Words of Power

June 17, 2009  |  Articles

I was thinking today that for my 99th post I wanted to make it special. I wrote up a nice chunk about my history… then deleted it. Who cares what my history is… I’m 34 and God is still throwing me curve balls left and right to test my Mettle.

What I wanted to bring to your attention today is a focus on the amount of power we wield.  In 1839 Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote:

“The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword”

And what are these scripts that we read as voice over talent except words written down using a digital pen on a bed of letters and keys.

Why is it that when we get casting direction we get told to be Authoritative or Warm, or Convincing.

Because  the Voice is even mightier than the pen. For though the pen writes eloquently the voice expresses infinitely more.

Why is a Podcast so much more entertaining than an article written? is it because we are lazy and don’t wish to tire our eyes. Or is it because as human beings we make connections with each syllable from the caster, with each inflection, with every emotion that seeps through the words that flow out of them we relate.

Accountability

I believe in accountability. I believe that what we say should be a reflection of what we are willing to be accountable for. Just like a lawyer who defends a murderer… and knows he is a murderer and yet still gets him acquitted because he wants to show off how good he is, or how convincing he is. Or get a big fat Paycheck.

There is a saying attributed to Samuel Johnson (but it is not confirmed as his originally)  that states:

“The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

This goes against Islamic doctrine since according to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

“Deeds are only by intentions, for each man is only what he has intended, and so whoevers hijrah is for Allah and his messenger صلي الله عليه وسلم, then indeed his hijrah is only to Allah and his messenger صلي الله عليه وسلم. But whoevers hijrah is to the world he wishes to acquire or a woman he seeks to marry, then his hijrah is only to that which he has actually immigrated.”

Hijra : Immigration
Allah: God in Arabic

So … what does that mean? It means that you are accountable for your intent. If I am preaching Goodness to you and then go and commit evil behind your back… then that only makes me a hypocrite and makes my word less meaningful.

Hypocrites

So if we take any and every voice over job that comes our way… does that make us Hypocrites… promoters of things we do not believe in. Is that all that we stand for? Making money?

I don’t believe that we are hypocrites. I believe that we are people who God has given the gift of oration. A gift far mightier than the pen and in turn the sword.

We are the voices of authority that convince people and teach and command. We are the convincers, the negotiators the promoters.

Responsibility

It is funny that such profound words of wisdom were propogated via a comic book character.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

I don’t know who wrote those words for Spiderman… Stan Lee… that other guy Avi or Ari something. But the words ring true to me in almost everything I do. If I am given the responsibility of being the voice of authority.

Then I should treat this great power with great responsibility. If you doubt what I say and don’t believe that the power of the voice is so profound. Then read up on the War Of The Worlds panic that occured in 1938.

Maybe its not my place to talk about ethics… to each his own… but as a voice among many other voices I can’t help but think that being a voice over talent means much more than just an mp3 sound file that someone puts on a documentary or an advert.

These are words of power.


11 Comments


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post Taji. Thank you!

  2. Words are extremely powerful. There have been jobs I have turned down because I wasn’t comfortable with the content. Despite my friends being smart/educated/etc., many of them have assumed that because I’m doing an ad, I’m advocating that product. I’m very cognizant of that.

    Words are power, but how they are spoken can be equally – or more – powerful. Think of some of the best orators in history. It’s rarely about what they say, but how they say it. When I do take a gig, I feel it’s my responsibility to imbue my voice with as much conviction and believability as possible. That’s my job. I probably could never bring myself to do a “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on tv” type of ad, because for me, that’s misleading. For me. If someone else is fine with it, more power to them.

    Tough topic. I feel like I just either contradicted myself, or talked myself in a circle!

  3. Your words ring true in that the voice in and of itself is of very capable powers.
    I think back years ago when my daughters were young and every night I would read to them. They could not sleep until Daddy read some more of Harry Potter’s mystical magic adventures. I would always become each character and watch their eyes alit with anticipation of my next word.
    It not only excited them it excited me, I could feel the power of my words in the reading of this story.
    So you are right in the fact that the pen is mightier than the sword, but, the voice is one of wisdom and intensity and we can go places that reading alone cannot give you.
    Thank you for #99 Taji,
    Brian
    Voiceover-casting.com

  4. I completely agree with your discussion of accountability. However, I’d like to add a layer to what you’ve mentioned. As voice actors, we are just that… actors! Our role when working with any script is that of the story teller. As with any story we might tell, there is always an underlying intent behind the telling. As an actor, our role is to be compelling, interesting, entertaining, believable, educating, and more as we speak the words. We play a character for every script we record, and it is ultimately the intentions (or desires) of that character that determine, in part, how the words are spoken. In my book, and in our workshops, we teach that our role is never to “sell”, but always to “tell” with the ultimate purpose of delivering a compelling message that will give the listener the opportunity to make an informed and educated decision.

