Please Tell Me You Didn't Voice That?
Recently, I posted a few thoughts on social media regarding the ethics and morals behind using our voices for another’s teachings, educational material, values, etc. I even poised the question to the guests of a new internet radio program called "VO Radio." I was not prepared for the opening of the proverbial "bag of worms" that I received, but it was enlightening nonetheless.
I starting thinking about this when my own morals were tested while voicing a religious audiobook that I thought was in alignment with my own Christian beliefs. Having already been selected, committed to the project and began voicing it, I soon realized that the authors "facts and opinions" regarding Christianity as I know it, didn't align with my own. At one time during the recording, I even had to call my own Pastor for advice. After that conversation, needless to say, I had some inner searching to do and a decision to make.
Here are a few examples of the types of material “dilemmas” we may face as voice actors that would require careful consideration before using our voices:
Religious actors voicing a book on Atheism.
A Trump supporter voicing the memoirs of Joe Biden
Right to Life advocates voicing a book on Women’s Rights
Freedom of Choice advocates voicing the benefits of mandatory vaccinations.
I bet as you started to read the above topics, you probably came up with a few of your own and some inner rumblings began to happen. This is absolutely natural and part of our makeup as a human living in these very complicated times. The cool things is, we get to make a choice!
Let’s take a look a couple definitions: Ethics and Morals; respectively, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
1) a: A set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values
b: The principles of conduct governing an individual or a group
c: A consciousness of moral importance
d: A guiding philosophy
2) A set of moral issues or aspects (such as rightness)
3) The discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
a. Of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior
b: Expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior
c: Conforming to a standard of right behavior
d: Sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment
e: Capable of right and wrong action
As you can see, both of these definitions are very close as ethics and morals relate to right and wrong conduct, yet are different in their sources and applications. Ethics refer to rules that are given from an external source; such as the “Actors Code of Ethics: 14 Rules to Live By (article written by Eddie Rams 3/3/2022) or perhaps a business code of ethics. Morals, on the other hand, refer to an individuals own principles regarding right and wrong, which may or may not align with ethics.
During the conversation on VO Radio, one person took the position that since [they] don’t own the book, don't have ties to the book, and believes no one really cares who voiced the book took the stance that as a voice actor, we have the responsibility to do justice in voicing the works for which we are being paid. A person on the social media post stated they have done parts from an axe murderer to a priest and everything in-between and as long as they are able to portray the character and are paid for doing it, the field of voicing non-fiction is wide open.
In contrast to the above, the other guest on VO Radio stated there are lines they personally wouldn’t cross if it didn’t agree with their system of ethics and beliefs. Additionally, a person who commented on the social media post stated nearly the same thing. “There are just some lines they just couldn’t cross” because their voice [may] somehow get linked that that which they were voicing and for them, that could mean trouble in the future.
So here are two scenarios for any of the aforementioned “dilemmas” we may face in our VO career:
At the audition stage, are we willing to voice something we are at odds with either ethically or morally? Why? What will be the cost of doing so?
What should we do if we are selected, committed to, and began voicing something that in the beginning appeared to align with either our ethics, morals or both; but later found out during the production of the works that it did not? Why? What will be the cost of doing so?
In my questioning and conversations with other Voice Actors regarding number one (1) above, it’s always better to find out right up front the totality of the works we are about to commit our resources, especially if we have hard lines for which we won't or couldn't cross. For an audiobook, it may be more difficult unless the author had others works from which to draw immediate conclusions prior to auditioning.
As for number two (2) above, from those I heard from, it feels like we informally reached consensus. There are two options from which to choose; either complete the project voicing with conviction all aspects of the works; or, contact the rights holder or production company explaining the dilemma and offer to find a more suitable person to voice the work. Both of these solutions give credence to not only your personal ethics and morals but also to your level of professionalism in the art of Voice Acting.
As for my dilemma, my decision was to voice the authors works with every conviction due the author. I made a commitment and my personal ethics led me to complete the work for which I was being paid regardless if my beliefs didn't exactly match that of hte authors. In the end, I don’t believe I compromised anything at all. I took the stance that this author believed in what he was presenting and it was my job to voice those beliefs as though they were my own. And in doing do, I learned some things about myself along the way. It also allowed me the freedom to do my own fact checking and research which gave me a better understanding of the authors viwpoints.
After all, this is why they call it Voice Acting!
So what will it be? What are your thoughts? How do you personally handle these situations? Do you even care as long as you get a paycheck? Think about those and please respond below.
Howard F. Hulin
Quality Vocal Artistry, LLC