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On Accents and Podfic

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So, over at [community profile] amplificathon, [personal profile] nikojen posted a poll about accents. This poll has been generating a lot of discussion in the comments and on twitter that I've been participating in.

I had friends ranting against the poll and the negative ideas it represented. There were podficcers feeling attacked for their accents, their voices, feeling as though their capabilities, their qualifications to podfic, were being called into question. On the other hand, there were people feeling prosecuted for their honest preferences, people were being made to feel like they were bad fans for answering the poll honestly.

I think [personal profile] nikojen created the poll quickly, trying to gather information but also make it quick and easy to fill out. But with the way the poll was set up, there were a number of biases and implications inherent in it that led to some of the strife I saw unfolding on my twitter feed.

[personal profile] nikojen tells us, before we even get to the poll, that her intention in creating it was so that the next time she sees a potential podficcer saying they're interested in making podfic, but haven't done so due to their accent, she'll have more than anecdotal evidence to give them that podfic fandom still welcomes them. Right there, before you even get to the poll, a bias is being instilled. Any answers given will be used to influence potential podficcers. so you're going to have some fans give answers that may not accurately reflect how they actually feel, but will be more reassuring to newbies. And those that answer honestly in a way that might discourage newbies could come off looking like jerks.

The poll itself consists of three questions:

1. As a reader, are you a native English speaker?

  • Yes - U.S. & Canada
  • Yes - U.K. & Ireland
  • Yes - Aus. & NZ
  • Yes - Other Regions
  • No - Western Europe
  • No - Eastern Europe
  • No - Other Regions
  • I am not a podfic reader. But YES, I'm a native speaker
  • I am not a podfic reader. But NO, I'm not a native speaker

2. As a reader, have you ever recorded a fandom or character with a different accent from your own?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I am not a podfic reader

3. As a listener, does the reader's accent matter to you?

  • No, not at all
  • No, as long as I can understand them
  • Yes, I PREFER readers with accents
  • Yes, I want the accent to match the character/fandom
  • Yes, I try to AVOID readers with accents
  • I don't listen to podfic enough to have an opinion

The first questions, while trying to gather a information on those taking the poll, is also designed in a way that recognizes there are many accents in the world, both from native and non-native English speakers alike. I appreciate that [personal profile] nikojen is trying to avoid establishing a single native English accent as a "default" or "non-accent". However, since [personal profile] nikojen never explicitly defined how she uses the term "accent" for the purposes of the poll, question two implies that an accent is anything that doesn't match the "canon accent".

The third and final question is where the most interesting results are, but due to the previously established biases in the survey, this question becomes very loaded.

As with most multiple choice questions, the options presented don't allow for much nuance. It's asking for preferences, which can be interpreted as "What's your minimum qualifications for entry," "What do you listen to most often," or as "my favourite thing to listen to" and there's a world of difference between those two interpretations.

Since it's already been said these results will be used to reassure newbies and because "matching canon" is used as a baseline to distinguish accents, answering with the interpretation of "favourite thing" can result in negative implications the respondent didn't mean. If a "yes, accents matter" answer is given, it implies the respondent doesn't welcome, or they discourage, podfics where the accents don't match the canon.

At the time of writing, of the people that answered this question with "yes, accents matter" answers, very few of them took the time to expand on their answer in the comments. This has resulted in people getting upset and/or judging those respondents for their answer.

Podfic fandom is honestly one of the most welcoming and friendly communities I've ever participated in. It's also not a very prolific fan work (not compared to other kinds like fanfic or fanvids) so any hint of discouraging people from creating more is generally not appreciated by the core of podfic fandom.

Perhaps if the question were less loaded, or if there were follow up questions to help people explain what they meant by their answer, or a way for respondents to differentiate between what they want to listen to, and what they want to be present in fandom, there would be less of an upset, but even then I'm not so sure.

It's hard to gather personal preferences in a statistical way such as this without ruffling people's feathers, especially not when the topic is one like accents.

In general, this is a sensitive topic for podficcers.

One, because a lot of people don't seem to realize that everyone has an accent of some kind. Or I'll hear people say things like "this person has an incomprehensible accent" passing subjective opinions off as objective facts. Because how comprehensible a person's accent is is very subjective and depends just as much on the person listening as it does the person speaking. It's easy to pick on ESL accents, but the simple truth is, there are a lot of native English speakers that can't understand each other, never mind bringing in ESL speakers. For example, as a Canadian, I sometimes find some of the dialects from the UK very hard to follow, but can generally follow a French accent fairly easily, simply due to the level of exposure I've had to both accents.

And two, accents are a sensitive topic because when people say things like "I want the podficcer's accent to match the canon character's accent" that invalidates a lot of our work. It's an elitist attitude that basically tells me I shouldn't podfic because, of the ~65 podfics that I've made, I can only think of 2 that even featured a Canadian character (Rodney from SGA) and one of those was from an American character's POV (John), so that's ~64 podfics that wouldn't exist if "matching accents" was an actual rule or something.

It's also not a practical expectation either, because most fandoms have more than one accent present in canon, it's not like Kris Allen and Adam Lambert (from American Idol Season 8) have the same accent, never mind fandoms with more international casts, like SGA or Lost.

And It's hard to hear people criticize, not only our art, but our person too. Because the accent each person carries is a part of them. It's their body, their history, their family and home being called out. To change your accent is a physical thing, nowhere near like sending off your, for example, Harry Potter fic to be Brit-picked. Accents are muscle memory and cultural cues and it's just not that easy to embody a different one (never mind that accents vary from person to person, so even if someone can get away with doing a generic regional accent not their own, trying to take on a specific person's accent is even harder).

All these attitudes do is discourage podfic.

And this whole thing reminds me of conversations I’ve seen elsewhere in fandom or outside of fandom talking about fandom. Where, in (someone’s definition of) a perfect world, all our fandoms would be of canons in the public domain, so there’d be no question of its legality. There’d be no bad fic, everything would be well betad, in character and would have a solid plot. All vids would have high quality footage. All podfic would be well acted and have accents that matched the canon characters.

In a perfect world.

Except, that’s complete bullshit. Even when you look outside of fandom at the world of "professionals" they still don’t represent those ideals. There are plenty of bad books out there, so many movies with bad acting, special effects, low quality footage or horrible story lines, etc. Expecting fandom people to produce things, in their free time, for fun, at a level that even professionals aren’t achieving is pretty dumb. But more than that, I hate the idea that it's something we should strive for because I feel like it misses the point of fandom.

When I think of some of my favourite things in fandom, the word "perfect" generally isn't what I first think to use to describe those works, but they're still my favourites. Things don't have to be, and shouldn't have to be perfect in order to be good or fun. Think of things like not!fic, it couldn't exist in this "perfect" world. Most crack wouldn't exist either, because it's not "in character".

And the thing about saying "in a perfect world, all podfic readers would match the canon accents" is that, to me, it erases the podficcer from the equation. I like noticing that the podficcer is there, reading to me.

My most common reaction to listening to a podficcer the first time, is the intense desire to cuddle with them because listening to them read to me just feels so intimate. Listening to podfics by people with different accents than mine fills me with glee, because it reminds me of just how far fandom can span.

I like knowing that, as I work my way through a story, that I've got the author and podficcer right there with me the whole way.

I know not everyone feels this way, a lot of people don't want fandom creators visible, they'd rather be absorbed in the story as they go through it, and that's cool too, so long as we don't try to make it out that one way is better than the other, which I don't think this poll, over all, quite succeeded at.

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