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Voiceprints (from my entry on the new Bad Subjects blog) - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Voiceprints (from my entry on the new Bad Subjects blog)

I saw Shark Tale yesterday, belatedly, with my wife and six-year-old daughter. Kim and I liked it better than we had expected, but a lot of the humor went over Skylar's brilliant but still innocent head. She lacks reference points for the 70s nostalgia, much less the "hood" as a concept. I think it's telling that most movies today that are ostensibly aimed at children are targeted at people nostalgic for their own childhoods. Maybe the grown-ups and elementary school kids are destined to meet at some magical awkward age outside the stream of time. That's certainly what the astonishing success of the Harry Potter franchise suggests. Could Peter Pan have provided the blueprint for postmodern identity?

Speaking of Peter and the awkward age, it strikes me as highly significant that the generational convergence I've described seems to overlap with the time when children's voices change. Remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where the middle boy loses his power of speech? You wouldn't, if you were my daughter's age, which proves that the nostalgia that had Kim and I laughing during Shark Tale is hard to escape, even when you're analyzing it or at least when I'm analyzing it.

At any rate, the other Big Thought that struck me during Shark Tale is that animated films are at the leading edge of a change in the way we think about identity. Retinal scanning may be all the rage in the security industry, but out in the less rarified world of ordinary people it's the sound of the human voice that is becoming the dominant means of identifying someone we know. The face and body have become too malleable in this age of cosmetic surgery gone haywire to be of much help in authoritatively assigning identity to a person. Whole reality TV shows are devoted to practices that were once reserved for outlaws and terrorists. The voice, by contrast, remains a bearer of truth. From the way experts analyze Osama Bin Laden's voiceprint to the way we say, "That's Robert De Niro," when we watch a stylized shark on screen, the part of ourselves that seems hardest to transform is the sound of our speech. Perhaps this stage is merely a waystation on the path to a brave new world where everything about a person can be surgically altered beyond recognition, as some cyberpunk fiction implies. For now, though, the voice reigns supreme.

I think it's worth conducting a thought experiment in which my first point about the convergence of filmgoing generations on the awkward age is imbricated within my second point about the role the human voice is now playing as a primary bearer of identity. If our voice is the most practical means of authenticating that we are who we claim to be, what does it mean that more and more culture is targeted precisely at the demographic where the risk of having one's voice change is greatest?

Mode: crossing, guardedly
Muse: Cello Concerto in C minor - Antonio Vivaldi - Concertos

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Comments
amnesiascope From: amnesiascope Date: November 17th, 2004 06:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i don't have anything substantive to say because it's late and i'm fried, but your post puts me to mind of two things that you might find worth pursuing in connection with this line of inquiry:

a) the thematic of plastic surgery and total body modifcation in cyberpunk fiction (especially Gibson) that effectuates as either surgically altered faces that 'average' a fashion season's popular faces, or, couples altering themselves surgically to become identical (e.g. Gibson's Dog Sisters). There's probably something related going on in the lesbian couple in Count Zero who have a daughter by "gene fusion" (I believe that's the term Gibson uses).

b) the sequence in Sneakers where the female romantic interest goes on a fake date with a toy company executive and coaxes him into repeating the individual words from a voice-recognition pass phrase. they later use his tape recorded voice to get past the toy company's security system. this seems especially relevant to your post in light of the film's concern with computer security and identity and the forgery /authentication of same.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 17th, 2004 06:14 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Cool! Thanks so much for the excellent suggestions. I haven't seen Sneakers, actually. The plastic surgery motif in Gibson et. al. is very rich in utility.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 17th, 2004 03:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You might be interested in Anne Carson's essay "The Gender of Sound," which is collected in Glass, Irony & God. LB
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 17th, 2004 05:45 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks! Do you have it? I really like what I've read by her, at elizabeg's provocation and otherwise. The book Eros was a real treat when I read it around 1990 or so.
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