Cecilieaux Bois de Murier
This is a thoughtful review of some of the criticisms of Lenin to which I am prone. Capitalism today seems to confirm that some eggs needed to be broken to make omelet.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 has long been an object lesson suitable for drawing edifying morals. Everyone looks at it in order to discover the great mistake — moral, political, ideological — that led to disaster.
Having discovered the mistake, we can feel secure that we would have avoided disaster and superior to all those who have not yet seen the error of their ways. The human reality of the revolution — the overpowering sense of being caught up in a whirlwind of events — is lost as we hurry to draw lessons and point fingers.
For some, the mistake behind the revolution is primarily moral. Lenin, for example, is painted as a fiend incarnate whose bottomless depravity is directly responsible for Russia’s downfall. We can call this the “Boris Karloff Lenin,” who rubs his hands in murderous glee: “Today, I think I’ll oppress the peasants!” I have the impression that something very close to the Boris Karloff Lenin has become the dominant image of the Russian revolution for the wide public, especially in the United States.
Others make a target of “Bolshevism,” defined as a species of recurring moral error. Bolsheviks are those who live by the corrupt code of “the end justifies the means” — something, of course, we the decent public would never do. We would never countenance using unacceptable means such as firebombing civilian populations or using torture, no matter how noble our political goal. Only uncouth fanatics do that.
There is also a certain sort of bien-pensant liberalism that uses Bolshevism to point out the dangers of having exalted political goals. Want to create a workers’ paradise? Watch out that the very nobility of the goal does not lead to terrible crimes. During the Russian Civil War, people were fighting over the most elementary, most unavoidable questions: who will rule the country? How can we put the country back together? Will Russia survive as a state?
Our liberal looks at all this turmoil and sermonizes: now, now, don’t get carried away with dreams of a perfect society! Be like us, with our safe, sane, and sober politics. Moderation, moderation in all things!
The Left is just as addicted to searching out the revolution’s fatal errors — only the Left prefers to put the blame on mistakes in ideological doctrine. A great many on the Left agree with the liberal/conservative view that the original sin of Bolshevism was Lenin’s revisionism in What Is To be Done? According to this view, Lenin didn’t trust the workers, so he turned Marx on his head, and created an elite conspiratorial party based on intellectuals. No wonder he hijacked the democratic program of the Russian Revolution.
An approach less obsessed with identifying and condemning errors will see that the significance of What Is To be Done? does not arise from any alleged ideological innovations. Lenin’s 1902 book is a summation of an idealized version of the logic of underground organization, a logical that had been worked out through empirical trial and error by a generation of anonymous activists during the 1890s. As such, Lenin’s basic model was accepted as a guide by the entire socialist underground in Russia. Coming into 1917, Bolshevism’s distinctiveness did not arise from party organization but rather from its reading of class forces in Russia.
The creation of the socialist underground was not Lenin’s doing — or rather, he made a contribution that was not insignificant but also not crucial. When the Russian state collapsed in 1917 — an event whose titanic consequences were not foreseen by any ideology — this underground provided one of the few forces able to create a new sovereign authority and a new state structure. The legal institutions of Tsarist Russia were mortally wounded by the collapse of Tsarism; in contrast, the illegal underground survived intact, possessed of a nationwide scope and plausible claims to mass support and legitimacy. The socialist underground was much more a product of Russian history than of ideological machinations.
So far I have looked at errors that purport to explain the failures of the revolution, but latter-day partisans of the October Revolution are also engaged in heresy-hunting. For them, the success of the revolution is explained by the rejection of ideological errors. The mainstream Trotskyist interpretation is built around a story of this type.
Back in the 1905-6 (the story goes), Leon Trotsky came up with his theory of permanent revolution and pronounced socialist revolution to be possible in backward Russia. Since his theory attacked the unimaginative dogmas of “Second International Marxism,” Trotsky was greeted with universal incomprehension. Fortunately, just in time, Lenin saw the light and caught up with Trotsky in April 1917. Together the two great leaders rearmed the Bolshevik Party, thus making the glorious October Revolution possible.
