Politicians have a curious habit of mocking their own markers of privilege. How else does one explain Mitt Romney slamming Obama for attending Harvard, Romney’s MBA alma mater? Or G.W. Bush describing the “intellectual arrogance” he encountered while at Yale? (I’m sure there is a liberal example that I’m forgetting).
Such self-contradiction extends to talking heads as well. A few days ago, British commentator Stuart Varney took umbrage with, of all things, Piers Morgan’s British accent (as reported in a dailycaller.com piece):
“It makes me very uncomfortable,” Varney said. “And I don’t think we should do that. I don’t think British people should come over here with that hoity-toity accent, talk down to Americans and tell Americans that there is something wrong with their society.”
Varney elaborated on Morgan’s accent, which he said was associated with “snobbery.”
“[The accent] is associated with snobbery,” Varney said. “The worst thing you can do is come over here with a British accent and talk down to people as you’re supposedly giving the news. I don’t think you should do that, period.”
For reference, here is a clip of Varney speaking:
Yup, pretty British. So on the face of it, Varney’s critique is that of a very black pot slandering his fellow kettle. There may be more going on in the subtext, however. For starters, Varney has resided in the States far longer than Morgan, and has the slightly muddled accent to show for it. In my opinion, transplants are the most likely to mock accents reminiscent of their homeland. (For instance, the most vicious Boston accent haters I’ve know are native New Englanders.)
There is also the matter of Varney’s formative years in England. He grew up in Derby, and while he clearly surpresses his East Midlands accent, one can still place him: note the lack of TRAP-BATH split in words like ask and chance, and his occasional (albeit very subtle) betrayal of a raised STRUT vowel. Given, Varney attended the world’s most prestigious Economics school, but he may nevertheless resent native RP speakers like Morgan.
There is a larger context to this story, of course. Varney’s accusation came on the heels of a controversial moment on Morgan’s program in which he called a gun rights advocate a “stupid man” who “doesn’t give a damn about the gun murder rate in America.” One can certainly take issue with Morgan’s choice of words here; it’s definitely one of the more combative things I’ve heard a journalist say during an interview. But such hostility doesn’t strike me as British condescension.