18 April 2009

Deconstructing Susan Boyle

This Susan Boyle thing is like a big Rorschach test, isn't it? Is the Scottish woman who can sing arebuke to the bitchy cynicism of reality talent shows? Or is she a woman who will be fine as soon as someone fixes her? Everyone seems to have an opinion.

I cry every time I watch the damn video, and I have watched it at least a half-dozen times. I cry not only because Susan Boyle knocks them dead, but because of this one little moment at 5:11 when the blonde woman (no idea) says "I daresay everyone in the audience was against you."

The flash of pain on Susan Boyle's face is all too familiar. You can see the "Why?" pass in a split second. This is the Big Why - the why are people like that? Why are people automatically against someone who isn't young, who isn't pretty, who isn't dressed in the latest fashion?

Psychotherapist and author Dennis Palumbo sums it up far better than I could:
But I have no doubt that, had she performed poorly, Simon Cowell would be rolling his eyes still. And the audience would have hooted and booed with the relish of Roman spectators at the Colosseum. And that Susan Boyle's appearance on the show would still be on YouTube, but as an object of derision and ridicule.

So let's not be too quick to congratulate ourselves for taking her so fully to our hearts. We should've done that anyway, as we should all those we encounter who fall outside the standards of youth and beauty as promulgated by fashion magazines, gossip sites, and hit TV shows.

We should've done that anyway, before Susan Boyle sang a single note.


Ericka said...

i quite concur.

i was watching E! news the other night, and the hyper host starting talking about this. usually the people on that network are not known for their humanity, but he impressed me with the way he spoke of her - he was clearly on her side and spent some time lampooning those who were/are quick to judge.

Lisa said...

I had heard she had an amazing voice but I didn't hear about the rest of this stuff. How sad that people place so much emphasis on her appearance.

Jessica said...

The first I heard about her was when my boss brought her up at a dept head meeting - referred to her as being built like a "brick...house" and none too pretty a woman. I was instantly offended before he even got to the point, as this particular person is also overweight and "none too handsome," but you can just tell that those facts are completely lost on him.


mar said...

i fail at this some times, but try most of the time not to judge a book by its cover.
i still haven't listened to the video because i've been having too many bouts of tearing up lately & i know it's bound to happen.

Suzanne said...

In a weird way, it reminds me of the reactions when Dove first rolled out its Real Beauty campaign. The fact that it is acceptable to have a running commentary on whether a woman's body is ok to show in public or not. I cringed the whole time I watched Ms Boyle because I could not stop thinking about how cruel people would have been had she not been such a perfect singer.

mothergoosemouse said...

I think you make a valid point. For if she had been attractive, poised, well-dressed - had fit the picture of a performer - and yet couldn't sing a note, we wouldn't have remembered her. We might have even found her endearing, a la Cameron Diaz's character's karaoke performance in My Best Friend's Wedding.

Both our positive reaction to Susan Boyle's talent - and our almost certainly negative reaction had she not been so talented - say far more about our own insecurities than about her outward qualities.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I kindof thought the woman who said that to her was a bitch, no?

lizriz said...

I totally saw that specific moment, too. The whole thing is rather painful to watch because I never watch these shows, so it's just bizarre to see how everyone was being about a woman simply walking out on stage to sing.

g said...

I saw the Diane Sawyer interview, too, and thought it was tasteless of her to ask about a makeover. Boyle did a good job of dismissing this.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

No kidding!

Look, I studied music in college. I am never surprised when a person's voice doesn't match their traditional beauty.

She sings beautifully. Why can that not be what everyone is talking about?

flurrious said...

"Rorschach test" is a good way to put it because all of the discussion has become so very much not about her as about ourselves. This is why I feel bad for her, not because people are cracking on her looks so much, but because she's become a (mostly unwilling, I would guess) symbol for what's wrong with societal standards of female beauty. And in the process, she has to get dumped on a hundred times a day.

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