There are number of difficulties with this canonical story, but here I will just point to one odd feature of this pro-October story: it has a pronounced anti-Bolshevik tinge. According to many writers in the Trotskyist tradition, the doctrine of Old Bolshevism was pernicious error that had to be rejected before revolutionary victory was possible. We are constantly reminded by writers in this tradition that the Bolsheviks themselves, taken as a whole, were a dull lot who stubbornly remained loyal to what they had been told yesterday, even when their brilliant and visionary leaders had moved on.
So pronounced is this anti-Bolshevik mood that some writers still have not forgiven me for saying something nice about Bolshevik underground activists. Don’t I realize that these activists were stodgy, hidebound komitetchiki who mistakenly refused to listen to the wisdom of émigré leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky?
In my view, however, this whole approach smacks too much of a “cult of personality” of certain revolutionary heroes. Even the pro-October Trotskyists are far from happy with the ultimate outcome of the revolution, and, as usual, look to doctrinal errors to explain the outcome. The European revolution that was supposed to act as a deus ex machina to save the Russian revolution didn’t happen, in large part because of the “fatalist,” “mechanical,” “determinist,” and just generally “pre-dialectical” Marxism of Karl Kautsky and other leaders of the Second International. In Russia, the outward and visible sign of the inward degeneration of the revolution was the doctrinal heresy of “socialism in one country.”
Of course, many shrewd and essential insights into the Russian Revolution come from the Trotskyist tradition. Yet I cannot help feeling that writers in this tradition are often more interested in their doctrinal abstractions than in the human reality of the Russian Revolution as experienced by those who lived through it.
One key debate about the Russian Revolution has always been: was Russia ready for socialist revolution, or for only a “bourgeois revolution”? The Bolsheviks maintained the former, the Mensheviks the latter position. Who was right, and who was wrong in the debate? If the Mensheviks were right, then the October Revolution was a mistake. If the Bolsheviks were right, then Menshevism must be rejected as counter-revolutionary error.
This approach is correct about one thing: the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks did resort to Marxist concepts such as these in their 1917 polemics. Yet doctrinal arguments of this kind were far from the heart of the matter. Indeed, they were essentially add-ons, attempts to give doctrinal legitimacy to positions based on empirical readings of Russia in 1917. The real question facing the socialist parties was this: could the crisis engulfing Russian society be solved by cooperation with educated society, or did a solution require a new sovereign authority based exclusively on the narod, the workers and the peasants?
Translated into the Russian terms that were central to debates in 1917, the question was: could and should a new vlast be based on soglashenie? Vlast means “sovereign authority” or “power,” as in “Soviet power.” Soglashenie is often translated “compromise” or “conciliation,” but the word implies something stronger: working together on the basis of some sort of pact or agreement. The essential clash in 1917 between Menshevik and Bolshevik on questions like this was not doctrinal, but empirical. Furthermore, we cannot say that one side was wrong and the other right. Each side combined insight and wishful thinking. Let me set out the Menshevik/Bolshevik clash in 1917, using the terms vlast and soglashenie to remind us that we are dealing with Russian empirical realities, and also trying to put the doctrinal dispute in its proper subordinate position.
Menshevik: Some sort of soglashenie with educated society is necessary, and therefore a suitable “bourgeois” partner for this soglashenie can be found (and besides, Russian faces a “bourgeois revolution” and therefore we must tolerate the “bourgeois” Provisional Government).
Bolshevik: Soglashenie with educated society is impossible, and therefore the Russian proletariat is ready to take on the responsibilities of the revolutionary vlast (and besides, Russia is ready to take “steps towards socialism”).
In either case, we start, not with doctrinal insight or error, but with a strongly felt and essentially correct empirical view of Russian society in 1917. The Mensheviks realized that, on the one hand, a modern society could not do without educated specialists and professionals, and, on the other hand, the Russian proletariat was not organized or “purposive” enough to exercise the vlast in isolation nor was the Russian peasantry a secure base for a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The Bolsheviks realized that, despite appearances, elite educated society would never work enthusiastically to accomplish “the goals of the revolution” (even when defined in strictly “democratic” terms) and that in fact educated society would eventually turn against the revolution and work for some sort of “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” — that is, some kind of alliance of liberal politicians and soldiers, or, in Russian terms, Kadets (the liberal Constitutional Democrats) and Kornilov (the general who led an abortive coup attempt in 1917).
