Monday, October 12, 2009
Bill Shatner says the word "toupee"
Thanks to the audio version of Bill Shatner's autobiography Up Till Now, we have perhaps a singular opportunity to hear the actor saying the word "toupee".
Thus far, the chronology of Bill Shatner's public acceptance of his toupee use follows a line from outright denial to allowing himself to be publicly "roasted" on the matter, even jokingly asking "how's the hair?". On a separate occasion, he has even poked fun at himself by comparing director George Lucas' thick locks to his own.
The latest stage in this path was the very final line in Bill Shatner's 2008 autobiography, in which the actor wrote: "And while in my lifetime I've seen science make extraordinary inroads into solving the most complex questions of life, after all this time I admit that I am thrilled that there are some things that forever will remain a mystery. For example, do I wear a toupee?"
It's pretty shocking for Bill Shatner to end an autobiography this way, even though the author would have known that the question could only yield one correct answer: "No." No, you say?!? Thanks to implants, he doesn't anymore, but he did for around forty-three years (1957-2000). See here for more on this kind of clever wordplay from Shats.
Yet, a fair use presentation and toupographical analysis of the audio recording of the "do I wear a toupee?" line yields some very interesting findings: for Bill Shatner, the subject is still a deeply uncomfortable one - despite the indirect jokes, a full and open discussion of the hair Raw Nerve style is still some years away at best.
Firstly, Bill Shatner's voice drops around 10 decibels between the comfortable assertion "I admit that I am thrilled..." and the phrase "do I wear a toupee?":
By the time we reach the phrase "do I wear a toupee?" Bill Shatner is not only almost whispering, but his voice is beginning to crack up too. Here, we have increased the volume of the single toupee line:
Notice the relatively smooth delivery of the word "I" - the vocal chords are still able to contract:
Now compare this with the dreaded emotive word "toupee" - Bill Shatner's voice, now full of sub-conscious tension, discomfort and stress, is breaking up; the emotional dissonance causing a rasping, whispering sound on the "pée" syllable:
The conscious delivery of and intonation given to the crucial line is perhaps also revealing. The word "toupee" is delivered with great (forced?) restrained neutrality - not a hint of a self-deprecating nod, nor a barely suppressed sprinkle of magniloquence is evident. Considering Bill Shatner's years of toupee use, this kind of emotional suppression is worthy of Spock at the height of "Pon farr".
If we once again compare this line to Bill Shatner's "I am thrilled" then we can sense the difference. "I...am...THRILL-ed" emotes Shatner, albeit subtly. The word "for-ever" in "forever remain a mystery" is also emphasized. Conversely, "do I wear a toupee?" rolls down in volume, breaking up along the way and by the end, it has dissipated from a vertiginous, perhaps even resipiscent whisper into an eternal endless silence. It's over!
Despite the lighthearted rhetorical question, "do I wear a toupee?" is clearly not something that Bill Shatner is yet ready, nor prepared for you to ponder with any great alacrity. Maybe soon...