Can't Unhear It

The tendency when enjoying a story to "read" or "hear" a character's voice depending on the observer's preference. More frequent when a character does not or did not officially have a voice (such as a book), especially until some much later adaptation.

Movies are frequently cited (accused) as creating the assumed voice of a character even when there's no objective reason this should occur (e.g., it is simply the actor's normal voice or an actor doing his own interpretation). If the work is frequently adapted, this is usually based on the most popular actor portraying the role. Many writers do in fact "hear" and "see" their characters but generally don't feel the need to enforce this view on the audience except in Broad Strokes.

Interestingly, why one voice is locked into our minds may not be related to how good, official or genuine it is. It might be that the "official" or mainstream interpretation is seen as pretty terrible or disingenuous by the observer. Maybe the audience remembers an obscure adaptation which existed as the sole version until recently as a childhood memory, or maybe there was something merely memorable (or infamous) about said "voice".

Not to be mistaken with Brain Bleach. Also, has nothing to do with Mondegreens or Ear Worms.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • An often obscured argument in the old "dub vs. sub" wars is that some audience members prefer a character they largely can't understand simply because of voice intonation, while others prefer a newer interpretation if the original is seen as an overdone Pigeonholed Voice Actor. It's even possible, with a sub, to "hear" the character speaking English in the non-English VA's voice when you try to remember it, because you were paying attention to how the voice sounded and the English subs, not the exact sounds the voice actor was making.
  • Similar to the Hubert Farnsworth example below, someone on 4chan posted a page out of an eroge featuring Tsuruya saying "My breasts... Megassa squeeze them" - a reference to a verbal tic she's Flanderized into saying repeatedly in Fanon, despite saying only once in canon. The next post had a picture of Jar-Jar Binks with the exact same line. Hilarity, and Brain Bleach, soon followed.
  • Many fans consider Megumi Han's performance as young Obito Uchiha in Naruto to be a lot more memorable than that of the character's original voice actor, Sosuke Komori.
  • Sailor Moon has a few permutations for the manga and various fanworks.
    • The original Japanese cast of Kotono Mitsuishi (Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon), Kae Araki (Chibiusa/Sailor Chibi Moon), Aya Hisakawa (Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury), Michie Tomizawa (Rei Hino/Sailor Mars), Emi Shinohara (Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter), and Rika Fukami (Minako Aino/Sailor Venus), respectively. Mitsuishi was a big enough influence for Naoko Takeuchi that it was said to inform her of Sailor Moon's lines as if she were saying them.
    • The original English dub, with so many changing voice casts is harder to pin down. Tracey Moore (first actress) and Terri Hawkes (second actress) (Moon), Stephanie Beard (second actress) (Chibiusa), Karen Bernstein (first actress) (Mercury), Katie Griffin (Mars), Susan Roman (Jupiter), and Stephanie Morgenstern (first actress) (Venus). For 90s fans, there's debate between Tracey's more childlike voice, and Terri's more mature but better-acted. Stephanie Beard's cute voice for Chibi was, and to this day remains a fan favorite. Bernstein memorably gave Mercury a precise diction and clipped tone that did a great job at depicting her intelligence without being overstated. And Roman's deep, powerful voice was so good even her [modern actress agrees. Also, even those that dislike anything but the original Japanese track have a hard time thinking of Luna without that trademark British accent.
    • The re-dubbed version by Viz Media has produced some notable voices of its own. Stephanie Sheh gives Usagi a bubbly voice that just might top all others in sheer cuteness, Sandy Fox particularly among Flonne admirers have started to accept her as Chibi for getting the casting down to an almost painful degree, Cristina Vee being a very popular dubbing actress won praise as Mars before the release was even out, Amanda Celine Miller adopting a very similar tone for Jupiter to her previous va, as well as being an Ascended Fangirl in regards to the character endeers her to many, and Cherami Leigh's naturally warm voice became unexpectedly beloved with Venus fans.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • The Latin America Dub has Mario Castañeda regarded as the official voice of Adult!Goku in many parts of the continent, the same with René García as Vegeta, Carlos Segundo as Piccolo and Laura Torres as Kid!Goku and Kid!Gohan. They are so beloved as the characters that many were enraged when the voices were recast in Dragon Ball Kai.
    • The European Portuguese Dub. Due to averting Crossdressing Voices, there is only one Goku,note  only one Bulma,note  etc. This even happens with the few characters who did change voice actors along the waynote . The first voice used in DBZ is usually the go to for parodies.
    • For people who watch the series dubbed, to them, Sean Schemmel IS Son Goku.
    • Many fans of Dragon Ball Z Abridged have gone on record to state that they tend to hear dialogue between characters in their Abridged voices rather than the very well-established official voices from FUNimation. Considering how big the Funimation dub of Dragon Ball Z is in the public consciousness, that's saying a lot.
  • For fans, the Badass Baritone in Pokémon: The First Movie will always be Mewtwo's voice in your mind.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Who can read Garfield and not think of the late, great Lorenzo Music? It probably helps that every voice given to the character since has at least sounded like an imitation of his performance.
  • Those who watched the Dilbert cartoon probably have trouble reading the actual comic without hearing Daniel Stern as Dilbert, Larry Miller as The Pointy-Haired Boss, Gordon Hunt as Wally, Kathy Griffin as Alice, Tom Kenny as Asok and Ratbert, etc.
  • Similarly, readers of Over the Hedge will forever hear Bruce Willis as RJ, Garry Shandling as Verne, and Steve Carrell as Hammy.
  • Try reading the Popeye comics without imagining Popeye with Jack Mercer's interpretation of the character, from the raspy voice to the almost impish-like mumbling.
  • When one reads Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse strip, it's impossible to not imagine either Walt Disney, Jimmy Macdonald, Wayne Allwine, or Bret Iwan's voice as the title character. Of those voices, Disney and Allwine are usually the ones most associated with the character, Disney, of course, was the original voice, while Allwine's tenure lasted from the late 70's up to his death in '09, making him the definitive voice for the character for multiple generations of fans.
  • While the Peanuts voice actors have changed over the years due to them being voiced by actual children, the voices from the original 60's specials, such as Peter Robbins as Charlie Brown, Christopher Shea as Linus, Sally Dryer as Lucy, Kathy Steinberg as Sally, and Glenn Mendelson as Schroder, while likely be the first ones that come to reader's minds, and the fact that the two best remembered specials in the franchise both come from that era may have something to do with it. And of course, there's also Snoopy - when he's properly thinking words, readers may think of them in the voice of either Robert Towers or Cam Clarke, while if he makes any other noise, such as barking, grumbling, or howling, it will always, always, always be imagined in the voices supplied by the late animator and director Bill Melendez.
    • Producer Lee Mendelson made a point of trying to match the new voice actors to the ones who first played the roles, in a few cases even using younger siblings (e.g. Christopher Shea's brother Stephen voiced Linus for a while in The '70s).

