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What if Martha Washington wants a late night snack?

There is a new web comedy series Ask A Slave where actress Azie Mira Dungey, who used to work as a ‘living history’ character at George Washington’s plantation in Mount Vernon, re-enacts some of the questions she was asked by tourists.

You know how people say that there are no stupid questions? We might want to rethink that.

You can see more here.

Comments

  1. wtfwhateverd00d says

    So I heard this on NPR, and I was left wondering how authentic Dungey’s 1776 jargon and accent were — because they seemed to have a great deal of 20th and 21st century in them, especially in the “snap” sections.

    (See: 2:25 to 2:45).

    She seems to be channeling a lot of Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs from the Jeffersons.

    If her accent and the dialogue is not authentic, but coming out of current understanding of african american jargon, then well, it seems just as contrived as everything else.

    If it is authentic dialog from the 18th century, that would be pretty interesting to me — wish they had a citation.

    Maybe someone can tell me, this story has gone all over the expected media sites: NPR, Slate, Jezebel, Boing Boing, it is so cute and cloying and in your face and you go grrl, how could it not, it hits the sweet spot.

    Have any of these elite media institutions actually examined if the web series is as accurate as it claims?

  2. gwen says

    As a modern day black woman who has been asked equally stupid shite on many more occasions than I can count, I applaud her. If you don’t like the ‘ask a slave’ vernacular (and I don’t know why you don’t think it wouldn’t be authentic), there is no reason to believe blacks all spoke the same dialect, just as blacks today don’t all speak in the same dialect. I think it is brilliant.

  3. invivoMark says

    Why? Did she answer one of your questions in a way you didn’t expect?

    And it’s so good of you to care so deeply about the authenticity of the accent. Clearly, that’s the most pertinent issue to ponder after watching these episodes.

  4. wtfwhateverd00d says

    You realize everyone involved in the video is an actor, you realize it’s a web comedy, and the video was not made as part any sort of research

    You realize that as she says at NPR, the answers given in the video are NOT the answers she gave out for real. They have been rewritten for comedic effect.

    And yet, you bravely refuse to admit it’s reasonable to ask any questions about the video.

    Sure, let’s take a web comedy as peer reviewed research.

    Let’s just call it authentic and let’s all learn about racism from it.

    No questions asked.

    Also, the Sopranos was a documentary.

  5. wtfwhateverd00d says

    “(and I don’t know why you don’t think it wouldn’t be authentic)”

    Honestly I just don’t know, but it seems that so many other speech patterns have changed that it is just “jarring” in the theatrical sense to hear Florence from the Jeffersons.

    If the vernacular is authentic I would find that interesting.

    This is supposedly a skeptic site. I think it’s reasonable to ask of a comedic web series that instantly gets coverage at NPR, and many many major media websites, what the nature of the authenticity of the website is, what about this web comedy is real, and what has been well, altered for comedic presentation.

    As one sense of the skepticism of this website, it seems universally accepted that I am as asshole just for asking.

  6. Frank says

    “You realize everyone involved in the video is an actor, you realize it’s a web comedy, and the video was not made as part any sort of research”

    Yes. Mano’s introduction makes it all pretty clear.

    “And yet, you bravely refuse to admit it’s reasonable to ask any questions about the video.”

    I’ve been on enough tours of historic sites to know that tourists ask lots of stupid questions, which often make the rest of the group uncomfortable. I have no reason to believe that these questions weren’t asked of this “living history character.” Of course this is not the sort of evidence that would make it into a research paper, but the video is not being presented as such–it is being presented as a WEB COMEDY.

  7. Frank says

    There aren’t recordings of late 18th century slaves (or other people–they didn’t really do audio recordings back then). So we have no way of knowing how accurate the speech patterns are. Why is this an issue? Would you criticize, say, Ken Burns’ “Civil War” for not accurately replicating the pronunciation in the letters read by modern actors?

  8. schmeer says

    The reason that you seem to be getting some slightly rough handling here is that you appear to completely miss the point of the videos. They are comedy baded on the point of view of an actor who received incredibly ignorant and racist questions. This is the outlet for her frustration at receiving those questions where she can answer in a way that can also make us laugh.
    You are obsessed with the idea that the character might sound like a tv show character, which to me sounds boderline racist. No one knows how slaves might have spoken because their owners didn’t think it was information that anyone would ever be concerned with. Why don’t YOU find out if there is any account of the speech patterns from that era and stop being lazy and demanding that we find the info for you?