    If we are truly actors, we must learn how to separate our personal beliefs and attitudes from those of the character we are playing. In a performance (which includes all areas of voiceover work) the accountability of how effective the performance will be ultimately lies with the acting abilities of the performer. Acting is NOT about lying or misleading the audience. It IS about creating a sense of truth, honesty, believability, and reality of the words spoken by the character speaking those words – and… that character is NOT us. When the actor’s personal beliefs get in the way of creating this “reality,” the delivery cannot help but sound phony, stiff, artificial, or in some other way less than honest. The performance becomes the actor working the words, rather than the actor playing the role of the character.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that all voice artists will want (or have the ability) to perform scripts that are in opposition to their personal beliefs. If you personally disagree with the content or philosophy of a script – don’t take the job or submit the audition. That reflects your accountability and integrity to your belief system as an individual (an admirable thing). On the other hand, if you believe that the role an actor plays is completely separate from who you are as a person, that reflects your integrity as a performer who can separate your personal reality from that of the roles you play (also an admirable thing).

    Consider this: As an actor, Anthony Hopkins has played many roles, including that of Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs.” The Lecter character is the personification of evil, yet Mr. Hopkins has also played roles that are the direct opposite of Lecter – and every bit as compelling and “real.” Regardless of the role, his intent and accountability as an actor is to create the most believable performance possible and let the audience decide what they will choose to believe about the character and performance. This should be something we all strive for as voice actors.

    Whether you choose to let your personal beliefs guide your voiceover career, or choose to “be the character,” your job as a voice actor remains the same: to deliver the most compelling message possible for your clients.

  5. I don’t agree with several points in your comment:

    1. If we start defining an actor as one who can take on any role and any job then we have reached a split in the road where our definition of Voice Over Artist is concerned.
    2. If artistic integrity interferes with personal integrity then the personal (in my opinion) should always win over. You as an artist should be defined by the morals and ethics that you uphold as a person and human being. That is why there are some actresses who do not perform nude / sex scenes regardless of how much this will help their career. That is why an actor reviews their script before accepting it. Our position as voice over artists is far more important than an actors… they are performers that shift from one role to another… and people know this… they understand that they are thespians. On the other hand voice over artists because of their lack of closeups and camera time have to be 1000% more convincing… so our responsibility and accountability is far greater.
    3. If you teach yourself to CREATE a sense of truth where none exists then that is in fact what lying is… a false sense of truth. I will not call it something it isn’t. I will not call Usury interest… it is what it is.
    4. For one who is a Muslim and who strongly believes in God I cannot rationalize a work campaign for lets say an atheist organization like… lets go with the Scientologists. That would be ridiculous. Personal belief should define the direction you take in the art that you love… if they contradict each other… one will become in turn conflicted and deep down will know that there is something wrong with what they are doing.

    We need to chose what we work on… and once this starts happening it is inevitable that we will notice how much more meaningful our job really is and how big a responsibility we do in fact have.

