I didn’t want the entire evening to go by without giving you at least one decent chance to bang your head against your desk, start drinking heavily, or both. We have a new sign of racism to be on the lookout for. Or, if not specifically “racism” per se, at least an old trend which devalues diversity and conditions children to be less tolerant. Where is this danger lurking? In cartoons of course. It’s not the visual imagery they’re worried about, but rather the accents employed by the voiceover actors used in the shows. It turns out that most of the bad guys (or bad gals… wouldn’t want to exclude the ladies here) sound like foreigners. Or so they would have you believe, anyway. (The Atlantic)
When the sociolinguist Calvin Gidney saw The Lion King in theaters two decades ago, he was struck by the differences between Mufasa and Scar. The characters don’t have much in common: Mufasa is heroic and steadfast, while Scar is cynical and power-hungry. But what Gidney noticed most was how they each spoke: Mufasa has an American accent, while Scar, the lion of the dark side, roars in British English. In a climactic scene in which Scar accuses Simba of being the “murderer!” responsible for Mufasa’s death, the final “r” in his declaration floats up into a sky bursting with lightning, and it’s hard to imagine it sounding quite as monstrous in another tone.
Gidney, an associate professor in child study and human development at Tufts University who specializes in sociolinguistics, saw Scar’s accent as part of a disturbing pattern in the film: Foreign accents and non-standard dialects were being used to voice all of the “bad” characters. Gidney also noticed that Scar’s minions, the hyenas, spoke in either African American English or English with a Spanish accent. Gidney found this trend concerning, especially since the theme of the movie could be described as “the ‘natural order of things,’” he said. “I thought it was really disturbing that it was necessary to ‘take back the jungle’ from the British-sounding evil lion, plus the African American-sounding and Latino-sounding hyenas.”
So I suppose it’s not really racism as such since their study found that the most common accent for villains was British. (Pretty good choice, actually, if you’ve met many Brits.) German and Slavic were the next most common. But the entire study seems to be based on some assumptions which, if you’ll pardon my saying, are pretty racist to begin with. The author of the report is quoted as saying that most of the heroes in the cartoons had “American-sounding” accents. Evil henchmen “spoke in dialects associated with low socioeconomic status, including working-class Eastern European dialects or regional American dialects such as “Italian-American gangster.”
Pardon me, but who are you to say what an “American-sounding” accent is? You mean naturalized citizens who come here from Italy don’t sound “American?” The authors also list “Spanish-sounding” accents among those chosen for henchmen and evil-doers. Have you spent any time in New York City? In some neighborhoods, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone without a Spanish-sounding accent. Are you saying these people are not Americans?
Apparently, these champions of social justice and diversity seem to think that the only people who “sound” American talk with the flat, ironed out lack of accent you hear from everyone trained to do cable news. And you’re worried about the cartoons lacking in sensitivity to diversity? Remove the log from your own eye first, pal.