I may be late to the party, but I think that it is important enough to me to mention this. Lets get it out of the way; Harry Shearer is a genius, and not just in the field of voice acting. We have yet to truly form an opinion of cartoon voice actors outside of a mild amusement at seeing the face that goes with the voice.
Some of the people that work in voice acting are just as talented, passionate, and prolific as the “we get to see their face” actors that work today. As a brief example, Frank Welker is among one of the hardest working people in show business if you consider the sheer amount of work that he does, right next to Samuel L. Jackson in terms of the breadth of his work. And yet some of you might be asking yourselves who Frank Welker is.
You know of him if you don’t know about him. He does damn near every cartoon animal voice that there is, and he does it well. But we never see his face, and so we only have our ears on which to rely. We have been indoctrinated by a culture that was hard pressed to even credit voice actors (Mel Blanc changed that) and where one needs not only a keen ear, but to do research to discover the rich tapestry that lies within the vocalization of our beloved works of animation.
To which I will segue into Harry Shearer. As most are likely to now know, he is leaving the Simpsons. Everything is either speculation or “he said she said” at this moment, so I won’t add to the rumor mills, but I will say that the real and lasting effects of this change are momentous, and may have a domino effect.
Now, I am a huge Simpsons fan, and I was among those that saw the show from it’s roots on the Tracey Ullman show. I even remember the faces of those people on that show as they correspond to their roles on the Simpsons. Hank Azaria is the most recognizable, but these faces remain relatively obscure to the general public. You’ve seen Dan Castellaneta before, you just didn’t realize that his face went with Homer’s voice (along with a host of other non Simpsons voices, at that).
I say all of this to demonstrate that while I am not against the Simpsons, I am against what it has become, especially as an enterprise, and Harry Shearer likely is as well. This is the true showcase of voice acting talent being marginalized. These voices and their cartoon representations are among the most recognized icons of our culture, and yet they are being derided by the powers that be.
Ultimately, this speaks to the almost ironic struggle for recognition faced by voice actors, and the voice acting industry at large. Mel Blanc got a name credit in cartoons in place of a pay raise, and he was among few in his day to do so. Voice actors remain loved by their dedicated fans, but viewed as disposable, modular, and fungible* by uncaring executives.
Voice actors have obviously come a long way, though I had thought they had come further than to necessitate a squabble between a studio and one of the most recognized voices in America. Could I be wrong? Maybe Mr. Shearer was a jerk. And yet history already tells a different story, given the industry’s** penchant for treating voice talent so poorly. The information we have suggests that Shearer is justified in feeling as he does, and I’m inclined to believe his side.
*I am largely displeased by the voice actor changes in Golan the Insatiable, among other issues, but it illustrates (no pun intended) the kind of shuffling that can happen at a whim, and for the purpose of “name recognition”
** I use the word “industry” here to mean the greater mechanism of fame and commerce by which our modern media is hoisted.