For both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, a correct empirical view leads to a factual assertion that is based more on wishful thinking than on the realities. The Mensheviks have to insist that a suitable partner can be found in bourgeois society for carrying out the revolution’s goals (or, at least, that educated society can be bullied into cooperation by “pressure from below”). The situation is too horrible to contemplate if this is not the case.
The Bolsheviks have to insist that vast complicated policies of social transformation and crisis management can be carried out almost painlessly if only the proletariat asserts its class power. The situation is too horrible to contemplate if this is not the case.
In each case, there is a parenthetical add-on that tries to give the legitimacy of Marxist doctrine to an empirically chosen strategy. But in fact, the Mensheviks did not choose their strategy because of doctrinal labels such as “bourgeois revolution,” but rather the reverse: they insisted Russia faced a bourgeois revolution because they didn’t want to dispense with the “bourgeoise” — that is, with educated and trained specialists (or spetsy, as the Bolsheviks later called them when they realized how much they needed them). And the Bolsheviks did not choose their strategy because they first convinced themselves for doctrinal reasons that a socialist revolution was possible in Russia, but rather the reverse: they claimed that immediate “steps towards socialism” were possible because they felt the proletariat had to take power.
Later observers have tended to make these rhetorical gestures towards doctrinal legitimacy the heart of the matter. In fact, in 1917, the attitude toward soglashenie with educated society was the heart of the matter. Essentially, there were only two choices for the socialists: for or against soglashenie. Menshevik and Bolshevik are just the names for these two choices. But the tragedy of Russia in 1917 was that soglashenie was both necessary and impossible. The situation was in fact horrible — too horrible to look straight in the face, too horrible to contemplate.
In this reading, the Russian Revolution is not a matter of making or avoiding mistakes, but a tragedy without an acceptable solution (that’s what tragedy is).
But one more thing needs to be said about the clash between Menshevik and Bolshevik. Each side was a compound of error and insight. But in the case of the Mensheviks, this combination resulted in paralysis. In the case of the Bolsheviks, the combination led them to be up and doing. Just for this reason, the future, for good or ill, belonged to the Bolsheviks.
|El general De Gaulle ,en el cementerio de Morette, rindiendo tributo a las víctimas de Glières|
Fotografía del Consejo General de Haute-Savoie Asociación Fondo Glières
uGet is a free and open source software for managing file downloads (over HTTP/S, FTP etc). It’s the most popular download manager program for GNU/Linux distributions such as Debian, Ubuntu, ArchLinux, Gentoo etc. It’s also available for Windows. uGet is lightweight but still a very powerful download manager.
On Ubuntu (I’ve tested on current LTS release (12.04) but it should work fine on other versions as well. e.g on upcoming Ubuntu 14.04 LTS release), open a terminal and type :
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:plushuang-tw/uget-stable sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install uget
For any other Linux distribution or platforms you should check out the official download page.
Please welcome Erika Liodice, who is no stranger to WU. In fact, Erika acted as the Writer Inboxed digital expert since our newsletter’s inception. She’s also the author of the novel Empty Arms, and Vice President of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, and she’s here today to shake things up.
Would you like to learn more about the digital revolution? Read on.
The Digital Revolution: Subscribing to Change
The rate of change you’re experiencing today is the slowest you’ll see in your lifetime.
If you were following the Digital Book World Conference on Twitter, you probably saw this quote by
Michael Cader Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins’ Children’s Books (thank you, Porter, for setting the record straight), pop up in your feed more than once. I don’t know about you, but it already feels like technology is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. How can it possibly change any faster? Every day it seems like there is a new way to write a book, publish it, and promote it, not to mention read it. Sometimes I worry that if I stop paying attention for even a moment, I’ll be left behind. While I’m still a relative newcomer to the publishing industry, having been at it for less than a decade, I’ve witnessed its rapid transformation in my own way—from the days when querying an agent meant putting a small dent in the forest to today, when the majority of my book sales don’t require a single sheet of paper. Back then, my author platform consisted of a well-balanced blog, Facebook page, and Twitter stream. Nowadays there are more social outposts than hours to keep up with them.