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Some of the voices that Jim Dale gives the characters of the Harry Potter universe can be, for some, quite hard to unhear. Snape and Umbridge being the worst offenders.
    • This is also true of Stephen Fry, as he does the British audiobooks. Try and read the first Mrs. Figg scene in Order of the Phoenix or Ron's love potion scene in Half-Blood Prince without remembering his hilarious performances and cracking up.
  • Pretty hard not to hear Leo McKern when reading a Rumpole of the Bailey story— especially later ones. You may even start to hear other actors from the show in their respective characters.
  • It isn't possible to read any of the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell and not hear all Sharpe's dialogue in Sean Bean's accent. Especially since Cornwell Ret Canoned in that Sharpe grew up in Yorkshire.
  • Inspector Morse novels by Colin Dexter, given the definitive portrayals of Morse and Lewis by John Thaw and Kevin Whately respectively, to the point that Dexter started writing the characters with the actors in mind.
  • Spice and Wolf: Those who watched the anime and then bought the light novels to continue the story will find themselves "hearing" Jun Fukuyama (Japanese)/ Michael Tatum (English) and Ami Koshimizu (Japanese)/ Brina Palencia (English) in every line of dialogue between Lawrence and Holo.
  • It's incredibly difficult to read Winnie-the-Pooh, and not imagine the voices of their Disney counterparts.
  • Some interpretations of Sherlock Holmes start to bleed into the books. Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett spring to mind.
  • Good luck reading one of the original James Bond novels and not imagining Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, or Daniel Craig as Bond. Especially Connery (for being the first Bond) or Dalton and Craig (for being grittier Bonds in the style of the novels) for some.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Just try to read the lyrics to a song you know, and read them in your head as if they were a poem or spoken words and not to the tune of the song. Just try it.
    • This is actually a really useful exercise for actors. The trick is to separate the words on the screen/paper from one's memory of the song.
  • Similarly, it's basically impossible to hear an instrumental demo for a song without the lyrics for the finished one popping out on your mind. For instance, this old Eddie Van Halen track has plenty of comments noticing its resurgence as a full song.
  • Just try singing "Daisy Bell" normally after watching The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • After watching Steven Universe, it's almost impossible to listen to Estelle's music and NOT imagine Garnet singing them.
  • While listening to Sam Cooke's cover of "Blue Moon", just try not to hear "JESUS CHRIST!" and sounds of intense agony.
  • If you're old enough to have first become familiar with a song via a cassette or 8-track tape, and that song happened to be affected by an audio dropout or the tape itself became mangled and messed up part of the song, or in the case of 8-tracks, a song was divided between two "programs" and the player clicked in the middle of the song, it's easy to mentally add the audio defect when you listen to a pristine digitized version of the same song.
    • Related—if the cassette/8-track of an album re-sequenced the songs, the legitimate version will always seem like it's somehow out of order.

