Thursday, April 16, 2009

Susan Boyle - Inspiration Or Invention?

As I write this, tens of millions of people have seen the video of Susan Boyle singing on "Britain's Got Talent", and almost as a single voice, people are plotzing over how inspirational her performance was. If you're one of the four people left in the world who have not seen the clip, then take a look before reading on:

Susan Boyle Sings on Britain's Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 @ Yahoo! Video

I think Susan Boyle is great, and I think the song she chose, "I Dreamed a Dream", from Les Miserables was a perfect choice, both for the way it fit her impressive vocal range and for the irony of its lyrics. However, the rest of the "Susan Boyle phenomena" offends me on so many levels.

This is, sadly, a great example of how television and pop culture rule the world. A veritable handful of TV producers have the power to tell us how to feel and what to think. The producers of "Britain's Got Talent" decided that Susan Boyle should be played as a sympathetic character - an ugly duckling underdog who, against all odds, shows the world she can succeed. That portrayal, a Cinderella cliche that has been around since cavemen ruled the world, plays much better than the truth.

The truth is that Susan Boyle is not such an underdog. She deserves a lot of credit for auditioning for the show simply because it takes a lot of guts for anyone to try performing before a large audience. But why is anyone surprised that someone who LOOKS like Susan Boyle could actually be a gifted singer? The world is full of people just like her - and not just in the entertainment field. People who are not attractive enough or thin enough or clever enough to have their full potential shine through to their bosses.

Susan Boyle is a reality TV confection - cleverly invented and packaged by reality TV producers who knew exactly who should be cast to make people feel better about themselves. There's nothing folks like better than an underdog.... someone who can be a champion for the "plain janes" of the world.

Susan Boyle was not a "happy accident", but part of a tried and true formula. The producers of the show (including Simon Cowell) knew exactly what they were getting when they put her on the stage, and they played it up big time. Do you really think those reaction shots of Simon and of Piers Morgan (not to mention the two goofballs off stage) were a coincidence?

So yes - I am bothered by the naivety of people who do not see that this emotional groundswell of support around the world was entirely orchestrated. It probably worked better than producers ever could have dreamed, but they certainly knew what they were doing.

I am also bothered by the fact that as much as people are cheering for the ugly duckling, it only underscores the fact that you can't be too thin or too attractive in this world. The only change that Susan Boyle may add to the equation is that it will no doubt prompt some producer to create a reality TV talent show made up entirely of fat, ugly, short and smelly people to compete for your affections.

Here are a couple of other safe predictions. Susan Boyle will now be the odds-on favorite to win "Britain's Got Talent", because she now has the world in her corner, just as God - or, actually, the show's producers - intended. She will go on to become a giant Reality TV star in Britain - expect to see her on either "Big Brother" or "Strictly Come Dancing" (the U.K.'s version of "Dancing With the Stars") in the near future. She will be paid big money to be given makeovers and to go on a diet. And she will never be quite as captivating as she was the first time we saw her.

And here's another safe bet. When "America's Got Talent" comes back next summer, you can bet there will be plenty of new underdogs to root for who are every bit as ratty-looking as Susan Boyle.


stef4light said...

You are a synical party pooper. She's fabulous no matter what take you give it.

John Matthews said...

Stef4light - Just in case you ever come back here to see if I respond.

I never said Susan Boyle wasn't fabulous. I think she's great, and I wrote that in my blog entry.

All I'm saying is that anyone who sees her performance and believes it is just a happy accident that took the world by storm is being played by the show's producers.

And the word you used to describe me is spelled with a "c".

CheapBugger said...

Kinda reminds you about the Ally McBeal episode where the goofy looking guy (Josh Groban) sings a heart-felt love song and stops everyone in their tracks. I'm in agreement that it "appear' to be staged... I say this with all due respect to Ms Boyle's obvious talent.

Candis said...

I know I have played this woman singing over and over. I would really hope they would not change anything about her as she would not perform from the same soul then. Just leave her look as she does and be who she is. these are the best people in the world.

Aquidneck said...

The synonym for cynical is "misanthrope", which "suggests a deep-seated hatred of people in general". If you watched the longer clip, which included the before and after of her stunning performance, you might have seen a real human being with talent that's been hidden. However well, or poorly, her appearance was "engineered" is irrelevant. When you've "walked a mile in her moccasins", you might have a valid right to be cynical. In the meantime, the only talent you've displayed is that of the classical "misanthrope", which doesn't play well in any venue.

Joe said...

John Matthews is a very sad person, he is so jealous that this nobody has wealth and fame in a matter of hours, and nobody even cares about the book he is trying to sell. She was singing about John Matthews also, years of work and nobody cares about his opinions, because he is jealous of everyone for one reason or other. A true misanthrope. Keep checking the spelling John, commas, and syntax..that's what your world has evolved to. lol We love Susan, for her talent.

ariverwalker said...

Would you care to cite your proof? All I'm reading here is cynical conjecture. Personally, I don't care either way. The woman has a beautiful voice and now she will share it with the world.

John Matthews said...

