Friday, April 17, 2009

Susan Boyle, your story has grown tiresome

By now, everyone and his/her dog has heard of Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old, never-been-kissed Brit who got on the Britain's Got Talent stage in front of a sneering Simon Cowell and blew him and the audience away with her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream. Not that she needs the spotlight to shine any brighter, but here's the video in case you haven't seen it. Go ahead and watch. I'll wait...

Call me a curmudgeon, but this doesn't fully sit right with me. The only reason anyone's paying any attention is because she's, um, not supermodel material. It's completely outside our collective bell curve that a homely, never-been-kissed homebody can blow an audience away with her voice. So when it happens, we pay attention only because she's homely to begin with. The patronizing tone that underscores most media coverage makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I can virtually guarantee that no one would have batted an eyelash if she had been better looking by society's admittedly shallow and unfair collectively subjective definition.

I'll be discussing this with John Downs on AM640 Toronto tonight a bit after 8:30 EDT. (Click here for his show's home page, then the Listen Live link from there.) I suspect I'll still be feeling curmudgeonly when I do.

Your turn: What thinketh you about this whole Susan Boyle thing?

Oops, one more thing: We're having quite the barnburner week with Thematic Photographic. The theme's floral. Got some petal-like perspectives? Click here to share 'em.

31 comments:

Leanne said...

What's beautiful about it is that there's a lesson to be learned. She was judged harshly by the audience before the voice of an angel took them over, and I think it's an amazing lesson that millions of people needed to learn.

Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Mrs. Fun said...

I am so over this Susan chick...yeah, shes got a beautiful voice but why the tears? Everyone is posting saying "did you see this? yeah, like 500 hundred times in the last 24 hours.

Breeze said...

Agree with Leanne on this one. I would also like to add..she has an amazing voice...and I don't know that she's a sensation just because of that but I think a combination of the lesson learned plus the great voice is why she's a sensation. And what's wrong with that? People are moved by the story as well as the voice...good, we need to be moved more. It's so refreshing to see a feel-good story for a change.

Breeze

Anonymous said...

According to your comment, she has never been kissed, but in your phrasing you said she blew Simon Cowell.
Perhaps a kiss was unecessary.

Bradley.

Gretchen said...

I agree with Leanne 100%. This woman would not have been given a chance if they went based on looks alone.

Millions of people are judged in some capacity like this every day and they ALL have something to offer.

Mike Althouse said...

I actually wrote about this on the blog for one of my grad courses. This was in response to a question asking if communication studies theories are still valid in light of modern technology. I apologize in advance for the length…The answer to the question depends partially on the theory in question, but generally speaking, all past theories have some relevance in contemporary communication study. Of course the baseline reason is that theories are built upon one another and even those that are proven to be antiquated or just plain wrong serve to guide future research. However, as new technology and new ways and means of communication are developed, new phenomena are discovered. Like the legal system that must apply existing laws until new laws are tailored to new technology, so too must theory, albeit in much different systems.

All of this brings up a smallish revelation/rant I had recently. There is a current YouTube video making its rounds – going viral, to use the new terminology – that had me thinking in terms of communication studies. Odd, I know, but I’m sure many can relate. It’s a clip of a singer by the name of Susan Boyle from the TV show, “Britains Got Talent.” I would embed it here, but embedding has been disabled. The direct link is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

Although this clip could be analyzed from any number of perspectives, I have a particular one that is something of an ongoing theme with me.

According to Simon Cowel, et al., what made this clip so incredible is that Boyle violated the audiences expectations. She wasn’t supposed to be good, let alone worthy of a standing ovation. Simon and the other judges made the assumption that the reason the crowd went wild is due their being “proven” wrong and their delight that they were so humbled – all based on their perceptions influenced by Boyle's age, appearance, mannerisms, etc. prior to her performance. And for many in that audience, Simon was likely right. In other words, his “theory” was correct for some.

But not all, despite his and his colleague’s conviction that the reaction to Boyles performance was in part due to their surprise. I would propose that many in that audience had no expectations based on Boyle’s non-professional image. Some might have expected her to fail simply because that is, in part, the premise of the show. Some, like myself, might have entirely missed the fact that she was expected to fail – until of course Simon pointed it out after the fact. All of this serves to solidify a point I have taken time and time again.

Where it comes to aggregates, theory can indeed predict outcomes. Given the factors present in that clip, Simon’s response was, for the same reasons, predictably the same response as many in the audience. But not all – maybe not even most. At the individual level, “Simon’s Theory” might have fallen flat on someone such as myself. Of course, Simon’s theory is an aggregate itself of a number of theories from psychology, sociology, etc. (yes, com studies, too) and it, too, is only relevant when it comes to many people, not one person.

That is not to say that theory cannot explain or to some extent predict individual behavior. But there is no sure thing; everyone is different. I challenge without reservation Simon’s blanket statement that everyone in the audience expected Boyle to fail. He didn’t know that and no theory, however cohesive or coherent, could.