Of all the changes to shake up this industry, one of the most interesting, as of late, is the emergence of the subscription model. As recently as a few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that by 2014 not only would I no longer own CDs or DVDs but I wouldn’t even own my music or movie libraries, yet here we are in the age of streaming entertainment, the era of binge consumption, paying a few measly bucks a month for all the content we can digest. When it comes to the sensibility of subscription services, it all boils down to one question: will I spend more money buying new songs/movies/books each month than it would cost to pay for a subscription?
For the hard core among us, it’s easy to see why the shift is happening.
So will the subscription model be the way of the future for e-books? Investors seem to think so, considering that Oyster just secured a $14 million investment to expand its unlimited e-book subscription service beyond the iOS platform and has been diligently signing new publishers to its catalog, the most recent of which was Perseus Books Group. Oyster’s rival, Scribd, which has already received $25 million in capital and offers its unlimited e-book subscription service across multiple platforms, recently inked a deal with Smashwords to bring over 225,000 self-published titles to its catalog, which is similar to the deal that Oyster signed with Smashwords back in September.
What do we make of all this? Fellow Writer Unboxed contributor and industry thought leader Jane Friedman says, “Subscription models make a lot of sense when applied to niche communities, such as romance, SFF, mystery/thriller, or other enthusiast categories.” She points to O’Reilly’s Safari, which specializes in technology and business training as “one example of a successful subscription-model effort. It’s more difficult to see these services take off or be sustainable if they’re geared for a general-interest audience or casual readers.”
The topic was recently discussed on the Writer Unboxed Facebook page, where community members generally agreed that the subscription model has merit from a reading standpoint, though most were leery about how it will translate into fair compensation for authors. While Oyster and Scribd are trying to address this with a “percentage-read” compensation model, the other big player in the space, Amazon, is taking a different approach. Through its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which is available only on Kindle devices to Prime members, Amazon allows its members to borrow one book per calendar month and pays authors based on the number of “borrows”. To participate, authors who publish their titles through Kindle Direct Publishing must grant exclusivity to Amazon through its KDP Select program.
The smallest player in the space, Entitle (formerly eReatah), offers a tiered pricing approach and is described by its founder, Bryan Batten, as “similar to Netflix in its DVD days than Netflix in its streaming days.” Entitle takes a different approach asking higher prices but offering readers permanent access to the e-books they’ve borrowed even after their subscription has ended. Also, Entitle is currently only working with traditionally published titles and keeps its author compensation model close to its chest.
As we sit back and watch these players duke it out to be the “Netflix of e-books,” it’s easy to forget about one key competitor: public libraries. In recent years, the public library system has been working with Overdrive and Axis360 to offer the general public the ability to borrow e-books for free. Simon & Shuster recently announced that it will partner with OverDrive to expand its e-book lending pilot (which began with Axis360 back in April), beyond the New York Public Library system into 15 select libraries. It will offer up its catalog of backlist and frontlist titles along with new titles, which will be available simultaneous with publication. This agreement with Simon & Shuster means that OverDrive now distributes titles from all of the major trade publishers as well as thousands of smaller publishers from around the world. But like the paid subscription services, this solution isn’t perfect either. While readers might be enticed by free access to digital titles, each library owns a limited number of licenses per title, which means that the disadvantage is the still same as if you actually went to the library in person: you might have to wait in line for the book to become available.
While the subscription model certainly seems poised to stick around for a while, the jury is still out on whether it will be the way of the future or just another option in this fast changing world of digital publishing.
What do you think? Does the subscription model have a place in your reading or writing future?
Erika Liodice is an award-winning blogger and author of the novel, EMPTY ARMS. She is the founder of the inspirational blog, Beyond the Gray, where she shares her journey to publication while encouraging readers to reach for their own dreams. She is a contributor to Writer Unboxed, The Savvy Explorer, and Lehigh Valley InSite. You can visit her at www.ErikaLiodice.com or follow her on Twitter: @erikaliodice.
This AMs NYT has a piece about a fascinating development in Tennessee, where management in a privately owned auto company, a VW plant in Chattanooga, appears to be working cooperatively with the UAW to organize the plant. So, what’s the problem?
