Pip Pip Cheerio Y’all: What’s in an Accent?

My wife and I watched “The Man in the Iron Mask” this week and I ruined it for both of us.  I’m about to ruin it for you too.

Have you seen this movie? It came out in 1998 (just one year after Titanic).  It’s a gripping story that places the characters from the Three Musketeers (famous for candy bars) into a dramatic clash that challenges their allegiances to love, duty, honor and brotherhood (I should write DVD jackets).

click here for the trailer

It’s got all of the pieces . . .

  • The headstrong father bent on avenging his son’s death:  John Malkovich as Athos
  • The tainted holy man bent on redemption: Jeremy Irons as Aramis
  • The loose cannon loverboy bent on wine, women and a good fight:  Gerard Depardieu as Porthos
  • The nobility driven aid to the King bent on duty above personal desire:  Gabriel Byrne as D’artagnan
  • The selfish, bratface, overrated King bent on self above others:  Leonardo DiCaprio as King Louis XIV
  • The pure hearted twin of the King, victimized but too sweet to be bitter:  Leo again as Phillipe in the iron mask

It’s a melodramatic love story with violence, betrayal, sword fights and bad acting made in the 90’s . . . all the elements of a good movie.  So here’s what ruined it for us . . .

. . . the accents.

D’artagnan and Aramis (Irons and Byrne) spoke perfectly proper, Queen approved English.  Athos, King Louis and the man in the Iron Mask (Malkovich and DiCaprio x2) were obviously Yanks (that means Americans for those of you who are and don’t know that’s what the rest of the world calls us . . . when their being nice) and Porthos (Depardieu) was the lone Frenchy.

now click here to watch it again . . . ruined

The irony here is thick.

First
Poor Gerard was the only French guy in a story THAT IS SET IN FRANCE!


Second
Neither my wife, nor myself, nor anyone that I have talked to since (and they are numerous) has ever noticed this before.


Third
This is the tip of the misplaced accent ice berg.


Fourth
I’m all worked up because their accents were off (which makes the whole movie less believable for me) but THEY WERE ALL SPEAKING ENGLISH . . . in FRANCE (and honestly that doesn’t bother me as much as it does that the accents they were using when they spoke THE WRONG LANGUAGE were not accurate).  I feel so shallow.

Here are my observations on accents:

1.  Accents (at least in the movies and in bad jokes) represent personality more so than nationality

  • A British accent means proper, brave and heroic
  • A French accent means free spirited and romantic
  • A Hispanic accent means passionate and impulsive
  • An Australian accent mean tough and adventurous
  • A German accent means strict and rigid
  • A Russian accent means evil and generally carrying plutonium
  • The list goes on and on . . .



2. Our understanding of what an accent means comes from our broadest, personal pool of reference points.
My pool was shallow.  For a Midwest American, wanna-be farm boy who grew up in the middle of a corn field and only knew two people in my first 18 years that might have been bi-lingual, these were my points of reference when my stereotypes were developed.



3. Misplaced accents (accents that don’t line up with our stereotype) are confusing and funny.

Seriously . . . watch this.




4. Accent stereotypes are not just international
If you’re from the States what personality is attached to a . . .

  • Southern accent?
  • New York accent?
  • Minnesotan accent?
  • Mafia accent?
  • Surfer accent?
If you’re not from the States how many accents can you think of within your own country?

5.  You talk funny
Doesn’t matter who you or how standard and proper you think your speech is . . . roughly 99.7% of the global population thinks you talk funny (higher if you’re from Texas).

Flip the Coin:  Imagine this scenario

You’re watching the Super Friends at a Chinese restaurant (stick with me).  The Wondertwins are standing in the Hall of Justice arguing over who is going to the go rescue the girl scouts from the abandoned coal mine but you can’t understand a word because Zan and Jayna are speaking Chinese.  The waitresses at the restaurant are all laughing hysterically and it’s killing you because you are obviously missing the best bits of the episode.  So you ask your waitress to translate the funny part for you and she responds . . .

“No no, it’s not really funny but Zan is speaking Chinese with a Swedish accent and Jayna sounds like she’s from Mexico . . . and we never noticed it before.”

Weird right?  Yeah . . . that’s the flipside equivalent of “The Man in the Iron Mask”

and Robin Hood

and Gladiator

and Braveheart

and . . . come on, help me out.  Can you think of any more?

Here’s this just for fun

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