Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This clip has been popping up all over the blogosphere.

Now there is a voice in my head saying "shut up, Aric!" and usually when that voice gets going I ignore it and then I regret ignoring it in short order. So I will issue a couple disclaimers before going on to ignore that voice...

The basic storyline most people are taking from this televised incident, that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover etc... etc... is a good one. If people are uplifted and challenged to be more compassionate, less judgmental people, then that is an unqualified good thing. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade.


To paraphrase the Princess Bride, "I don't think this clip means what you think it means." I mean, it's not particularly subtle is it? Is no one else out there cynical enough to suspect that this was staged? It's not even necessary to assume that it was a conspiracy that Ms. Boyle was in on, but merely to point out that this show (just like American Idol) is way over-produced. The cameras, judges, audience, etc... it is all coordinated and conducted like a symphony orchestra. How much do the judges have to ham it up, and how selective does the editing of crowd shots have to be before you begin to suspect that it wasn't quite the feel-good story you suppose?

There is a deeper problem as well, besides the slick marketing and presentation at work - which is that the show, far from subverting our stereotypes, actually reinforces them and plays upon them. I mean, why should we be surprised about her vocal skill at all? What is the elephant in the room here? What aren't people saying out loud about Ms. Boyle that would lead basically everyone to assume that she was going to humiliate herself? Could it be that she is stereotypically unattractive, even sort of Downs Syndrome-y looking, and dressed auspiciously frumpy?

Please understand - this is not at all a criticism of Ms. Boyle, but rather of the exploitative platform which intentionally used her to get ratings by knowingly playing on our crass aesthetic judgments and then expertly triggering our sympathies. It is a feel good story written at the expense of her humanity, because we have to first stereotype her before, predictably, having our stereotype upset.

I really do hope that she rides this to achieve what she desires and that she goes as far as she can with the vocal talent and discipline she can muster. Even more so I hope that she doesn't ever feel she has to sacrifice a part of herself in order to live up to the role that has been thrust upon her, of everyone's favorite talented ugly woman.


Steve said...

Good point. Still, I enjoyed the singing. Don't get to hear stuff like that very much anymore.

Fr Kenny said...

In Scotland, we're just so proud that a Scot should make such an impact world-wide for having such a beautiful voice. We have a laugh, too, that she's a typical Church of Scotland Woman's Guild sort of person, and we love poking fun at them!

She may be being manipulated, but I really think she'll be the winner at the end, which begs the question, "Who now is manipulating who?"

Walking by Walden said...

I agree. It certainly seems staged. More troubling to me is the way the show celebrates peoples' surprise over her opposing looks and talent and congratulates itself for learning a shallow lesson. I keep thinking, what if she hadn't performed well?

tim f said...

I watched this show when it first went out, with my family. (This is unusual, as we all live in different cities.)

My mother was saying "oh dear, this is going to be terrible, isn't it" because of the way the woman looked. My younger brother rejected this approach, but said it was bound to be bad because they were using the background music they always used on this show when something turned out to be laughably bad.

I don't think my mother's view was pure internalised sexism, though. I think it was also an unconscious recognition that these programmes only pick people who are BOTH attractive AND can sing unless they're making fun of them, so the fact this woman was on her tv set and not conventionally attractive meant she must have been there for comedy value.

tim f said...

However, I was pleased she got a chance to sing in front of such a big audience (and even bigger on telly), which she probably hadn't had before.

Aric Clark said...

Nothing wrong with enjoying her singing, of course. Nor with being proud to see a fellow Scot make a splash on the telly.

However, I'm Walking With Walden here, that the scene is disturbing in the way that it congratulates itself so much on it's shallow "Shrek" lesson that it isn't what we see on the outside that counts.

Jodie said...

Aric Aric,

That's show business!

Everybody in show business has to put out whatever they got in exchange for getting "paid".

Show business IS exploitation.

What I look at is the fact that down deep inside, well, not so down deep, we give people the fame they ask for because a part of us either fantasizes we can be them, or identifies with them. "That could be me - really, it could be".

Yes we enjoyed her singing, but more than that, we can relate to her.

And show business exploits that connection. For money.

Steve Schuler said...

Bless Ms. Boyle. Aric, I'm on board with your take on this clip. This video exemplifies, and your comments express, why I avoid shows of this nature.