Movies and TV shows produced in Hollywood are laden with characters performing accents. The actors themselves are not always responsible for the accents or the intention behind the accent. The writers of scripted media are another factor of put-on accents. Many performative scenarios involve the writer’s individual and/or creative motivation(s). This exemplified behind-the-scenes aspect of performed accents occurs often in the series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
“Chardee macdennis 2: electric boogaloo” is an episode of the series in which all main characters use accents as part of a challenge in a drinking game. The accents revolve around the actual physical challenge of the round which is to spin a globe, put a finger somewhere on it and then speak with the accent from that particular country for an extended period of time. This scripted scene shows influence from the writers of the show. It is useful to understand the context of the series and the characters up to this point to see the writers influence, however.The episode discussed occurs in Season 11, which is the most recent season to air (2016). Throughout the series, many of the main characters have put on accents during various episodes. Many of the accents are performed by the character Dee, who is an aspiring actress in the series Her role as an actress- who is acting as an actress- somewhat excuses and legitimizes her performative behaviors, and seems to explain away her accents in the beginning of the series. This begins to shift during seasons, as the episodes address more topics which might be considered “hot button issues”. Throughout 11 seasons, each time Dee puts on an accent, it becomes more noticeable because the characters around her begin to call her out on her racist and mocking put-on accent. The writer’s motives here are subtle, and may not be readily noticeable. The actress Dee is performing the accents so that the characters around her can increasingly cause a backlash and put an end to her racist behavior. Whereas it was ignored at first, the writers develop the characters to become more progressive throughout the series. Using put-on accents is one of the many development traits used in long-running series to gently deliver stronger messages.
The scene in “Chardee macdennis 2: electric boogaloo” involves the active put-on accents in a wide variety of dynamics that have been built up to season 11. Each character has a different level of authenticity, in accordance to how they are performing the individual accent. The motive is ultimately determined according to the way the writer(s) scripted the episode, dialogue and meaning behind the accent – not how the actor chooses to perform it. For example, the dialogue in this episode explicitly sets Charlie’s character to have a mocking accent as he mispronounces the country’s name “Brazil”. His counterpart corrects him on the name of the country but still asks the rest of the characters what language people speak in Brazil. This shows that the actors are going to perform a mocking tone – not necessarily by their own accord, but to the direction of the writer and director of the series.
Charlie’s put-on Brazilian accent is then identified as extremely mocking by the characters surrounding him. It is clear to the audience, both those he is acting with and the viewers, that he is performing the accent in a non-authentic manner. The motive behind this scene and others like it in Hollywood may or may not go beyond surface level. On the surface level, mocking accents of other languages aim to be comedic in value. On a deeper level, particularly with certain writers of long-winded series, there is often a stronger undercurrent motive. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia addresses many contemporary issues in today’s society. The characters, and therefore the audience never learn a clear or explicit “lesson”. Despite this indirectness, at many points throughout the 11 seasons the characters assume controversial role-reversals and ask deeper thought provoking questions mixed among the comedic dialogue.
If It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia were a stand-alone example, it may be an exception. This does not appear to be the case, as put-on accents are used in shows such as The Office (both U.K. and U.S. versions) as well as Parks and Recreation. In all of these examples, the put-on accents are interpreted on a spectrum of levels, with motivations being driven by the writers rather than the actors themselves. It is hard to interpret what the writer’s true intention is for a dialogue that has a scripted put-on accent for an actor; therefore it is difficult to determine if the accent meets the purpose it was intended for. The accent may meet the purpose for some audience members, if it was meant to be comedic, while those who do not question the deeper meaning may not notice the motive of a performed accent pass throughout the series. The reason for this kind of objectivity could even be why we classify media making and motives as art.