I’ve written about this before, but the wrinkle is that “outside agitators” [my words, not the NYTs] are trying to block the union, which is pitting them against both sides—union and management, since the latter thinks organizing the workforce would be helpful.
The business community reacted with…dismay when several Volkswagen officials from Germany visited the plant and hinted that it would be good to have a labor union because that would help establish a German-style works council. Such councils, comprising managers and representatives of white-collar and blue-collar workers, seek to foster collaboration within a factory as they forge policies on plant rules, work hours, vacations and other matters.
It’s a great example of just how thin much conservative support is for “free markets.” A private firm believes it is in its self-interest not to block the union, and in fact appears to welcome the opportunity to for cooperative “works councils.”
Unlike most companies that confront unionization efforts, Volkswagen — facing a drive by the United Automobile Workers — has not mounted a vigorous campaign to beat back the union; instead VW officials have hinted they might even prefer having a union.
So you have politicians, including the state’s governor and TN senator Bob Corker, along with conservative activist Grover Norquist, trying to block VW management from working with the union.
The anti-U.A.W. forces are making themselves heard, warning that if the U.A.W. succeeds here, that will lend momentum to unionize two other prestigious German-owned plants: the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama and the BMW plant in South Carolina.
Now, that may be a legitimate concern for these politicians, but these are private decisions by private actors. As my colleague Dean Baker likes to say in these cases, “Let’s be good, neoclassical economists here” and let market actors join into partnerships they believe to be in their economic interest.
I doubt the outside opposition to management’s support of the union is a surprise to most readers, but it struck me as a classic example of how terribly thin this “free market” ideology really is when it takes its alleged supporters to places they don’t want to go.
The moral of the story: there’s no “free market.” It doesn’t exist outside of beginner textbooks. Instead, there’s a vast array of market arrangements wherein private and public forces interact in ways that create winners and losers. The winners tend to like things the way they are and will yell “free markets!” when challenged. But they don’t really mean it.
Hay más que amigas que no son para toda la vida.
acosmist - One who believes that nothing exists
paralian - A person who lives near the sea
aureate - Pertaining to the fancy or flowery words used by poets
dwale - To wander about deliriously
sabaism - The worship of stars
dysphoria - An unwell feeling
aubade - A love song which is sung at dawn
eumoirous - Happiness due to being honest and wholesome
mimp - To speak in a prissy manner, usually with pursed lips
Me by myself.
For the past few weeks, Lake Bell has been working hard to promote her new movie In a World… NPR set the stage this way ("'In A World …' Is A Comedy About, You Guessed It, Voice-Over Artists", NPR All Things Considered 7/26/2013):
Lake Bell has acted in the movies It's Complicated, What Happens in Vegas and No Strings Attached. She's been on television, on HBO's How to Make It in America and the TV series Boston Legal. And she is now starring in a movie she has written and directed. It's called In a World … — as in that instantly recognizable phrase that kicks off so many movie trailers.
In a World … is a comedy about doing voice-overs for those trailers, and Bell's character, Carol, is to movie trailers roughly what Rocky was to boxing. Underneath the comedy, it's a moving story about female empowerment — though Bell tells NPR's Robert Siegel that she doesn't like to be preached to. "I "I always hope that, you know, if I do have a message, that perhaps it is with a good sense of humor and not too soap-boxy. Just a little suds on you, to get the message across."
There's been plenty of media uptake: "In 'A World', All Voice-Overs Are Not Created Equal", Fresh Air 8/8/2013; an interview with John Oliver on The Daily Show, 8/7/2013; A.O. Scott, "All those Voices: Can You Hear Her Now?", New York Times 8/8/2013; Amanda Dobbins, "Lake Bell On In a World… and Tattoos", New York Magazine 8/11/2013; "Lake Bell Poses Nude & Covered In Tattoos for New York Magazine", Huffington Post 8/12/2013; Leah Brillson, "Lake Bell Explains Why A Woman's Voice Is Her Most Powerful Tool", Refinery20, 8/12/2013; Tess Lynch, "Lake Bell vs. 'Sexy Baby Voice'", Grantland 8/13/2013; Daniel Cowen, "'In Other Worlds…' — Heeb Reviews Lake Bell’s Directorial Debut: In A World", Heeb 8/13/2013; Mark Caro, "With 'In a World …,' Lake Bell puts her film where her mouth is", Chicago Tribune 8/13/2013; "Interview: Actress Lake Bell Writes, Directs ‘In a World…’", HollywoodChicago.com 8/14/2013; Norman Wilner, "Lake Bell: Versatile artist pipes up in eccentric voice-industry send-up In A World…", Now Toronto 8/16/2013; Ken Eisner, "Lake Bell spins In a World… her way", straight.com 8/14/2013; and many, many more.
