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You’re going to think you know where this Salon article by Alan Levinovitz is going.

You’re going to think you know where the writer is coming from, what he’s going to find, what he’s going to say.

You’re probably going to be wrong.

Spoiler Alert: The trick is to listen.

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South Writ Large will have a new issue out before long, so let me thank them again for publishing my short story “The Death of John Gardiner,” from the 2009 collection Parlous Angels:

That Christmas Eve was wet, and just cold enough that ice was a threat.

“Your mother fixed a good dinner,” John Gardiner said as Will Adams drove.

“She did. She usually does.”

Gardiner was silent except for his watery breathing. “I hope she knows how much her mother and I appreciate her,” he eventually said. He needed half a minute to say this, and he coughed when he was finished. When he finished coughing he took a puff on the cigar that he had snuck past his wife.

“I think she does,” Will said. “I know she’s happy to do it. She’s happy to be able to do it.”

John Gardiner nodded. He stared out the window, watching the thin woods and hemmed fields pass by, watching how the brown high grass of the Catawba valley had shrunk in this weather. Will wanted to think he was remembering the abundant woods and fields that filled the valley when he was a boy, and remembering how much he missed that abundance. Will wanted to think he was reflecting on how the woods and fields had receded since then, and reflecting on the part he had played in that. As a boy John Gardiner had helped his father bring trees down, haul them with hooks and chains out of the woods, and saw them into lumber. In his retirement he invested in development, in housing tracts, condos, and shopping centers. From Hickory to the west side of Charlotte he had helped remake the valley. Will wanted to think he was remembering deer hunts and turkey shoots . . .

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Once, as a younger man, I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway and found myself sitting behind a bunch of guys about my age and biting through my tongue to keep from laughing out loud.  The game was in a rain delay and I’d started listening to them talk, and sumbitch if they didn’t sound exactly like a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It was wicked awesome.

I know that they only sounded that way to my touristy ears; I know that I couldn’t hear, anymore than the comedians could reproduce, all sorts of shading and phrasing and inflection.

That’s why even the best actors will spend weeks or even months on a movie set, speaking all those lines, in take after take, with a Bad Accent.  They don’t bother, or aren’t able, to learn the little quirks of a locality; they paint only with the broadest brush.

I’ll be honest with you – I almost feel guilty about our two finalists for the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Championship.  Neither one was making a realistic ‘slice-of-life’ movie, by any stretch of the imagination (at least, dear Lord, I hope not). Both clearly were straining for over the top, and got there.  Both accents are so broad they barely fit on the screen.

So here they are, the last drawls standing in the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament:

Oscar-winner Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, versus Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage in Con Air.

Come out, come out, wherever you are, put the bunny back in the box, and place your votes to decide our champion.

The Final Four!

In one bracket, Robert De Niro and Keanu Reeves ran away from their opponents without a goodbye wave.

In the other, Marlon Brando squeaked (figuratively and otherwise) by Dan Aykroyd, while Nicolas Cage saw off a surprisingly strong challenge from Kyra Sedgwick.

So here we have Dixie Babble’s Final Four of Bad Southern Accents:

Robert De Niro as Max Cady in Cape Fear against Keanu Reeves as . . . aw, hell, does it even matter what his name was? . . . in The Devil’s Advocate.

Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye against Nicolas Cage in Con Air.

I was out of town last week, and took my daughter to a museum that played taped interviews with Southerners from the 1960s.

This reminded me that, sometimes, yeah, we really do talk like that.

But only in isolated, individual cases, so Dixie Babble will not let the historical record stop us from making fun of celebrities.

The Elite 8 of the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament features successful – sometimes even acclaimed – actors who, for whatever reason, can’t bring themselves to talk like actual human beings from the Southeastern United States.  Round 2 brings us –

Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain, having upset overall #1-seed “Half the Cast of Fried Green Tomatoes” in the first round, takes on Robert “Come oyut, come oyut whuhever yew ahhr” DeNiro as Max Cady in Cape Fear.

