I never listen to myself talking (because, you know, I’m kind of boring), so I have to trust other people. And opinion seems to be mixed. I’ve heard “you don’t have an accent at all” as well as “you’re not from around here, are you?” and the plain old “huh?” I’m told that it comes and goes based on how much I’ve been drinking, who I’ve been talking to, and my proximity to Atlanta.
Which makes sense, because I tried so hard to get rid of it while I was growing up. Plus I watched an obscene amount of television, letting it leech away any trace of my origin just as effectively as it did my attention span. And now, as penance, I’m living in the one part of the country that has the blandest, most generic, straight-out-of-the-box made-for-TV accent possible. I’ve been listening for years, and the only distinctive thing I can hear in the SF Bay Area is the tendency to pronounce “both” like “bowlth,” and they’re not even consistent with that.
But a real Georgian accent, when it’s done right — although, as my mother claims, “I don’t know what business anybody has writing about the south if he’s been living in Massachusetts for decades.” — but a real Georgian accent done right is about as cool as you can get, at least in the United States. It’s mostly “Hey, how y’all doin’?” but with an undercurrent of “well truth be told I don’t particularly care ’cause I got plenty on my mind as it is, I tell you what.” The midwest is too much of the former; the northeast is all about the latter.
And it’s not like Texas (too much of the “yee-haw”), or the Carolinas (too much of an attempt to sound refined; the South Carolina accent always struck me as sounding fake). It isn’t like Arkansas or Oklahoma, either, since they took a good thing and stretched and beat it out to a painful-sounding extreme. And it sure as hell isn’t like what you hear on TV.
Except if you’re in Georgia, and you’re watching TV, and you’re seeing the Senate campaign attack ads between Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin every five minutes. Those struck me as bizarre just for their black-is-white, up-is-down quality (the Democratic candidate is accusing the Republican candidate of being unpatriotic for not supporting the troops, and socialist for voting in favor of the Wall Street bailout). But they also struck me as bizarre because it’s the first time in a long time I’ve heard people speaking with southern accents on television, and they weren’t doing an impression, and they weren’t talking about country home cookin’ (Paula Deen’s been dead to me ever since I saw her put mayonnaise on a BBQ sandwich), and they weren’t the President, and they weren’t one of the Duke boys. But a well-educated, well-off person speaking with a southern accent that wasn’t faked.
I hate to sound too much like the SNL version of Zell Miller, but I think I’d cross party lines to vote for a man named Saxby Chambliss. (One of his ads has him asking God to bless Bush and Obama, and ends with his grandkids saying “Vote for my Big Daddy!”) I think we’ve done the Liberal White Southern Male Guilt thing long enough. It’s time for people like me to feel guilty for fleeing the south, forcing ourselves to say “can’t” instead of “cain’t,” and trying so hard to blend in that we let plain vanilla “American-ness” wash out everything distinctive about our upbringing.
Edit: I suppose I should clarify, this being the internet and all, since that sounded like I was actually endorsing the candidate with the cooler name. First, I haven’t been a resident of Georgia in over a decade, so I don’t keep up to date with the politics there. Second, voting for (or against) somebody based on his name is about as stupid as it gets. Third, based solely on the smear ads, I can’t even tell the two candidates apart. All I’m saying is that I feel dumb now for spending so many years trying to get rid of my accent.