Bell's movie is about a young woman trying to break into the male-dominated world of voice-over acting. As she puts it in her interview on NPR's All Things Considered:
I was always interested in the idea that the omniscient voice was always considered male. This sound that's telling you what to buy, what to think, how to feel about what bank to have, or what kind of car, or what movie to see. So I thought it would be an interesting protagonist to have a female vocal coach who would sort of aspire to take on this world.
But her interviews all stress the idea that women themselves are to blame for their exclusion, or at least are strongly complicit in it. Thus in her interview with Katherine Monk ("Interview In a World… film director Lake Bell with video", Canada.com 8/14/2013) she says:
There is one statement in this film and I am vocal about it: There is a vocal plague going on that I call the sexy baby plague, where very smart women have taken on this affectation that evokes submission and sexual titillation to the male species,” she says.
“This voice says ‘I’m not that smart,’ and ‘don’t feel threatened’ and ‘don’t worry, I don’t want to take charge,’ which is a problem for me because it’s telling women to take on this bimbo persona in order to please a man.
Or in the ATC interview:
OK, small soap-box moment. I have been personally ruptured and unsettled by the trend, the vocal trend that I call sexy baby vocal virus talking. So it's this is – not only is it pitch, so really high up, but it's also a dialect. It's like a speech pattern that includes uptalking and fry, so it's this amalgamation of really unsavory sounds that many young women have adopted. It's a pandemic, in my opinion.
Asked what it sounds like, she responded:
It would sound like this, and, like, we would just have this way of speaking. And it's not necessarily that I'm, like, stupid. It's just that what I'm saying makes me sound less than. And so, for me, I find that – like I can't have people around me that speak that way, and mainly because I am a woman, and I grew up thinking a female voice and sound should sound sophisticated and sexy and a la Lauren Bacall or Anne Bancroft or Faye Dunaway, you know? Not a 12-year-old little girl that is submissive to the male species.
Ms. Bell is a talented mimic: in addition to pitch and voice quality, she uses vowel retraction, for instance in her pronunciation of "this" as something like [ðæəs]:
But she mixed her message a bit — though increasing her media coverage — by posing nude on the cover of the August 19 issue of New York Magazine. While she certainly doesn't present herself there as a 12-year-old girl, some people might think that the magazine cover puts other "bimbo" stereotypes within reach. At least, nude magazine covers were not part of the way that Don LaFontaine and Carl Kassell built their case for "omniscient voice" status.
In any case, Bell's "sexy baby vocal virus" idea has gone viral, collecting many thousands of diverse and mostly positive comments, many of them from women. Thus here are the first few comments on her ATC interview:
I work at a private university. I am an old woman surrounded by squeaky-toy voices. Thank you for making me laugh about it.
Yeah…I call it 'Ball of butter in the back of the throat syndrome.."
That squeaky-toy voice drives me nuts. We have a few younger ladies in our workplace who started out sounding like that, but quickly learned that it wasn't professional, and started sounding more like adults.
FINALLY … A woman calls out this awful baby talk, 1982 Valley Speak trend of young women. Agreed 100 percent Lake Bell.
The scary part is that there are more than a few of these godawful squeaky girl voices on NPR. The "woman" (can't tell by here voice) who co-hosts "Science Friday" is, to me, un-listenable.
I was hysterically laughing while listening to Lake Bell. Every time I hear a grown woman with that squeaky baby girly voice that ends in "like a question" even thought it's not a question, I cringe and roll my eyes! I'll bet Lake can imitate Vicky Pollard from Little Britain!
