Tuesday, March 8, 2011


There was an obituary in "The New York Times" yesterday of a guy called Sam Chwat whom the Times called a "dialect tutor to film stars." You can read the obit here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/nyregion/08chwat.html?hpw

Chwat was, according to the Times, a "Henry Higgins to the stars," helping "thousands of clients prepare for roles, succeed in business or assimilate into the rushing stream of American argot by losing — or gaining — regional accents."

As for accented speech, Chwat said, "You can afford to find accents charming as long as you’re part of the power structure that has the accent of the ruling class.”

This last sentence struck me because it speaks of the eternal struggle between the standardized and what's unique.

Chwat made people sound like they were part of "the ruling class." He normalized the speech of Southerners, Bronxites and Brooklyners. He smoothed the edges. Evened things out.

It occurred to me, and this is no slight against Chwat, that the losing of "accent" is much of what is wrong with advertising (and the world) today. Everything looks, feels and sounds "normal." There is little character and humanity. Flaws are sanded down. Noses are fixed. Visceral reaction--laughter--is replaced by polite applause. Nothing raises the pulse. Everything is generic.

In short, personality quirks are expurgated. We are left with baby food. Bland, tasteless, without much nutritional value. But it won't make you sick.

What we as creative people are meant to do is to be noticed, to swim against the tide, to upset the status quo.

Our work is meant to stand out, not fit in. We are meant to in the transmogrified words of Dylan Thomas "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

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