Kurt Cobain, David Letterman … And Why Hillary’s Fake Southern Accent Matters

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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A girl I went to high school with spent a semester in Australia. She must have blossomed there, for when she returned home, she magically had an Australian accent. Predictably, we would have none of it. Kids might be cruel, but they also have great bullshit detectors. Nobody likes a phony. The accent receded; the mockery endured.

This, I suspect, has always been the case. But at least since the invention of Holden Caulfield, phoniness has been the unpardonable sin. Meanwhile, authenticity has become our greatest virtue (as Jonathan V. Last has observed, “We like health and authenticity more than temperance and charity.”)

This is almost impossible to dispute. We just spent a week celebrating the career of David Letterman, a man whose entire raison d’être consisted of being the first post-modern late-night comedian — a guy whose humor hinged on being in on the joke and ironic (not like all the phonies on TV at the time!).

This, of course, brings us to Hillary Clinton, and her fake Southern accent. There might have been a Southern accent where Tom Petty came from, but there wasn’t one in Illinois or New York (you know, the places where Clinton grew up and represented in the U.S. Senate?).

Just as one cannot unilaterally assume a nickname, one cannot just up and change accents at the age of 15 or 40 or (in Clinton’s case) 67. And just as the kids in my school were viscerally repelled by our classmate’s newfound Australian accent, I can’t help thinking that a nation of Americans who have grown up in the era of David Letterman, where there is no greater sin than to be thought a phony — and where “keeping it real” became a mantra — will find Hillary’s obvious inauthenticity to be off-putting.

In fact, the people most likely to be turned off by Hillary’s phoniness are the very people who traditionally value coolness over substance. (That’s right, liberals!) I’ve been arguing for a while now that if Hillary loses, it won’t be because of a “sliver bullet” scandal, but instead, because she becomes a joke. She was already in serious danger of becoming a caricature. What are the odds SNL hits this accent thing?

The revolt against the phoniness of American life goes back to at least the 60s, which is why it’s odd that Hillary Clinton is so transparently engaging in “show business.” But for Generation X, in particular, the ethos of authenticity practically defines our generation. It’s why Kurt Cobain in a cardigan was cooler than KISS in makeup. It’s why single camera sitcoms with laugh tracks (once wildly popular) now feel so damned cringeworthy. It’s even why John McCain, with all his flaws, seemed much cooler than George W. Bush in 2000.

Speaking of which, a while back, I wrote about the importance of being “cool” in politics — and how the GOP (should they nominate someone like, say, Marco Rubio) has a chance to actually “out-cool” Hillary. More and more, I’m convinced I was on to something.

Matt K. Lewis