Andrew said...

I think you missed the big picture, Carmi. She's homely, not socially graceful, unemployed, etc...she gives you no reason to think she'd be successful at, well, anything. And the point of this, and every reality show is, in essence, to expose people's vanity; well, she has none, it seems, yet when brave enough to try something that doesn't at all match her character, she proved herself to be the opposite: understated, down to earth, and incredibly talented.
If you think this is purely about her being unattractive, I think you're wrong.

Jared and Stacy Birk said...

Completely agree! Amazing voice, but just goes to show how shallow and judging people can be. Makes me throw up in my mouth a little... to be honest.

sage said...

I'm with you... but then I've never quite figured out the excitement with "American Idol" and now "Brits with Talent." Oh, and don't get me started on kerouke.

bobbie said...

I don't agree with you on this one. I believe this woman has a most amazing voice, and that would be recognized no matter how she looked.

I think the problem is the same thing we deal with every day -the media and overkill. If it was reported, and maybe repeated once or twice, you would not be soured on it. But the so-called news people (They really aren't, you know0 just beat it to death, and we all get very, very tired of hearing about it.

Wendy said...

Well, I guess I'm going to be the oddball here. Her voice was nice, but really, in my opinion, not amazing. Her singing did not give a richness, nor clarity to the music. Her pitch was not right on, falling flat once or twice.

Sorry people, I was not impressed.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with Leanne. It's a beautiful and touching story and her voice - forget it - it is incredible! Go Susan!!!!

Monica Hamburg said...

All I've seen is the Youtube clip online and I've found her story inspirational - for the very reason that you mentioned it - because it cuts into our by now absurd ideas of how people are expected to look. And it proves that people who don't "fit the mold" deserve respect as well.

I always think that it's hard to imagine someone like Bea Arthur (my idol:) being able to start a career nowadays because it's not enough to have tremendous talent - one has to be drop-dead gorgeous as well.

That said, I agree with Wendy. I thought she had a nice voice. She sang well. But - I have heard people sing that song far better in some performance classes. Just sayin'

And Andrew's point is valid as well, She was very brave to try this even though she clearly wasn't sure of the outcome.

She did great - especially under the circumstances - with all that negativity surrounding her. Hey, I like the story. I'm also a sap.

P.S. Netchick sent me, Carmi. And I like it here.

Pamela said...

I listened to a recording she made about 10 years ago for a charity record in her home town -- and it was excellent.

I think that so many of us who are "run of the mill" just really get excited when one of "us" kicks butt (so to speak.)

Jeremy Lim said...

I'm waiting for the day where we get a homely-looking chart-topper; the way the music pool is these days, I'm willing to trade up the glamour for talent. I think that's what's so appealing about electronic music: you can be mediocre looking, but still become an international sensation.

Thumper said...

I heard her sing before I saw her, and was blown away by the absolute sweetness in her voice. So maybe it's not the visceral image getting to people.

And if it is? So? She gets her 15 minutes, her talent will carry her through or stop her before the end. If she wins it will be because of her talent, and if not, it will be because someone else had just that much more.

Look at the winner of the last America's Got Talent. People could be saying the same about him, but in the end, he won over an adorable and extremely talented singer, and he deserved it. He has am amazing voice, and people heard it.

That's not a bad thing. Those of us who lack in the looks department, it would be nice if we all caught a break like that once in a while.

David said...

stirred up a hornet's nest, didn't you, friend?

Carmi said...

David: Yep. And I wouldn't have it any other way. My goal has never been to have everyone agree with me. Rather, it's been to kickstart discussion, to make folks question and think.

I hope I've got many more hornets nests in me yet.

kenju said...

I agree with Leanne. Lesson learned here!

dennisthemennis.co.uk said...

I agree with Leanne a little, thats an interesting take on the story Carmi! What gets me is the fact that they thought she was going to be shit and they would just think she is plain weird and would treat her like some kind of outcast in their community. But in true British style when it turns out she can sing, EVERYONE and his dog wants to be her friend.

I love the show and I love a good heart warming success story but what I dislike is this whole take em from the gutter build them up give them some money and fame and then move on to the next. Susan is a human being and should be treated with respect regardless of her ability to sing/dance/act. I actually feel sorry for the way she will be treated, and we will never get to see that.

Joanie said...

Since I don't watch any of these shows, it's news to me.

As Leanne said, there's a lesson to be learned. And the song was the perfect way to illustrate it. Her dream isn't so different from anyone else's dream.

Has the press gone a bit crazy over this because she's not a 20 year-old model-like beauty? Yeah, they sure have. Wouldn't it be nice if none of us were judged by how we look? (I'm not holding my breath on that one.)

I'm just glad I could see the audience and the judges schooled so beautifully.

Da Goddess
dagoddess.com

Awareness said...

Curmudgeon is right, you old fart! Ok, yes the media has done what it does best (and I blame CNN for this type of repetitive storytelling)....beat the living daylights out of a story....

