One concept that I’ve found extremely valuable in recent years is the notion of “punching up.” I first encountered it in the context of rape jokes, but it applies to jokes about race and ethnicity, and really any joke that affects different groups of people disproportionately. Towards the end of the post, the author summarizes the concept:
The questions then become, “Who are you challenging and why?” Are you trying to challenge an established power structure, or are you going after people who are already mistreated on a regular basis? Are you trying to poke holes in a pristine facade that is carefully maintained or are you just recycling stereotypes like a shadow puppet Punch and Judy show?
Josef Fruehwald makes a strong case that accent shaming is almost always punching down, and Dayna Evans’s “America’s Ugliest Accent” tournament is no exception.
Want to see a tournament that punches up? For the last two years one of my favorite blogs, Streetsblog, has run a Parking Madness tournament. Readers submit aerial photos of cities that have large parking lots where they used to have vibrant, walkable town squares, shops and offices. These “parking craters” sabotage the working of the city and privilege driving, suburban elites over transit-riding, taxpaying citizens who tend to be poorer.
The practice of replacing walkable downtowns with parking is a shameful act deliberately performed by a city’s elite. It is perfectly appropriate to shame the elites of Rochester for what they chose to do to their city. This is criticism and ridicule targeted at conscious decisions made by an irresponsible, faddist elite. This is challenging the established power structure. This is punching up.
The only Minneapolis native I can think of off the top of my head is Prince. Prince, of course, has a tremendous singing range, and his speaking voice is pretty good too.
In terms of other Minnesota accents, I’ve been listening to Garrison Keillor for years. My friend Jeff laughed at how low Keillor’s KIT vowel was in one story about a chicken, but to me it’s just part of that Lake Wobegon charm.
More recently I’ve been listening to Chuck Marohn of the Strong Towns podcast. Chuck is a native of Brainerd, Minnesota, and he has all the famous Northern Minnesota features, especially the raised MOUTH vowels. Everybody likes listening to Chuck talk.
This is part 7 of a series where I say nice things about all sixteen of the accents that Gawker’s Dayna Evans nominated for “America’s Ugliest Accent.” Previously: Providence. Nextly: Chicago.