Volume 16, Number 11 | Aug. 12–Aug. 18, 2003

The Penny Post



We are here to stay, or: If you spell it, it’s yours

By Andrei Codrescu

The takeover of America by Central Europe and the Balkans is now complete, as an Austrian and a Greek battle for control of California. The battle of accents between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington is proof of that.

The political contest for our biggest state is no longer between locals from different political parties, but between Vienna and Athens and double consonants. This election gets the Surrealist Vote, including mine.

Of course, Balkan and Central Europeans with names hard to spell — Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Albright, Zappa — have long been present in U.S. foreign policy, carefully paving the way for Arnold and Arianna by spraying the body politic with eau-de-Maeterlinck, Kafkawasser and now ouzo. Kissinger’s accent, in particular, was so beguiling it entered popular culture in the voice of Dr. Strangelove, and became second in popularity only to Bela Lugosi’s. In fact, Henry made it hard to imagine a secretary of state without a Middle European accent, which is probably why Colin Powell’s been having a hard time of it lately: it’s too easy to understand what he says.

American politics has always been a contest of accents, but mostly regional until now. The Kennedy brothers had a Boston one, Lyndon Johnson a Texas one, Bill Clinton a Southern one. George Bush has a trailer-made Texas mumble manufactured like backwoods amphetamine in some kind of C.I.A. accent school. In the past, local politicians could never get elected if people couldn’t tell where they came from. A study measuring the difference between candidates’ accents during a campaign and their mode of speech after the election, found that the brogue thinned considerably after the thing was in the bag.

Well, that was the case in most of the country, but California was always an exception, because nobody was actually born there, except for Richard Nixon, and he had bigger problems. Ronald Reagan was from Illinois. California’s politicians could never convincingly affect any accent, so they mostly spoke like television, which is everywhere and nowhere. Hollywood, on the other hand, was home to every accent that could be voice-coached into being, having been founded mostly by Central Europeans who needed their actors to sell everywhere. At the same time, Hollywood made accents entertaining, and as the whole world becomes Hollywood, you can no longer entertain without an accent.

After one century of Hollywood coaching, the circle is being closed. The United States is moving lock-stock-and-barrel to Balkan Central Europe. The American military might have already moved to Sofia, Bucharest, Prague and Warsaw, abandoning old NATO in pacifist Western Europe where it can do the least harm. As California goes, so go the rest of us. Now look for sacher torte, shadow puppets and vampires in your shopping mall.

www.codrescu.com, www.corpse.org


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