Maybe if I wore an old frock and had my hair done in a funny way, I’d get to be so famous that my books would become best sellers and I could have a makeover. Mind you, if it meant smiling at Simon Cowell, I’d rather stay incognito. But here I am adding to the millions of words generated by Susan Boyle.
I don’t watch much telly, and certainly not the stuff generated by cynical exploiters of ‘ordinary’ people, so I hadn’t heard of Ms Boyle (MB) until a visiting American friend described watching her on TV in the USA. She was careful to set the scene, talked of MB’s dress, bad hair, whiskers, and how she seemed generally to be an embarrassment to the human race. Then came the revelation of her voice, and she became an angel.
So I duly watched her performance on YouTube – and it was very, very depressing. Not because of her. To me, she sounded fine, far better and more powerful vocally than most of those who churn out regular hits. No, I was appalled by the audience’s and the judges’ reactions to the way she looked and to how they reacted to her apparently gauche attempts to inject some personality into her presence. (I say ‘apparently’ because MB obviously knew she had helluva voice and that the dickheads making faces at her and girning their confident superiority over her to one another would soon be silenced. In her way, she was as manipulative as Cowell and the rest – and good for her. Her ‘manipulation’ was without malice.)
So, in the end, she triumphed. In fact, she triumphed rather too quickly for comfort. No sooner had she belted out the first couple of notes than the audience was baying its approval and the judges were doing their ‘gosh, what a lovely surprise’ faces. I think I’d have needed to hear a bit more before I forgave MB for being so physically repulsive – because that’s what they were doing.
No, I don’t think she’s repulsive. Of course she isn’t – but the whole Susan Boyle phenomenon hasn’t arisen from the fact that she has that voice, but from the implied gap between it and her unprepossessing appearance. If she’d slapped on some make-up, gone to M&S for a new dress and played herself as a shy, quiet individual, she’d probably still have got their votes, but it wouldn’t have been good television. So the producers had to contrive the Quasimodo effect.
But why is that so depressing? Well, when you watch the clip again, try stopping it before she starts to sing. Look at the carefully chosen images of the reactions of everyone else there. Without exception, there’s a scorn for this person standing before them, a preening, sneering rejection of her, a reduction of her to a figure of fun – based on what? On the fact that she has no dress sense, that she apes the confidence of all the other wannabes who strut across our screens, that she’s a middle-aged virgin from a small Scottish town.
I really do hope that she was canny enough to have chosen to project this image of herself deliberately. I want to believe that Susan Boyle manipulated Simon Cowell. But even if that’s true, the initial images of the baying, self-satisfied citizens so devoid of compassion confirm that her victory is a small one and that we’re losing more and more of our humanity. Those few minutes made Susan Boyle a winner, but the few seconds of pre-voice reactions and the patronising crap the judges poured over her afterwards betrayed a context in which victory was meaningless. None of us can take comfort from the approval of people whose criteria are so flawed.