However....

I still can't watch that clip without a face full of tears. It was joyful and funny and she was irreverent....and that audience learned a good lesson. Susan Boyle reminded me of the clients I work with....and how their gifts are often hidden under a different slice of beauty.... I sent this video to my colleagues earlier in the week. Not a dry eye in the office because they all saw her as I did.... one of our own whose gifts were finally recognized.

:)

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

what thinketh i?

i think that some other countries got a total overload of the story, while here in the UK,
some havn't even seen it yet.

i loved it
if only because
it's brought happiness and smiling, cheers and hope,
a standing ovation
and the realisation that we all,
all of us
get stuff wrong. we judge and hey, most of the time shouldn't.

People may well sing better than Susan.
i'd pay money to hear HER though

Marion said...

Before Susan began to sing, I was enthralled with the kindness in her eyes. That feature, and then her voice and courage was what won me over completely.

Yes, the story is overblown...I hear her song everywhere I look on TV...but how much better it is to watch her than gang violence, the state of the economy or so many other negative things which make the news.

It's ok to be a curmudgeon, Carmi...we all have our differences, and you make many good points. But I gotta say...she came and sang at just the right time.

jill said...

her dream was to sing on a big stage and when she was done singing, she walked off....in her mind, she had succeeded. everything after that was just a bonus for her.

i applaud her courage to follow her dream.

will her fame be fleeting? - probably. will we remember her name next month? - probably not. did she give us cause to examine how we treat others? - yes. and that's always a good thing.

Daryl said...

I think this is a lesson for every person who thinks they know what's hot and what's not .. all those in the audience who werent 'all that' themselves judged her on her looks .. well you know what? I dont think she's so plain .. sure her eyebrows could use a good tweeze but she has a nice figure ... and her voice . oh her voice .. what an incredible thing .. it made me cry .. it touched me so deeply ...

Why did I cry, why did so many who have seen the video cry? Because she felt every word she sang and made US all feel it too

Nay say all you want but this is one very talented woman regardless of her looks.

raehan said...

I've watched a lot of American Idol and watched a lot of ugly singers sing beautifully.

I do think that in this case there is something exceptional about her singing. As a trained singer, I can say, her voice is something truly special. If she was a supermodel, there would be no tear-jerking story to propel the fascination with her, but if she was ugly and simply had a very good voice (rather than exceptional) the story would have gone nowhere. She really has a great voice.

The story gives story to all of us who have secret talents that we are afraid to share with the world.

It's not really about the looks. It's about having the courage to share what you have with the world.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Here goes :

People are paying attention because her voice is AMAZING.
if you click on youtube there is a link to her singing "cry me a river" back in 1999 that is incredible. All I could think of is that there was at least ten years of her life that she hadn't spent professionally singing.
The fact that she isn't "beautiful" is more of a testament to the shallowness of our society than her.
I have listened to Christine Agualiera sing for real and she has a great voice, as compared to Britney who cannot actually sing.
The business of music is as much about marketing as talent.( as is any other business).
You know the world is F***ked up when I am the voice railing against cynicism.
As for your opinion that the only reason she is paid attention to is her lack of " beauty", I would counter that the only reason she HADN'T had attention paid is her lack of "beauty".
Now that she has recognition, and people can profit from her she will at last recieve the accolades that she deserves.

the "hunchback" of
Notre Dame-
or Dave as I prever to be called

Carmi- you are a shallow tool of our capitalist society, who should cover yourself in American one dollar bills and stand in front of the Beef Baron ona Saturdy evening shouting " hey sailor, do you like spongebob squarepants?"

g said...

Its a good story, but so what, really? I think she herself is probably less wowed by the story than anyone else. I hate the smarminess of the followup interviews - there was one chick coyly asking her if she would have a make-over.

Her voice is good, but her talent as a performer can't really be assessed without seeing how she can actually perform in the roles - being Elaine Page is more than just standing there and singing.

So I wish someone would give her a chance to actually ACT in a musical. That would be interesting.

momemts in time said...

Unfortunately the Simon Cowell approach is to judge harshly in the belief that it makes for good television. Last year a similar story was told when a large contestant in the first round announced that he would sing opera. The judges faces told the story before he evan sang a note. 'OPERA!!'

Before he had finished at least one had tears in their eyes - and he then went on to win the nationwide competition with a voice that captivated most who heard it.

Lets face it if some of the old rock stars had entered whey would be treated similarly, first impressions of a Mr Jagger or Mr Stewart would not be favourable...

Mel Fraase said...

I have feelings for both views. Yes, we'd never have looked twice if she were drop dead gorgeous. But, who doesn't want to root for the underdog. It makes all of us plain people feel that maybe we have a chance. Granted, she's got a talent I'll never have (ask my kids!), but its just really cool that she change whatever preconceived idea they had of her in one note. Same thing with Paul Potts last year. ON THE OTHER HAND.. yeah she knows what she looks like, do we have to keep reminding her? We've had enough already.