The second match sees Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate – in which buying him as a Southerner requires a greater suspension of disbelief than buying him as the son of Satan – against the otherwise great Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

In the third match, Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye (really, though, his accent is less “bad” than “deeply weird”) faces Canadian Gentile Dan Aykroyd as a Georgia Jew in Driving Miss Daisy.

And in the last match of the second round, Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer – who’s character apparently isn’t even supposed to be from the South – goes up against what has to be the overwhelming favorite Bad Accent from this point on, Nicolas Cage in Con Air.  Even though I’m not entirely certain Cage even deserves to be in this tournament, since I can’t be sure his accent wasn’t supposed to be that bad.

Place your votes to see which Bad Accents move on to the Final Four.

Yesterday’s matches were never even close. Keanu and Liz left Kevin and Reese choking in the dust of their extraneous vowels and elongated syllables.

The last matches of the first round feature contemporary actors, including the money favorite to win the whole thing.

The first game pits yet another Scalawag – Georgia-born Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias – against New Yorker Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer.

Roberts speaks with the same accent many Southerners do these days, which is to say, not much of one at all. But for Steel Magnolias, she flattens her terminal r’s like roadkill, and gives every pronounced vowel that pseudo-aristo ‘aeh’ sound.

Apparently the “Closer” that Sedgwick plays in The Closer is supposed to be from Atlanta, which apparently is supposed to explain why she inserts an ‘ey’ where a short-vowel-sound would otherwise appear (i.e., she ey-inserts ey-an ey-‘ey’ whey-ere ey-a short-vowel-seyound weyould . . . OK, you get the idea).

In the second match-up, British actor Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead takes on an adversary even more terrifying than a herd of Walkers – Nicolas Cage in the immortal Con Air.

Lincoln’s accent isn’t always bad, which is what makes it so atrocious when it comes roaring up, seemingly out of nowhere, like he’s been bitten by Jerry Clower instead of a zombie.

I can’t find a decent clip from the show online, but that hardly matters since I don’t see how anybody can stand up to Cage’s “Put the bunny back in the box.”

Seriously. “Put the bunny back in the box.” Every other bracket may be a waste of time.

In yesterday’s action, Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye narrowly avoided the upset bid by Burt Reynolds & Jon Voight in Deliverance.

This match was a lot closer than it deserved to be. Have you listened to Brando in that movie? His accent is offensive both to Southerners and to closeted Army officers.

The second match of Day 2 was chalk, with Dan Aykroyd in Driving Miss Daisy beating George Kennedy in Cool Hand Luke in a runaway. Brando and Aykroyd will match up in Round 2.

Day 3’s first match sees Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate going against the tournament’s most recent entry, Kevin Spacey in the new Netflix series House of Cards.

An actor as accomplished and versatile as Spacey is a bit of a surprise entry in this tournament, but he overdoes the silkiness of his South Carolina congressman’s silky drawl. He actually sounds like what real Southerners sound like when they’re making fun of how some Southerners talk.

Keanu Reeves’s speaking voice doesn’t sound natural when he’s speaking in his natural speaking voice, so whose bright idea was it to make his hotshot lawyer/son of Satan a Southerner, anyway? Did I miss the part of the plot that explained why being from the South was in any way important to who his character is, or what he does? It’s entirely possible that I did miss that part, since I’ve never been able to watch the entire movie, largely because Keanu’s accent is so bad.

Place your votes:

Today’s second match pits two great actresses against each other: Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof versus Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama.

Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful woman and an electric screen presence who played Southerner after Southerner without ever quite mastering the accent. We could have picked from any of a number of movies, including her pairing with Brando in Reflections, but we decided to go with one of her best, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

And, yes, I know we’ve let Paul Newman off the hook twice now, but his accent in Cat, or in Cool Hand Luke, was never as distracting as his co-stars’.

Reese Witherspoon grew up in Tennessee, so – like with Burt in Deliverance – I’m going to blame what happens in Sweet Home Alabama on a Hollywood suit, telling the Southerner she doesn’t sound Southern enough. Her accent’s supposed to thicken as the movie goes on, but mostly it just grates.