So, the other day, I was wondering about accents.

hagrid in costume harry potter

Specifically, about what type of accent Hagrid sports in the Harry Potter movie series. And whether the voice for Baloo in The Jungle Book was the same as Little John in Robin Hood. (It is.)

This led me down a hidey-hole of interesting articles about accents in media. For example, why the always-mystifying choice of a British accent for villains in American cartoons?

In this brief college paper, Eric Wenke of UPenn states that it is a shortcut. Giving a villain a British accent not only distinguishes him as different and noteworthy, but also:

bestows an immediate sense of superiority in culture and intellect

Fascinating! Two good examples he refers to are Scar in The Lion King and Jaffar in Aladdin. More worrisome is the author’s agreement with Lippi-Green’s language subordination model, in which:

Disney features can teach children to ethnocentrically discriminate based on character accents

This dovetails with a Guardian article about modern animated movies being full of racist stereotypes, which looks to be pretty hard to deny, especially with their examples of portrayals of dark-skinned and Hispanic characters, no matter whether in America or elsewhere. Again, it comes down to shortcuts:

[Family animation] consciously and subconsciously weighs financial against moral obligations, then unconsciously opts for the ‘safe’ representational defaults – stereotypes.

Okay, the plot is getting thicker here. Another article uses similar examples, but puts another spin on it: translation of the accent into a different language. For this author at Lexiophiles, the choices made for the characters in The Aristocats are revealing:

Thomas O’Malley, in the original Aristocats a street cat with a labourer’s accent, is a Flemish cat in the Dutch version. In my opinion that gives his character an almost exotic touch and an extra bit of swag.

This makes me think immediately of the class tags that would be associated, which the author hinted at with “a labourer’s accent.” We in America can usually only identify a Cockney accent as one that would be considered ‘working-class’ in the UK. A similar one for Brits might be a Southern US accent, often used to connote slowness, lack of education, or a rural backwater type of setting.

Once again, fascinating! Back to British accents, though. A final article, on the fascinating site TV Tropes, makes the connection I was just trying to make:

their … accents are used to reflect their characters’ positions in the social hierarchy

By which the author is referring to characters in the TV series Rome having a range of British accents, since “regional British accents are used to reflect a character’s class or social status by playing up to stereotypes in the collective British psyche.” Again, a shortcut.

Writers should be aware of these shortcuts/injustices as well. What do you think?

And Hagrid? West Country (e.g. Cornwall), says Wikipedia

Images via Pixgood