  9. wtfwhateverd00d says

    “Would you criticize, say, Ken Burns’ “Civil War” for not accurately replicating the pronunciation in the letters read by modern actors?”

    Yes.

    If a Ken Burns Civil War documentary had actors that sounded like a 1970s sitcom character, I would ask questions about it, and hope that Ken Burns could cite recordings, writings, linguistics studies, etc. to support that.

    Also note that though we have no recordings of how George Washingon spoke, we now believe that American English as we know it today is more likely what Washington sounded like than a modern British English accent which only came about since then.

    And also note that Ken Burns documentaries regularly receive tons of criticism, while here you are firmly insisting that no criticism of a web comedy created by an actress to promote her work be permitted.

  10. Frank says

    Slavery was abolished in the US around a century and a half ago. So there might be a few really old people who, when they were very young, heard some really old former slaves, who were emancipated when they were really young. So it’s technically possible that someone alive today heard a former slave speak. It is not possible, however, that anyone alive today ever heard one of Mr Washington’s slaves speak. That spans over two hundred years. So there’s your citation.

    But why does it matter? As schmeer points out, this is a comedy (not an academic paper, remember) about a modern historical interpreter’s interactions with modern tourists. If she doesn’t get the unrecorded, two hundred year old, northern Virginia slave accent quite right, how does that invalidate her take on present day experiences?

  11. schmeer says

    A citation would be needed if you claimed to know how people spoke before recordings were possible. What citation could possibly be given to satisfy you? A survey of all written records from 1621 to 1865 to check that none provide a description of the cadence of speech and common phrases?

  12. Frank says

    So you took the bait. Ken Burns’ documentaries should be scrutinized for accuracy. It’s good that they are. This, however, is not a documentary.

    “… here you are firmly insisting that no criticism of a web comedy created by an actress to promote her work be permitted.”

    Wrong. I have not suggested that this work receive no criticism, let alone “firmly insist.” I am only suggesting that your particular criticism about accent accuracy is pointless.

  13. wtfwhateverd00d says

    To Frank and Schmeer, which sounds like a brunch platter….

    You both claim we cannot know how slaves might have spoken.

    As I’ve pointed out, we think we do know how the accents of the US and the accents of England sounded like at the same time.

    Why is it we can know one and not the other.

    “But why does it matter? As schmeer points out, this is a comedy (not an academic paper, remember) about a modern historical interpreter’s interactions with modern tourists. If she doesn’t get the unrecorded, two hundred year old, northern Virginia slave accent quite right, how does that invalidate her take on present day experiences?”

    There are a lot of people taking away the lesson of “oh, those people are sooo racist.” Yet if her responses are stereotyped from 1970s/80s TV black comedic actors, it shows she is not the authority she claims to be and as capable of racism as the people she lampoons.

    And from there you might ask, how did her video go viral across major media outlets so quickly — is there truly a news story here, or is it just a feel good social justice warrior piece that says more about major media these days and political correctness than it does about the horrible racism of white tourists that visited Mount Vernon?

  14. ysoldeangelique says

    “As I’ve pointed out, we think we do know how the accents of the US and the accents of England sounded like at the same time.”

    Yeah BULLSHIT!

    Where are your recordings? I’d really like to hear them . . .

  15. John Phillips, FCD says

    Or maybe it is just funny, or can’t that possibly be true, as she is not only black, but even worse, she has girl cooties.

  16. Frank says

    So I’m part of a brunch plater. Never been a fan of brunch, but breakfast sounds lovely.

    You didn’t actually answer my questions. OK. You are not obliged to do so.

    I’ll try again, if you are interested:

    This is a Web Comedy. Should it be held to the same standard that academic papers are?

    This is a Web Comedy. Should it be held to the same standards of a Ken Burns documentary?

    Do you have research on the speech of late 18th century slaves from northern Virginia?

    As I have written above, in my experience, tourists often ask inappropriate questions on guided tours. Do we have reason to believe that this historical interpreter is unlikely to have received such questions?

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