  6. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Words can entertain, inform, and even destroy. With the stroke of a pen (or keyboard), shady organizations are exposed and demolished, careers ruined, relationships ended.
    As writers, we possess great power, and our impact will continue far beyond our lives here. People will be reading our articles long after we go. The power of the published word, with our name on it, is enormous. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the written word.
    As far as voice is concerned, I do believe that we have an ethical duty to accept or reject certain jobs.
    One of Taji’s earliest blogs deals directly with the topic of which jobs will you accept or reject, based on moral principles. Many of you might have missed this one, because it was some time ago. Go back into his archives and read it, because it’s an excellent blog.
    I do believe that actors/celebrities/sports figures in the public eye, particularly in American society, are escalated onto a pedestal and are given tremendous credence, whether they deserve it or not (I’m thinking about Oprah here).
    In ancient times, the most learned scholars/philosophers were the revered class, but today, it’s the celebrities who are treated like gods! (Why?!) It just shows what our society deems valuable.
    We all know that when Oprah features her Book of the Month, that book sells off the shelves in mere moments. Any product she advocates skyrockets in value. Her influence reaches far and wide and she has a tremendous impact on public thinking, such as in our last presidential election.
    Today our Los Angeles Lakers are having a huge celebration parade, essentially taking over the city in the middle of a work week. Congratulations to them for their victory, but again my point is made as to what the public deems important.
    Many years ago, actress Cybill Shepherd advertised in beef commercials, although she is a strict vegetarian. I do see this as an oxymoron, because she is indeed advocating something she personally and strongly opposes. Do we just push that aside because she is an actress and is only “playing” a role? The important point here is the public sees these folks as ROLE MODELS and is so easily influenced by what the celebrities say and do. That gives the actors/celebrities a SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITY when accepting roles. Remember: Our TV newscasts are directed at the mentality of the average viewer, which is that of a 6th grader. (Sad, but true).
    I cannot completely separate myself from the role I am playing. If I truly live out the healthy lifestyle I preach to my clients, how could I in good conscience advocate a diet pill to deceive the public and keep them from getting fit the right way? If I have a strong theological belief system, why would I promote atheism? Everyone has the right to his belief (or non-belief), but that doesn’t mean I should promote an oppositional way of thinking, either. Like it or not, when we do these projects, we are PROMOTING them, essentially giving them our personal stamp of approval.
    I will continue to stay away from tobacco ads, because these folks continue to load their products with more and more addictive properties, literally making a killing.
    I do think Taji is right that we have a moral responsibility when accepting projects. After all, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. And there are more enough people working in the world’s oldest profession as it is.

  7. Psssst…..I can’t wait to see what Taji’s 100th post is going to be. Notice how he is purposely making us wait longer than usual just to create that anticipatory climactic finale!

  8. When I Spoke at a symposium at a university,one audience member posed the question you discuss here: “Would you perform a voiceover for something in which you did not believe?” The question was problematic and I could not answer it at that time without thought. I replied that my first response without thinking deeply on it would be that as a professional, it was my JOB to announce what I’m being paid to do. Otherwise, I’m not doing my job. I should not and would not get paid. Someone else would do that job.” I still feel much the same after pondering this question. Just because an actor portrays a killer in a movie does not mean that actor is approving of that killer’s actions. Just because a voice talent takes part in a commercial about a product he or she dislikes, does not mean the actor is endorsing the product as a “person.” Oh no. We have taken on the mantle of the “voice actor.” That’s what the term means…we are to act but not let people know we’re acting. There is no script. The words come from us unscripted…that’s our goal. Do I know the answer to this question now? No. There are two sides to this argument and I see both sides.

  9. Hello Bettye,
    Thanks for participating in the discussion. I greatly appreciate it when an industry opinion leader like yourself gets involved. Now to clarify a specific issue that seems to have gotten misunderstood. When I speak of being responsible regarding the jobs that you take I don’t mean if you are offered a part in Macbeth that you would be advocating patricide (murdering your father). Rather I am talking about jobs for companies that propagate something that is hurting us as humans. Like the tobacco industry, the Porn industry, jobs that are basically propaganda material to promote racial or class hate or needless wars. The Idea that if I don’t do the job then someone else will do it and get paid for it brings me back to the idea that there should be a higher purpose in how you choose what jobs you work on than just making money. Yes the temptation to win a job and make more money for oneself is tough to ignore… But would you promote atheism if you are a devout believer in God … because someone paid you for it? I don’t believe that you would support the democratic party with your voice if you are a staunch republican or Ron Paul Supporter. I am not talking about works of fiction… well I will include works of fiction that advocate some form of corruption or another that will hurt society… like maybe something that promotes the Gangsta rap lifestyle… or the mob lifestyle.. make it look cool… make kids want to be gangsters. That is what I am speaking about. Its like that 2001 movie Kate & Leopold with meg ryan and hugh jackman. When the gentleman found out that he was lending his name and voice to a product that was basically garbage and his voice was being used to trick people… he wouldnt do it.

    Think about it.

