley is somehow more real or valid.

But Albrechtsen seeks to make it a tentpole criticism:

Yet, The Australian's Helen Trinca remembers speaking to Gillard in the early 1980s when, as a student leader, she sounded "middle class and well spoken".

To follow Gillard's rising political ambitions, you need only follow her changing accent. The closer she moved to the leader's office, the softer her twang became. The changing voice is only interesting as a symbol of Gillard's broader modus operandi; she can live with factional twists, philosophical contradictions and policy inconsistencies, so long as one thing remains constant: she gets what she wants.

Actually, there's nothing sinister or extraordinary about having a flexible accent. I remember heading off to university, a country bumpkin suddenly surrounded by Oxford graduates speaking in very peculiar ways, and in an attempt to fit in, I tried to speak proper. Well I didn't do that well in reading Chaucer in the original, with the accent that required, but I managed a passable attempt at standard Australian English.

When I'm in a room full of bureaucrats, I tend to speak with that accent. When I'm in the bush I can feel my accent instinctively broaden back to the way it began. Well if I tried speaking in other tones to my relatives, they'd look at me like I was some kind of pommy bastard with a plum in my mouth ...

I know one friend, whenever in the company of Americans, who immediately begins to sound American, adopting the same kind of vowel sounds, to blend in, and make the conversation flow in a comfortable way. As a result, Americans immediately like her ... Contrariwise, if you hear Americans attempt an Australian accent, you want them to stop at once, before they go blind.

What does all this mean? Well for a start children are able to change their accents relatively quickly, and children of travelling families - or children who travel - can change their accents, and this remains true up until your early twenties. There's nothing sinister about changing your accent ... and there's nothing wrong with having a capacity to flex your accent according to who you're talking to ... provided of course that the change isn't perceived as satirical or condescending (Accents).

For some people this flexibility comes naturally; for others accent is so integral to personality that they can live in a differently accented world, and maintain their own accent for all eternity. But there's nothing more revealing of class condescension and judgmental attitudinal posturing than to judge people by their accents ...

Yet there's fair evidence that Australia has been drifting into a collectively broader accent, a bit like the way New Zealand has in its remote island eerie developed a peculiar accent all its own (and by peculiar we of course only mean distinctive). Don't take my word for it. Have a look at old ABC newscasts or take a look at the way the kids speak so nicely in the two Smiley films back in the fifties. More British than the Queen herself ...

Let's refract Albrechtsen's note about accent in relation to Tony Abbott. To my ear his accent contains a little of England, but not much, as you'd expect of someone who only spent three years in London after being born there. It actually sounds quite broad and quite Australian, and nothing wrong with that. The sort of accent you'd expect of a politician seeking the middle ground. (I guess Ghengis Kahn would sound like Tony Abbott if he was running for a North Shore seat .... oh I keed, I keed).

Back to Albrechtsen giving him a going over:

Start with something so basic it barely gets a mention. That voice. Abbott's accent is curious. Especially if, like him, you grew up in Bronte and Chatswood, had a middle-class background and went to Catholic schools. I'm often asked why I don't sound like Abbott. Easy. No one on the North Shore sounds like Abbott. Certainly no one who went to St Ignatius College, Riverview, hardly a school of hard knocks. Could he have manufactured those broad nasal vowels, so different even from his Catholic-accented seminarians, to fit his political emergence within the Liberal party's right-wing factions? You feel so cynical even suggesting it.

Yet, I remember speaking to Abbott in the early 1980s when, as a student leader, he sounded "middle class and well spoken".

To follow Abbott's rising political ambitions, you need only follow his changing accent. The closer he moved to the leader's office, the softer his twang became. The changing voice is only interesting as a symbol of Abbott's broader modus operandi; he can live with factional twists, philosophical contradictions and policy inconsistencies, so long as one thing remains constant: he gets what he wants.

Yes of course it's twaddle. Just as Albrechtsen on Gillard is twaddle, a form of cynical feral personality attack politics. It isn't just being "so cynical" in taking a look at Gillard's accent in the way she does, Albrechtsen's being downright devious, deviant and profoundly stupid.

But that's the way with ideological ratbags, who insist on refracting everything through ideology. They are, if you'll pardon the rural country expression, complete fuckwits.

