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Sunday, February 20, 2011


So here we are.
I was watching Ebert Presents At The Movies the other night. This is not a review of that program, though I will take this opportunity to mention how I was not aware that every chorus boy from Oliver! had auditioned for the hosting job.
That was my clever attempt at saying how young I think Ignatiy Vishnevetsky looks. (It’s not really clever at all. It just makes me sound like some old lady yelling at kids to stop trampling her begonias.)
Anyway, I was happy to see that the program includes a review by Roger Ebert himself, through the aid of a computer voice synthesizer, which he has used for many years after thyroid cancer-related surgeries. I’ve seen reports about how programmers have been working on using Ebert’s many hours of television appearances and DVD commentaries to create a computerized voice that sounds like his old speaking voice, but this was not the voice I heard during his review. Still, it sounded hauntingly familiar. Whom did this computerized voice remind me of?

And then it hit me: Watson. 
Yes, thanks to my game show-obsessed spouse, I not only watched all three days of the Jeopardy! IBM  Challenge as they aired last week, but I also saw PBS’s Nova special: The Smartest Machine on Earth, which focused on how Watson was developed... and then I watched the Jeopardy! games yet again as my husband archived them onto DVDs from the DVR. So Watson’s voice was burned into my brain, and though his voice was much smoother than the one I heard on Ebert’s show (thanks, no doubt, to Watson’s hundreds of processors versus Ebert’s lone laptop), it was very, very similar.
Which led me to wonder: was Roger Ebert peeved to suddenly find out that he sounded just like this infamous machine? And not just any machine, but a machine that was all at once lauded, feared, and maybe even a tad despised? Did he type, “oh crap, that monstrous computer overlord sounds a lot like me” and then have to hear that very same overlord’s voice say it back to him and his family? That would suck a lot for Roger Ebert, who knows about situations that suck. (As resilient as the man is, I think we can all agree that cancer sucks.)
We all value our individuality, don’t we? Inasmuch as the high school mentality that pervades society (and, of course, high school) dictates that we blend into the crowd and follow the flock lest we be thought of as “odd,” there’s a big difference between being thought of as ordinary and being thought of as utterly indistinguishable... right?
I always get a little tinge of the ickies when people tell me that I’m “just like this friend” they know - and yes, it’s happened more than once. Apparently, everything about me, my hair, my height, my face, my sense of humor, all of it, is exactly like a bunch of other chicks out there. I know that folks mean well when they say these things, but who wants to feel like just another product off the assembly line of life? Who wants to feel like Model #745G with a run of 1000 units? In toy-land, 1000 units is considered a limited edition. In human-land, the thought of there being 1000 others out there who are just like me is as depressing as seeing once-individual snowflakes all lumped into the same pathetic grime-capped ice pile on the street corner. 
Side note: at this point, my husband wants me to mention Cylons. I’m not going to do that.
But I suppose that when scooping out the combo platters that are human beings, there are only so many choices of features, voices, bone structures, etc., and as such, there’s bound to be some repetition when dealing with so many billion souls in a single species. (All those flies and and frogs and lions who look alike are yawning, saying, “what, the supposedly intelligent human is just figuring this out?”)
When people start spouting praise for their friends who are just like me, I try to remember to take it as a compliment, because at least they seem to be comparing us in a good way. None of them (so far) seem to be ax-murderers, fascists, or mean to puppies. In the past, I have had haircuts and dress sizes that have led people to compare me to less-than-desirable celebrities in less-than-desirable ways... but thankfully, that was temporary.
Which reminds me of how actor Carroll O’Connor must have felt when he first saw a picture of Serbian -- and later Yugoslovian -- president Slobodan Milosevic. Maybe I’m the only one who noticed, but I swear, they looked like brothers, this sweet performer and this evil dictator. Can you imagine that? Can you fathom waking up one day and realizing you resemble someone just horrible... and famously so?
But I guess that’s part of the gamble of life. You never know who’s going to pop up in the news and look or sound exactly like you. I guess all you can do is try to make the best of it. For Tina Fey, Sarah Palin’s sudden national prominence in 2008 led the way to Emmytown. And the Chelsea Handler-Elizabeth Banks resemblance hasn’t seem to have hurt either of them career-wise. But it must get old fast.
Anyway, I sure hope they get the computerized Roger Ebert voice perfected soon. Because Roger deserves to get all of his individuality back.
Also, so Alex Trebek won’t accidentally call him by the wrong name if he goes on Celebrity Jeopardy! That would suck for so many reasons.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me. (Who else would refer to a TV show and a musical that both end in exclamation points in a single blog posting?)


  1. OK, so today at a swim meet, I heard someone playing some music a ways off, and the singer had this sweetly familiar voice — almost, I thought, like a Disney princess might sound, though a little sillier somehow, like a princess cartoon character, I thought, or a puppet. Then I listened a little closer and realized it was the Avenue Q soundtrack and YOUR voice singing. So there you go. Unique. Who else can sing like a princess puppet?

  2. I'm sure that if Kate Monster were real, she'd love to know that she was mistaken for a princess.