  10. This is an interesting discussion. The controversy of an actor’s moral dilemma has a long history. There are points to be made on both sides of the issue. Bettye makes an excellent point that as actors, our job is to perform to the best of our abilities to create the “alternate reality” of the character we are playing. And Taji makes very valid points in regards to the personal accountability of the individual who accepts the job.

    Bottom line: there are two distinctly different approaches to acting – regardless of whether it’s voiceover, stage, film, or television. One is to think strictly in terms of personal opinions and attitudes as they relate to the role and the medium. The second is to think of the work in terms of the strict definition of the word “actor.” Both approaches offer numerous opportunities for success, but they are divergent in their approach to the performance.

    By definition, an actor is one who “plays a character.” There is nothing in the definition of the word that implies anything about personal beliefs, attitudes or opinions. The actor “plays the character!” And that means, if the actor is to play a character that is “real” and “believable” in the mind of his/her audience, the performer must think, behave, and speak as if the character he/she is playing is absolutely real. In other words, the actor must become the character for the duration of the performance. There is also nothing in the definition of the word “acting” that implies that the performer is “lying” or being untruthful in any manner. On the contrary, one of the key premises of virtually all acting schools is that it is the actor’s job to create the reality of the moment in which the character exists.

    In the world of voiceover, each performer has the choice of either playing the role in a script as the character who lives within the words… or playing the role as themselves. The first choice requires training and acting abilities and the second requires a refined talent for reading from a script. The ultimate purpose of both approaches is to create a compelling message that will get results for the client. Both are completely valid. 40 years ago, the common approach to voiceover was “announcing,” which is a form of reading the script. Today, the trend (at least in the US) is voice ACTING. Producers of the higher paying projects want performers who can create a perception of reality for the characters they play, most often presented in a conversational manner. Producers of many lower paying voiceover jobs often seem to be more interested in the “read” than in the performer’s acting abilities.

    Now, of course, every performer has – not only the right – but the obligation to consider the outcome or ramifications of their performance. Certainly, if a script promotes a product that is harmful (as in alcohol or tobacco) the performer has every right to decline the project if they feel it inappropriate for them to take on that role. Some actors place no limits on their craft and will take any role while others will only accept roles that fit within their personal morality. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either approach.

    So, are you an actor? Or are you an excellent reader? I know many voice artists who fall into both categories. If you cannot separate yourself from the role you are playing, then, I’m sorry to say you are not an actor. You may be an excellent voice artist and performer who plays every role from a base of who you are, but you’re not an actor. And that’s just fine. Most stand-up comics and singers perform from their personal base and choose material that is only appropriate for who they are at heart. That does not make them any less of a performer. Many are extremely successful, but many of the most successful are not very good actors.

    In our workshops, Bettye and I both teach acting techniques. We don’t just teach our students how to “read a script.” I think Bettye will agree that there are occasionally some students who simply can’t act (or find it very challenging) and who, if they are to continue in voiceover, must learn how to truly understand who they are at a deep level if they are ever going to master the talent for delivering a compelling read.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

  11. I guess that makes me a good reader then… Because I do not wish to be an actor if that is what being an actor entails… I bring myself to each performance because I don’t see myself as the baggage of emotions that people have to leave outside when they ‘perform’.

    The truth is I don’t even call myself a Voice actor… I call myself a voice over artist or voice over talent.

    The one thing that did strike me though is that if Bettye hesitated to answer her student’s question… then to me, that means that there is a shadow of a doubt for her. If you have to think about something that you’ve been doing for ages … it means you havent actually given it enough thought to merit it as a part of your personal beliefs.

    There are many kinds of Actors… There are people like Johnny Depp who although has never been given an oscar… chooses his works with great care and insight. Then there are people like Ahhhnold… who pretty much play the same people over and over. There are actors who I see as having a limited range… but they dominate that range… like Robert De Niro. And then there are people like Kevin Spacey who are prodigies.

    If we hide behind the fact that we are anonymous and hence unaccountable when it comes to the messages we are paid to sell … then I feel that we are selling out on who we are. All these actors are held accountable for their actions… for their choice of movies… if their choice of movie bombs in the box office over and over then people loose their respect for that actor and no longer wish to see their movies… I myself no longer wish to see any Tom Cruise movies his performances and choice of movies have become weaker and weaker. Will Smith on the other hand chooses his projects with insight because he knows every work her puts his hands in must meet with his approval. Not that there are movies he shouldnt have made (iRobot for one).