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Published February 09 2012

Morast: Time to kill ‘Fargo’ accent

Gwen Sebastian’s turn on “The Voice” this past Monday reminded me of everything that’s wrong with North Dakotans.

That fact became clear when the country singer from Hebron, N.D., told all the people watching the vocal talent show where she was from.

“Gwen Sebastian, from Hebron, N.D.”

No problems there. I love Hebron – everyone I’ve met from the small brick-making city parties with a smile.

But it’s what Sebastian said next that caused me to cringe.

She followed the North Dakota reference with, “yah, sure, ya betcha.”

If you didn’t see the clip, that last part was said using the same contrived, exaggerated accent we’ve been plagued with since the movie “Fargo” told the world that’s how we talk in North Dakota.

Hey, we all get the reference. And I can imagine that after years of trying to climb up the ranks of the music industry Sebastian might have learned this affected film dialogue is the only thing people associate with her home state.

Never mind that I only know a handful of North Dakotans who actually speak that way. Or that the majority of the time I hear the accent is when I’m traveling and people respond to my home with “Fargo? Yah! You betcha.”

What’s wrong is that every time we use that accent, we demean ourselves.

Whether intended or not, the accent paints us as simple, folksy people who exist in a place detached from the cultural flow of America.

The rest of the nation already thinks that. We don’t need to reinforce the untruth.

Even worse is that, I think, we use the “Fargo accent” because we’re a little insecure of where we’re from. That living in North Dakota isn’t as cool or hip as residing in California or Florida. So we underscore the embarrassment by using the accent and letting people know we’re “in on the joke.”

We shouldn’t be joking. We should be proud of North Dakota. And we shouldn’t have to enact a fake accent to illicit response about our home state – a place that’s become a model on how to succeed during depressed economic times.

The flip side of this is that if you do, truly, have the “Fargo accent” don’t be ashamed of it. Own it like it’s a point of pride.

You never hear Texans apologizing for their Southern drawl. They flaunt it as a calling card announcing where they’re from with confidence.

We need that kind of pride about our state, and ourselves.

And, just to be clear; I’m not hating on Sebastian, I want her to succeed.

I want her to win “The Voice.” I want her to become a TV-bred Nashville queen who continues the legacy of Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert.

I want her voice to bring pride to North Dakotans.

But that isn’t going to happen if she continues speaking in a way that lampoons who we are.


Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518

or rmorast@forumcomm.com