Pittsburgh Dad and questions of context

For those of you who haven’t seen Pittsburgh Dad, a series of YouTube shorts, you may enjoy the depiction of a very stereotypical father personality, replete with Pittsburghese. I find this to be amusing not because it reminds me anything of my dad, but just because of the many fatherhood tropes that the show plays with.

My boyfriend, a native Pittsburgher who does not regularly use most features of Pittsburghese, does not like this show. He explained to me that he found it offensive because the actor seems to be an outsider (although the actor hails from Greensburg, which is an hour’s drive outside of Pittsburgh) who is appropriating the local variety to make fun of Pittsburghers. That is, the indexicalities used by the actor are not flattering for the native Pittsburgher; the Pittsburgh Dad is seen to be backward, crass, and uneducated, all characteristics that are signaled by the use of the variety.

When I pointed out to my boyfriend that he typically does exactly the same thing, especially when he’s voicing others, he explained that it was okay because he is “from here” — that is, he had the license to appropriate the Pittsburghese forms because he is a native. This same logic applies to a local radio personality, Stanley P. Kachowski, who was portrayed on the radio station WDVE by Jim Krenn; Krenn had the license to appropriate Pittsburghese forms because he was a local.

Barbara Johnstone, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has talked about this very phenomenon quite a bit. Here is one particularly relevant article in which she discusses the DVE morning show acts and local performances of Pittsburghese for humor. She describes how Krenn “sounds like a Pittsburgher” to many of his regular listeners even when he isn’t portraying the Stanley P. Kachowski character, which adds to his authenticity of his performance of the Pittsburghese variety.

Another point that she brings up in this article is that different audience members get different interpretations, and in fact are asked different questions when listening to performances of this sort. When I watch Pittsburgh Dad, I ask “What does it mean that this guy is performing Pittsburghese in this way?” When a Pittsburgher watches, they might ask “What does it mean that this guy is performing my variety, my city, my identity this way?” It’s an important lesson that we may not all get the same interpretations or the same humor out of something based on our local context and our situational knowledge.

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