Open Mouth, Insert Someone Else's Words

Ventriloquism may be a lost art, but that hasn't stopped people from putting words in the mouths of dummies. Just look at Washington, DC. Now look at it again but try not to laugh this time.The Republicans claim President Clinton put words in Monica's mouth. The Democrats swear Ken Starr put words in Clinton's mouth. About the only thing everyone can agree on is that Clinton managed to put both his foot and Monica's cigar in his own mouth, neither of which sounds like a particularly tasty treat.In the old days this routine would have been considered vaudeville, or at least high comedy. Now they're calling it obstruction of justice. But putting words in other peoples' mouths is a time-honored tradition. Novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters do it all the time. Jay Leno, David Letterman, and even Howard Stern have staff writers who put bon mots (French for "moist cigar") in their mouths. And even politicians -- bless their finger pointing little hearts -- have speechwriters so their rehearsed remarks can sound extemporaneous.Journalists, on the other hand, don't put words in peoples' mouths. Well, not unless they're columnists for the Boston Globe. Of course they have special privileges because it's easy for them to forget that they don't work for the Globe, a weekly which, like the Weekly World News and the National Enquirer, has never met a story it could substantiate.I can't help but wonder if when they showed the videotape of Clinton's grand jury deposition in other countries they dubbed it, putting even different words in his mouth. After all, they do this to movies all the time. Here in the United States foreign movies come in three forms: dubbed, subtitled, and filmed in English because they actually want to make money. Not so in other countries.In Sweden, American movies remain in English though they translate the title to Swedish. Sort of. Thus, the Full Monty became Allt eller inget, or All or Nothing. The Horse Whisperer became Mannen som kunde tala med hustar, or The Man Who Could Speak to Horses (not to be confused with a remake of Mr. Ed). And Godzilla? What's the difference, it bombed there just like it did everywhere else.In Italy, on the other hand, movies and TV shows are always dubbed. This started way back in the 1930's when Mussolini decided he wanted the trains and the movies to both run on time. Just kidding. Actually it was because he didn't want anyone to hear the sound of the enemy's language. Well, it worked. To this day the only English you'll hear in Italy is from guys on the street who yell, "Hey baby, wanna taste my spicy sausage?". What twits! Like that wouldn't sound so much more romantic in Italian.This penchant for dubbed movies became a real problem recently when the Italian voice dubbers went on strike for two months. Studios didn't release movies knowing the Italians wouldn't sit still for a subtitled movie, not even if they offered them free industrial strength buckets of popcorn with extra pesto. Luckily the voices of the stars agreed to go back to work just as the Clinton scandal hit the news, saving the Italians from having to watch the videotaped deposition with subtitles like, "Shouldn't a gentleman offer a lady a Tiparillo?".They also dub movies in Poland, but like most things they do it a little differently. There they have a man read all the lines in a droning monotone. Really. No matter how exciting, action-packed, or romantic a scene is, he reads it as flat as a newscast. Well, excluding current American newscasts, anyway. Woody Allen sounds the same as Arnold Schwartzenegger, sounds the same as Jennifer Tilley, sounds the same as Mickey Mouse. And Robin Williams? All his voices sound the same.Maybe we should take a tip from these countries. Well, besides leaving our politicians' private lives private. Wouldn't it be much more interesting if we saw Clinton's videotaped deposition dubbed by, say, Fan Drescher? Or when we watched congressman after congressman parading across the evening news we heard a soothing announcer's voice reading their dialogue? Or better yet, reading excerpts from The Scarlet Letter?I suspect they may already be doing some of this without our knowing it. The first thing the new Miss America, Nicole Johnson of Virginia, did was come out and demand that President Clinton resign. I could have sworn it was Pat Robertson's voice I heard coming from her mouth. Hillary Clinton's been so quiet lately it's obvious Marcel Marceau has dubbed her lines. And the media -- TV newscasters in particular -- have gone and had all their lines dubbed by 1001 Yapping Dalmatians.Next time, let's go for subtitles.


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