Because in that world, whatever you do, you lose. If you speak with a middle class accent, then you're at one with the inner-city cosmopolitans and completely out of touch with people in the bush and the outer suburbs. If you speak like a toff and a ponce, then you must be Malcolm Turnbull. And if you speak with a gravel voice, then you must have inherited the spirit or channeled the world views of Arthur Calwell.

And if you hail from Altona, why didn't you stay in Unley? Well actually North Unley, even though it's not really a postcode, it's more a state of mind, with such a divine proximity to the parklands and a chance to walk the dogs ...

As soon as I read drivel like this, I discount everything else the person has to say. Which is to say everything else Janet Albrechtsen wrote in her column, which is to backtrack from her previous praise of Julia Gillard. You see, in the early days, the accent wasn't an issue:

Early on, it was all relative. Compared with former prime minister Kevin Rudd, the feisty and funny Gillard was a breath of fresh air. While we were all trying to get a grip on who was this robotic Rudd, what did he stand for and why was he so uncomfortable in his own skin, the deputy PM seemed real. Even better, early on in the Rudd government, Gillard was saying and doing some sensible things about an issue dear to any conservative's heart.

Huh? Instead of the robotic Rudd she sounded real and human? The accent wasn't a problem?

There are none so stupid as the commentariat beehive of collective thought ...

What is it that they put in the kool aid of a morning and collectively drink? Here's Christopher Pearson in Same old Labor under Gillard:

While Gillard has the saving grace of a sense of humour, she can't help herself when it comes to the business of staying on message in a scripted speech. She always sounds wooden. What's more, the task of appealing to the electoral equivalent of the lowest common denominator brings out the most jarring, confected elements of her political persona.

I've written before about the deliberately grating vowels - somewhat softened of late along with her hairstyle in the pursuit of power - and an accent that bespeaks class antagonism. It's in marked contrast to her family's Welsh lilt or the speech of her classmates at Unley High School in Adelaide's leafy southern suburbs. It's an affectation assumed during her years in student politics but no doubt it helped her win preselection for a safe seat in Altona in outer-suburban Melbourne.

An accent that bespeaks class antagonism? Can paranoid ratbag stupidity descend any lower in the political debate? So she should speak with a Welsh lilt or like a leafy Unley-ite?

When you live and breath and think only in a political way, all you've got is politics. And an extremely limited world view ...

Next thing you know with this kind of idle chatter inspiring the political elites, you get that half assed Toorak snob Peter Costello sending up Gillard's accent (Costello sends up Gillard - video link will expire in October). What might have been a decent point about a pathetic slogan and Gillard's policies, disappears up Costello's snide fundament in a quest for cheap laughs ...

Yes, that's how easy it is to play that game. But eek, what if you've lived in Toorak and Tamworth? How to resolve the contradictions, which role to play?

Because you see you'll read all the time from the commentariat about how despicable ad hominem attacks are, and how wrong it is to go for the player rather than the ball, and how wrong it is to play personality politics when policies are all the go, and how honest Joe Blow the electrician and worthy yeoman is as good as the next, and nothing wrong with an Australian accent, seeing as how it's dinky di and true blue and all, and the next thing you know there they are blathering on about accents ... as if somehow it meant something sinister or stood for factional politics or bespoke class antagonism ...

Why that's as silly as me saying that if you buy The Australian the day it contains a Janet Albrechtsen or Christopher Pearson column, you're morally corrupt.

I keed, I keed. By the way, what are you doing about your moral corruption?

Now here's a test of your accent. Haveago at this, the rest you can find here with explanatory footnotes:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

Now haveago at this, and let's see how dinkum you are, the rest available here:

The world 'as got me snouted jist a treat;
Crool Forchin's dirty left 'as smote me soul;
An' all them joys o' life I 'eld so sweet
Is up the pole.
Fer, as the poit sez, me 'eart 'as got
The pip wiv yearnin' fer -- I dunno wot.

I'm crook; me name is Mud; I've done me dash;
Me flamin' spirit's got the flamin' 'ump!
I'm longin' to let loose on somethin' rash....
Aw, I'm a chump!
I know it; but this blimed ole Springtime craze
Fair outs me, on these dilly, silly days.

(Below: and now a movie illustration of the set text).

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