I thought I was the only one taken aback by the current epidemic of 20-something women increasingly sounding like a blase Mickey Mouse -or Mice. My boyfriend and I call them "Yaaah Girls" – as in "I had a whole Greek Yogurt before yoga and it totally bloated me in class" – "Yaaaaah." [...] In a world where I wish I could punish these girls with impunity, someone give me Lake Bell's kickboxing skills from What Happens In Vegas and very fast legs…
The "sexy baby vocal virus" trend is ridiculous on the surface but also speaks to the thoroughly depressing way that young women view themselves and are viewed by others.
As a linguist, I'm always happy to see so many people so interested in how other people talk. But there are a few things about this epidemic of anti-female-vocal-virus discussion that bother me.
First, the annoying (to them) features that commenters bring up are all over the place, and it's not clear that the discussion is about an identifiable speech style, as opposed to a long list of things about various female-associated vocal features that people don't like.
Second, at least two of the features that Lake Bell mentions or imitates — vocal fry and retracted (backed and lowered) vowels — actually represent women's attempt to sound more like men (or at least to sound larger), with lower-pitched vowels and lower frequency vocal-tract resonances. (At least, this is true to the extent that such effects are gender-linked and not just general phenomena that become part of a gender stereotype.)
Third, I'd be willing to make a small wager that at least some of the features that annoy Bell are actually commoner in female-to-female speech than in female-to-male speech. Many of the commenters' examples of annoying speech come from young women talking among themselves.
Fourth, I haven't seen any evidence that there's anything really new here. Consider this passage from a 1985 interview with Carol Channing ("How Carol Channing became Carol Channing", in James Kirkwood, Diary of a Mad Playwright):
"My mother was just like this. I was never going to be pretty, I was too tall, I was. . . . Look, somebody nominated me for secretary of the student body in school — I was eight years old, okay — and the procedure was, I had to get up onstage in the school auditorium and make my campaign speech. Well, I didn't know what to say. I couldn't say I was smarter than they were, I couldn't say I was better in any way [...]
"Because, if a mother gets a Mary Martin or a Carol Channing, she's got this mushroom coming up under her and it's very frightening and disconcerting, because she doesn't know what to do. She can't rescue you, because you're not a cripple, so she makes you a cripple. 'Goddamnit, you're going to be a cripple!' And, woman to woman, they beat you up.
"So suddenly you're onstage and you find out the whole thing's a lie, it's not true, and on top of which, although I'm not the cutest girl in class, never was, and very tall, and . . . I could act like Marjorie Gould, and did Marjorie Gould for them and –" now Carol's voice switched to sexy babytalk — "and I did Marjorie Gould for them, and I swished my ass around that stage like Marjorie Gould never thought of doing, and it was so exciting and so sexy, and I did it better than Marjorie Gould! Well, naturally I got elected."
Since Carol Channing was born in 1921, this episode would have happened in 1929, 50 years before Lake Bell was born. It's certainly possible that the techniques that Carol Channing learned in 1929 have recently spread like an epidemic among young American women, but frankly, I'm skeptical that the prevalence of the "sexy baby voice" syndrome has changed much in the past decade, or even the past century.
For more, you should read Jessica Grose, "Why Is Lake Bell Dissing Women’s Voices?", Slate 11/9/2013, which ends with this sensible remark:
I agree with Bell that making yourself sound younger or dumbing yourself down on purpose won’t be great for your career. But, what she’s advocating is that women should have low voices to sound smart, or even sexy. Since she obviously cares about advancing women, maybe she should stop instructing them that they need to sound like dudes.
An earlier episode of collective annoyance at similar features in the speech of (certain) young women occurred in 2006, as discussed in these LL posts:
"The Affect: Sociolinguistic speculation at the NYO", 3/22/2006
"Further thoughts on 'The Affect'", 3/22/2006
And there was an even earlier outbreak, starting in the early 1990s, focused on "uptalk":
"This is, like, such total crap?", 5/15/2005
"Uptalk uptick", 12/15/2005
"Angry Rises", 2/11/2006
"Uptalk is not HRT", 3/28/2006
"Uptalk anxiety", 9/7/2008
"The phonetics of uptalk", 9/13/2008
"Uptalk v. UNBI again", 11/23/2008
"Elementary-school uptalk", 11/30/2008
Some other relevant posts:
If you don’t have any shadows, you’re not in the light. — Lady GaGa
I came across a phrase I liked in John Truby’s excellent THE ANATOMY OF STORY: necessary opponent.