    Video Games 
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • The voice a given fan associates with Mario largely depends on the age of the fan and how they got introduced to the character:
      • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show gave the then-voiceless Mario and Luigi accents based on the backstory assumed by the show's writers. For many older fans, Captain Lou Albano's deep but friendly Mario voice still trumps the official "squeaky" one by Charles Martinet being marketed by Nintendo.
      • Younger fans, however, can't imagine anything but the Charles Martinet voice, to the point where people reading aloud comics written before Mario had an official voice or an Italian accent will do impressions of the modern voice.
    • The Koopa Kids, introduced in The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, were also given voices based on their personalities. Similarly, for those who grew up watching the two Saturday morning spinoffs, those voices also trump the official ones given to the Koopalings in New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
    • Anyone who's seen enough YouTube Poop videos featuring the infamous "Mama Luigi" episode will never be able to hear this song again without hearing the voices from the opening scene of the episode.
    • Some people still prefer Bowser's more human voice in the Nintendo GameCube era. Doesn't help that James' Bowser seldom speaks, much less a full sentence compared to Burns' Bowser.
  • Has anyone who has seen the animated adaptation of Pac-Man been able to play the game and not think of Marty Ingels?
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the character Cait Sith was a robotic cat with no discernible idiosyncrasies in speech or diction, expressed or implied. As of the fully voiced 'Compilation' entries, however, he has a thick Scottish accent.
  • It's hard not to picture Gordon Freeman not sounding like his Freeman's Mind incarnation should he ever talk, if only because it's the most popular version of giving him a voice. And that's a fan-made rendition of him. It doesn't help that his actor bears a fair resemblance to Gordon, which he showed because some people complained they can't imagine that voice coming from Gordon.
  • This is one of the points of contention in the Touhou Project games: While many video fan works featuring the characters were voiced by fans, it was not until the Musou Kakyou: A Summer Day's Dream fanime (who was voiced by professional voice actors and not fans) when you cannot picture the characters with other voices, especially Mai Nakahara's rendition of Reimu Hakurei. This is averted in the Koumajou Densetsu doujin game: Despise being also voiced by professional voice actors, since the whole topic of the game is an Alternate Universe Fic of the whole franchise, this is not a big problem per se, since the personalities of the characters in this game are different from the established canon.
  • Are you an aspiring amateur YouTube voice actor and want to make your own Ridley voice? Be prepared to see your comments section flooded with complaints that you didn't give him a screechy New Jersey accent.
  • People who've seen Kirby: Right Back at Ya! will have a good chance of imaging Dedede with his Southern voice and Meta Knight with his Spanish voice. It becomes a problem when you hear Meta Knight's voice in Super Smash Bros. as it just sounds like a deep, gravelly, menacing voice... until you listen real closely. He still has the accent!

    Web Comics 
  • This xkcd comic.
  • Homestuck has a popular base of amateur voice actors. Particularly, the portrayal of Eridan by Octopimp caught on in the fandom so much that some of the Verbal Tics he used for the character (for instance, his habit of saying odd nasal whiny nonsense sounds like 'nyeh' and 'wweh') hit Beam Me Up, Scotty! levels. "Wweh" did actually get a Fandom Nod in Homestuck eventually... through putting it in the mouth of a character representing Tumblr Fan Dumb.
  • Phil Foglio, creator of Girl Genius, has expressed a desire to have BRIAN BLESSED voice the Large Ham Castle Heterodyne, should the comic ever be adapted to film or animation. A more perfect casting choice could not be made.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Who hasn't ever read a book or an unvoiced game, only to have your preconceived and often cherished notions of the characters' speech or their delivery of pivotal lines and moments just shattered by an adaptation, sequel or update years down the road? The ones you can't ever unhear are the ones only you ever heard.
  • Stephen King conceded that, after seeing Jack Nicholson as Randle P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, there wasn't any other way of seeing the character when you read the novel. King cited it as a bad thing, however, as he claims it hobbles the reader's imagination to an extent.
  • Stanley Kubrick said that this was the reason why he cast Malcolm McDowell as the role of Alex in A Clockwork Orange; Kubrick had just come off of watching McDowell's performance in the film If... before he read the Anthony Burgess novel, and as a consequence, could not get McDowell's face and voice out of his mind when reading the narration of Alex.