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Boyle vs. bias

I have been interested in Susan Boyle since I first heard about her some time ago. I’m not ready to go ga-ga (or whatever the hip expression for “hopelessly absorbed” is these days… ) over her, but I do think she has some extraordinary talent. So when this article was forwarded to us, I read it through and – mostly – agreed with the author (though I don’t know who wrote it…).

What if Susan Boyle Couldn’t Sing?

Like millions of viewers, I was thrilled and moved when 47-year- old Susan Boyle wowed the judges and audience on Britain’s Got Talent with her superb singing. As everyone knows by now, the unmarried, “never been kissed” woman from a small village in Scotland was greeted by both the audience and the talent show’s judges with derision when she first took the stage. Looking matronly in her somewhat frumpy dress and unkempt hair, her appearance initially elicited smug, condescending and even smirks, smiles and chuckles. What could this “un-cool,” plain-spoken woman have to offer? Wasn’t she out of place with all those young, pretty, talented  and “hot” people?

Then Susan opened her mouth and sang. And her voice was so powerful, so achingly beautiful, so full of yearning, that even the usually heartless Simon Cowell was blown away. As were the other judges, and the audience, all of whom gave Susan a standing ovation. And now, online and elsewhere, Susan’s voice, and the story of her triumph on that stage, are known throughout the world. There’s even news of a record contract, and the odds-makers who track these things believe she’s the current favorite to win the competition. More tellingly, everyone is talking and blogging about her “inner beauty,” and how Susan reminds us that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, etc.

I’m happy for her. She appears to be a solid, decent person for whom, God knows, some good luck is long overdue. But I can’t help wondering, what would have been the reaction if Susan Boyle couldn’t sing? What would the judges and the audience have thought, and said, had her voice been a creaky rasp, or an out-of-tune shriek?  Would she still possess that “inner beauty?” Would we still acknowledge that the derisive treatment she received before performing was callous, insensitive, mean and cruel? The unspoken message of this whole episode is that, since Susan Boyle has a wonderful talent, we were wrong to judge her based on her looks and demeanor.

Meaning what? That if she couldn’t sing so well, we were correct to judge her on that basis? That demeaning someone whose looks don’t match our impossible, media-reinforced standards of beauty is perfectly okay, unless some mitigating circumstance makes us re-think our opinion? While I love the way she turned the tables on the judges and the audience, it still says so much about us when we would have crushed this woman with little thought if she had not stunned us with her talent.

Personally, I’m gratified that her voice inspires so many, and reminds us of our tendency to judge and criticize based on shallow externals of beauty. What I mean is, I’m glad for her. But I have no doubt that, had she performed poorly, Simon Cowell would be rolling his eyes still. And the audience would have hooted and booed with the relish of Roman spectators at the Colosseum. And Susan Boyle’s appearance on the show would still be on YouTube, but as an object of derision and ridicule.

Here I do agree. We’re often much too quick to judge people by their outward appearances. Big surprise there! This tendency of humans has been documented for thousands of years. No big shocker. And honestly, it isn’t just Americans. I know it may sound like I’m futilely suggesting that “We’re not so bad!” but…we aren’t. While it’s true that we may have bigger egos and quicker judgmental skills than people of other countries, both are inherent parts of human nature. But that isn’t the point I was going to make here! So much for succinctness…. O_o

So let’s not be too quick to congratulate ourselves for taking her so fully to our hearts. We should’ve done that anyway, as we should all those we encounter who fall outside the standards of youth and beauty as promulgated by fashion magazines, gossip sites, and hit TV shows. We should’ve done that anyway, before Susan Boyle sang a single note.

Anyhow, I disagree with the author of this post in a rather roundabout way. For one thing, if we could ever get it into our heads that each person has their own unique struggle, gift, and favorite thing to do in life, we would think a lot differently of a lot of people we don’t like  – and even of some we do.  Not just Susan Boyle. Not just on national TV, but in our churches, our workplaces, our schools and even our own houses. But perhaps I do agree with the author. They’re correct in saying that we shouldn’t have decided we loved her and that she possessed an “inner beauty” simply because she skillfully turned the tables on our entrenched, impossible biases. Goodness knows that much is true. But I would seek a greater application than just Susan Boyle, with participants other than Simon Cowell and a media-soaked, hyper-perfectionistic, impossible-to-please crowd in some Hollywood (or, in this case, London) audience. I’d like to see everyone practice this!  ::sigh:: This is so impossible… But I’m an optimist, I guess…

Just my two cents. Susan Boyle has a great voice and I think she could sing for an opera. I say this because I think that unfortunately for us in our media-addicted state, we wouldn’t fully appreciate her quality of voice since she doesn’t look like a million dollars. It cuts down her marketability, despite our protests that we no longer see color of skin or ::orientation::. We still see graying hair, age, and wrinkled skin, let there be no doubt about that. I think the next wave of “liberation” is for the older crowd. O_o

And now, having done more than enough political damage to my image, I digress. 🙂

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