Truby uses it in the context of storytelling, but you could also apply it to life.
In fiction, when you’re thinking up your protagonist, you can’t create him in a vacuum. She exists within – and is defined by – a web of other characters.
And no hero can be a hero without an antagonist.
I’m not exaggerating, writes Truby,
when I say that the trick to defining your hero and figuring out your story is to figure out your opponent. …This relationship determines how the entire drama builds…Structurally the opponent always holds the key, because your hero learns through his opponent. It is only because the opponent is attacking the hero’s great weakness that the hero is forced to deal with it and grow.
In other words, the main character is only as good as the force(s) she battles. Protagonist and antagonist drive each other to increasing levels of greatness.
So the opponent has to be necessary, in that she is the one person in the world who can zero in on the heroine’s weakness.
The heroine must overcome this weakness, learn from it, or be destroyed in some way (end the story at a lower point than when she began).
We exert so much energy avoiding conflict — but fiction is all about meaningful conflict. Conflict, conflict, conflict, as any writing instructor will tell you. Why? Because meaningful conflict is the crucible that exposes character, boils out the essence and then transforms it. Conflict forces us to grow and change – or die trying (and what is stagnation except a death-in-life?).
And perhaps the reason why human beings have such a driving need for stories – why nature hardwired us this way – is because we look to them to show us how to deal with challenge and change. How to come of age, how to love, be moral, live well and, when the time comes, how to die well. In a conversation with Bill Moyers, the beloved scholar Joseph Campbell explained that all myths are about “the maturation of the individual”. We want to become contributing members to society; we want to grow past our small frightened selves and into a much larger picture. That’s how we find and make meaning. Stories point the way.
When I was a teenager I became fascinated with the Dark Knight Returns graphic novels, especially the relationship between Batman and the Joker, how they serve as dark reflections of the other. I always loved that movie cliché where, during the final battle, the bad guy tells the good guy some variation of, “You’re just like me.”
Jungian analysts say that in a dream, every character represents some part of the dreamer. In a story – the fictive dream – characters tend to represent some aspect of the protagonist: who she was, is, or could be.
When antagonist and protagonist compete for a goal that only one can win, it’s not just two individuals battling it out but two opposing sets of values, of living and being, that each represents. How the conflict resolves reflects the writer’s final overall message (otherwise known as a theme).
So, as Truby points out, a human antagonist must double the protagonist in some way. The antagonist is who the protagonist would be if she lost her moral vision. The antagonist is her Shadow: the buried, repressed parts of the personality that the protagonist has sent underground. By dealing with the antagonist, the protagonist is really dealing with the dark qualities of herself. A triumphant protagonist learns how to integrate those qualities, to take what she needs, apply them to her situation, and grow and evolve to higher consciousness.
In life, we are constantly creating, or co-creating, our ongoing life stories, based on how we choose to interpret the world around us, the weight and meaning we assign to events. We tell ourselves a story about who we are, and whatever doesn’t fit that self-definition gets cut off and cast out – and forms our Shadow.
Trapped by our blindspots, the limits of our self-preconceptions, we can’t see our own Shadow until someone else throws it back. They do this when they trigger us, often just by being who they are. We can’t see them clearly. We see instead the Shadow we’re projecting, the qualities in ourselves that we have disowned…but come surfacing back to us when we see them, or think we see them, in the other person.
So maybe that other person becomes our necessary opponent: necessary for us to learn from in order to learn about ourselves – and mature as human beings.
Perhaps the necessary opponent of your life isn’t one person but a series of people with certain traits in common, traits that always trigger you because you haven’t dealt with them in yourself.
Maybe when you learn to love your enemy, you’re learning how to love that shadow aspect of yourself: to find the gold in the darkness, the strength and the wisdom. Maybe that’s why forgiveness is so powerful. In the act of forgiving someone else, you’re forgiving a despised and neglected aspect of yourself. click to tweet
We learn to love ourselves through loving other people; we learn to love other people through loving ourselves.
We are tangled up in each other.
We are one.