Stef (firecat) wrote,

Susan Boyle

I was happy the first 500 or so times I saw people writing about Susan Boyle's performance on Britain's Got Talent, but subsequently I've felt kind of annoyed about it.

First off, a disclaimer: If Susan Boyle's performance moved you and you wrote about it, I am not talking about your particular comments, I'm not judging your reaction or your choice to write about it, and I'm not saying you are doing any of the things I talk about here. In fact I don't know if anyone is doing the things I talk about here. It's just where my head goes with this.

The aggregate of the reaction to SB, both people who wrote about her and the people in the audience on the YouTube video, makes me feel like the notion of a not-conventionally-attractive, working-class, middle-aged woman singing well is similar to Samuel Johnson's reaction to women preaching. (He said: "A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.")

The fact that a not-conventionally attractive, working-class, middle-aged woman can sing really well should not be the size of big deal it is becoming.

There are lots of ways to see ordinary people singing well: go to a karaoke club. Find your local music school, find out when vocal recitals are held, and go to them. Go to a Sweet Adelines concert. Check out Sacred Harp/shapenote singing. (If you have other ideas, post them in the comments.)

The one-pointed focus on Susan Boyle (fanclubs on FB, 5+million views on YouTube) turns her into a token. And when something or someone becomes a token, I feel like the underlying message is "This is really unusual and rare. And we can applaud it [or decry it, if it's something bad] and feel good about ourselves, and then forget about it and get back to the status quo" (which might be "our usual state of believing only young, conventionally attractive people can be worthy performers" or something else).

In general, even though I do it too sometimes, I really don't like the human urge to take one example of something common and overfocus on it. I know it makes people feel connected to each other. And maybe it makes some people feel like their dreams can come true. ("If people can get excited about this, then people could also get excited about what I do.") But I feel like it also ends up making all the other examples of whatever-it-is even less visible.

Other examples of overfocus that I don't like:
  • When there is an animal rescue on the news, a huge number of people usually decide they have to adopt that animal. Never mind that there are other animals in need of adoption.
  • When there is a disaster somewhere, people flock to give aid to folks suffering from that disaster. Never mind that there are other situations where people need help.
  • And the usual complaint about how, whenever there is an Olympics, the US news media focuses primarily on how the US athletes are doing. And usually one or two athletes end up being the stars.
I suppose that in a world where there's way too much information that any of us can take in, this sort of thing is inevitable.
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