Friday, October 20, 2000
Does evil have an accent?
By Rosemary Ford
It started with "The Patriot," then came "Mission
Impossible 2," "Gone in 60 Seconds," "X-Men," "Bless the Child" and
now "Bedazzled." Even John Travolta spoke with one for his turn as a
malevolent alien in "Battlefield Earth."
Evil Brits -- they're everywhere.
Americans equate a clipped English accent with evil?
|Not since Darth Vader's
underlings called him Lord Vader in that accent has evil
sounded so classy. In recent films, Elizabeth Hurley is the
devil herself with Brendan Fraser in ''Bedazzled released
The bad guys and gals have been British before, but lately they
seem to crop up with more frequency. From psychotic killers to
satanic mischief-makers, all the queen's subjects appear to be up to
Even when they don't sound British, the British are still evil,
like Christian Bale of "American Psycho" and "Shaft" renown, and Ben
Chaplin, also known as the satanic vessel in "Lost Souls." Both
sounded thoroughly Yankee born and bred, though their origins come
from a little east of Yankee central.
"I thought it's fairly traditional that the bad guy gets
portrayed in various ways. If the shift is toward British accents,
maybe it's our turn," said Vincent Avery, a Brit living in Andover
who serves as dean of studies at Phillips Academy.
He doesn't feel that his accent gets a bad reaction here in the
States. Just the opposite, Americans seem to have a cultural
affinity for it.
But 14-year-old Emily Watson, an American raised in Great
Britain, thinks Americans can find British accents a little
"A British accent is more sinister-sounding than an American
one," she said. "An American one is happy sounding."
Mythologist, psychologist and filmmaker Dr. Mark Greene, who
reviews films for the Web site Headlinemuse.com, thinks even though
Americans and Brits speak English, the accent makes it sound strange
to the yanks.
"It is our language, but it is different, it represents the
unknown within us, the shadow aspects of ourselves that we cannot
possibly know and so project onto others who speak that language so
strangely," he said.
Differences seem to make the difference between the villains and
the vilified. For a while, it was minorities -- blacks, Hispanics
and Indians -- that held monopolies on bad guys. Other favorites
have been Germans, Russians and Arabs.
"It's one of the few (nationalities) yet to be labeled
politically incorrect," speculated Boston University film professor
Bob Demers, who hadn't noticed the trend but wasn't shocked by it.
Then again, it could be that old rivalry between America and its
former mother country that's existed since the Colonial days.
"Maybe it's some sort of thing (where) Americans are trying to
beat the British, even though we have done it millions of times
over," Emily said.
Dr. Greene thinks the increase in villains with British accents
could be a sign that Americans need an arch-nemesis to flex their
"Let's face it, ever since the end of our overt hostilities with
the U.S.S.R., we have had no 'big' bullies to deal with in the
playground of the world," he said. "If you equate our war of
independence from England as a break between father and son, you'll
notice that the decline of the British Empire that eventually
ensued, and our rising to power, fits neatly with this model. This
same motif of son overthrowing father appears in many mythologies,
but perhaps most germane to our perspective, the story of Zeus and
the castrating of his father, Cronus."
In order to become king of the gods, Zeus went to war against his
father, the leader of the Titans, a race of giants. Dr. Greene sees
the same relationship between America and Great Britain.
"I'd say that the demise of England as a world power to be
reckoned with led the way for us to continue our war with titanic
Russia. Now that it is over, I believe we are re-living, at least on
a psychological level, the original break from our English heritage
in the realm of the imagined, in this case, cinema," he said. "This
recent appearance of English 'bad guys' in the movies is certainly
not a first, but I believe has been intensified now that the U.S.
world order has pretty much been established. By portraying the
Brits as evil, we are telling the story of how we became who we are,
how we broke from the father."