If you all feel the need to turn any critical comment about the process of how a star is born (with no criticism of the star at all, mind you) into a personal attack on me, be my guest. I have been blogging for more than a year, and this, by far, is the biggest response I've had about anything I've ever written.

Simon Cowell is the creator/Executive Producer of "Britain's Got Talent", "America's Got Talent", and the British program that the the inspiration for "American Idol". He knows how to make stars and he knows how to wring a response out of an audience. To believe that he did not know what he was getting before Susan Boyle ever walked onto the stage is simply incredulous. These shows involve dress rehearsals and blocking for the TV cameras so they can set their angles for broadcast. These performers go through multiple auditions in front of multiple producers to even make it onto that stage.

If I have spoiled your fairy tale, and you want to believe those judges didn't know they were getting a ringer before she stepped on stage, then go ahead and rail on me. I can take your criticism.

I still think Susan Boyle did a great job, and her backstory is heartwarming - something my critics and I can agree on.

But as I said before - this was no "happy accident".

vtfrogger said...

I can almost guarantee that most of the people who've commented here have never auditioned or attended auditions of any shows like this. Well I have. For years I had friends threatening to drag me to American Idol auditions, for years I resisted... until they finally came to the city in which I reside.

Now being a fan of the show, just being there was exciting enough... but afterwards, I realize it's all a crock. When it's all said and done, these are TV shows. Granted, they're all cleverly disguised as "talent competitions" but the end result is a "cast" of characters that can either carry a tune or dance or play an instrument.

At my audition, I witnessed some of the most incredible vocalists I've ever had the pleasure of hearing... and they were told to keep moving, and not so much even given a "thanks for coming out." It was evident that a puppet master of sorts had filled his "black diva" or "ambiguously gay white male" quota by the time the talent arrived. However, the cute girl who, on any other day of the week, wouldn't normally have pink hair and look like a punk, got sent right through.

Respect Boyle's talent, but understand... she is a cleverly created character that was in the right place, at the right time.

Aquidneck said...

I still stand with my initial comment. The cynics among you have to be jealous that she succeeded where you didn't. Hoever well 'engineered' her presentation might have been, the woman has an incredible set of 'pipes' that you can only envy. The subsequent interviews with Susan have demonstrated a distinct uncomfortablility with being in the limelight. She is truly an individual whom, however she got there, deserves to be recognized for her latent talent.

The only valid audience for your cynical comments awaits you in your bathroom mirror you can spew your vitriol to the only listeners who care. Have fun with your narcissism, and give credit where credit is due - regardless of how Susan Boyle got there and was "packaged", the result was still heart warming...

John Matthews said...

Aquidneck - You accuse me of narcissism and of spewing venom and hatred towards a woman whose performance I have only praised... and praised repeatedly. You have called me a misanthrope, and accused me of having a general hatred of all people.

Yet - the only person who has taken personal swipes at someone's character in these posts is you... and anonymously, to boot.

Care to turn that mirror on yourself?

msc said...

What are you trying to prove? Oh - never mind - I've met your type before. You want to show that you're smarter than the rest of us - and above sharing in the fun we're all having watching Susan Boyle get discovered by the world. Got back into your little lonely world, you cynic - and don't come out until you learn to lighten up! You bore us!

Aquidneck said...

Ah, the joy of the internet, where one can post valid critical comments anonymously.

To be completely accurate, what I was attacking was the last four paragraphs of your post, and in particular, the last sentence describing Susan as "ratty".

Those four paragraphs, in my view, constitute a jaundiced, cynical, and yes, a misanthropic view of the process. You see, that's what called "theater", and it succeeded quite well. The votes are around 20 million to two, by my count, in favor of some very good "theater".

Secondly, a narcissist has, by definition, an "obsessive interest in one's own importance, abiilities, etc." I never accused you of spewing hate, only venom, and your last four paragraphs are indeed venemous.

Thirdly, while we're correcting spelling errors, naivete is spelled with an accented e at the end, not a y.

Lastly, in my 65 years on this planet, I've learned a few things:

1. Don't get into a pissing match with a skunk (of which I'm obviously in danger to succumbing).

2. Anyone who blogs, again from my perspective, falls under the definition of narcissist.

3. In this day and age, anonymity is a good thing.

4. When I hold up the mirror, what I see is a 65 year old with an MS degree in EE/CS from Stanford, a successful VP of Engineering at a few firms, and a 15 year career as an independent consultant. I like and respect the guy I see in the mirror, who has had to hold up several mirrors in his lifetime to demonstrate undesired behavior on the part of his subordinates, superiors and clients.

With that, I'll sign off on this particular site. I have far better things to do with my remaining time on this planet than hold up mirrors to misguided misanthropes...

lischrcor1 said...

Hi all,
I'm sure there is truth that the show's presentation is altered or even rigged, but I think she's fabulous and I wish there was a way for US citizens to follow her progress on the show. I went to the "Britain's Got Talent" site to view the show and download the player and it was only available in the UK. If someone knows another way to view the show, please post the info.