Thursday, July 24, 2008

When danger is near, we're surfing

One of the things that is always missed in talking about the Hurricane Katrina debacle is the fact that for many of the people who live in hurricane-prone areas, these storms are, in fact, lots of fun.

Take a look at this video of preparations for Hurricane Dolly near where most of my extended family lives and you'll see that people from the Gulf Coast of Texas respond to deadly storms by jumping into the ocean. I have never felt so much regional pride (a).

My cousin, Josh, is in their midst. You can see him in his shirtless glory at 00:45 in the video. Is he panicking? Is he fleeing? No, he's surfing.

"Intense," he says. "That's the one word I got for it. You're out there, it's like a washing machine."

On a side note, I hate Josh. Look at him. Strapping young fella. Bastard. Why didn't I get those genes? My cousin Shawn Jr. is the same way. And my brother Jon (b). I hate them all.

Another thing worth noting from the video is the way the reporter speaks. Similar to my recent attempt to annunciate clearly, she is forcing out the words and it shows. Her accent, or lack thereof, sounds affected. All reporters do this in the United States and I can't help but wonder why. It sounds fake and disconnects the reporter from the audience.

When you listen to everyone else in the piece they've got South Texas accents. But the people actually reporting on South Texas seem to be trying to pretend they're from Canada. Isn't it strange that the people who tell you about your world little corner of the world don't sound anything like you?

The child bride was the other day delighting in the fact that the reporters on Wales Today actually have Welsh accents. Welsh people reporting on Wales. That's novel. And it got me thinking about why American reporters all seek to sound as if they come from the same place. No doubt it is throwback thinking, harkening to the time when Americans felt the only people capable of delivering news were middle-aged white men with booming middle-America accents.

It is probably perpetuated by the ladder nature of American news. If you watch local newscasts in the U.S., nine times out of 10 you are watching a load of people who want to be somewhere else. They are telling themselves that after serving their time in wherever they are now, they will be able to move on to some other place that will sound more impressive to all their friends, and then someplace else, and then someplace else.

So all news, no matter where it comes from, ends up looking and sounding the same and not reflecting its place of origin. It becomes Motel 6 News, in the words of a reporter I knew in San Diego. That guy eventually left the news business. Many of the intelligent ones do.

(a) Although, I can't really claim to be a true Gulf Coaster. Most of my family lives there but I was born in Austin, several hundred miles from the coast, and raised in big cities.

(b) Whom Jenny once described as "the most American man in the world."


Anonymous said...

He IS the most American man in the world! I don't remember saying that, though!

All the announcers and presenters on nationally-broadcast BBC spoke spotless Received Pronunciation for years and years, it's only recently that they've tried to make things a bit more regionally diverse. I remember when I was a kid, our childminder shut off the telly in disgust when one of her young charges started emulating the posh woman on Playschool saying 'bewt' as she drew a boat. Then we all had to shout 'BOTE BOTE BOTE' for a while until his rightful Scottishness was restored.

Zoe said...

"I caught a wave wolla-go"...

::sniff:: Almost makes me homesick. NOT!

I have family in McAllen. I'm hoping they made it through ok, but I haven't heard anything yet.

(And boy, can I tell how Midwesternized I've become...I changed two things in that last sentence to make it sound less Texan. At least I'll always have "might could". It's the only thing now that gives away the fact that I was raised in least to astute linguists who pick up on it. I don't even say "ya'll" anymore, and I held on to that for a long time...)