22 April, 2009

Susan Boyle / Martin Tanner

Feministing has an interesting, if ultimately bleak, analysis of Susan Boyle's recent triumph on Britain's Got Talent. The Boyle Situation suggests a trend from that show: the person-everyone-thinks-will-suck-based-largely/solely-on-how-they-look, who then blows the audience out of the water. (Remember Paul Potts?)

This is likely done for ratings--everyone loves an "underdog". But at a deeper level, it frames things in a way that accentuates the "ugly" so that it can be all the more moving then it is finally accepted by the "beautiful" on the basis of merit. (They really play it up in the edit room, showing shots of Boyle chomping on a doughnut before the show, complete with "fat kid" underscoring.) And the hosts are totally up front about it--Amanda Whatever calling Potts "a lump of coal" that can be transformed into a diamond. And it's okay for them to do this, the editing tells us, because, based on the reactions in the crowd it's just what everyone was thinking anyway.

I am not really qualified to get into this topic in any actual depth, but I wonder: to what degree is this a matter of the tension within an insider/outsider dichotomy? I dated someone once who used to boast that she'd "performed at Carnegie Hall." And while this was factually true, the performance took place in the context of Carnegie as a rental space, not as a presenting institution. I say this not to criticize, but rather to illuminate the dichotomy. For her, there really was no difference between Carnegie Hall and "Carnegie Hall," but for anyone who "knows better" there clearly is.

To bring it back to BGT: if you are an outsider like this, then--like Potts and Boyle--you might just not understand "how it works." (You might think Carnegie is "Carnegie".) You thereby might "do things wrong"--by insider standards--like wear the "wrong shoes" or "have bad hair" or whatever other socially prescribed nonsense. In some cases, this extends even to the point of having no clue as to what constitutes "good music," which we're fed regularly on American Idol. (Idle?)

Anyway, on some level the whole situation reminds me of this song by the late Harry Chapin, about a cleaner from the Midwest, who decides to make a go of it and try to have a professional singing career. As a young musician, I thought often about the distinction he makes between music-as-life and music-as-livelihood. Check it out:

1 comment:

Mafoo said...

Yeah, I've been kind of uncomfortable with the Susan Boyle clip too (even thought about posting a similar blog!). There's definitely something icky about the proceedings. The lady says something to Susan like, "We were all against you, and then you proved yourself!". Why would you be against her, because she's not hot? Creepy.
It's totally manufactured though. Even if the judges were unaware of her - which I doubt - the producers would not just let random lady X onstage without knowing she was a pretty decent singer. Hooray for media narratives!