Did Simon Cowell Set Us Up?

I’m referring to the tube-viral performance of Susan Boyle this week on Britain’s Got Talent.

You can see it here on Chickadee’s diary: http://agonist.org/chickadee/20090415/introducing_susan_boyle#new

As that tape began, I wondered why Simon Cowell and the other judges were rolling their eyes and giving each other questioning looks before Susan Boyle even began singing. They don’t do impolite smirking with other contestants, even the fat, homely ones. Yes, indeed, Susan Boyle was older, frumpy, ungainly – a typical British housewife from a Monty Python set, even if she made it clear she was a spinster (and a virgin at that, which was such an odd thing to admit on national television that I began to wonder if she wasn’t deliberately presenting this image of innocence and purity).

Besides, you don’t just show up off the street to appear on a prominent national broadcast without someone involved with the program hearing you sing, if only on a demo tape or CD. The judges could have easily looked at the tape, or at least been given the word from the producers: “Here’s a potential Paul Potts. Play up your doubts at the start, and then once you hear her show your amazement and delight.”

The judges volunteer to be the mean, condescending bad guys against Everywoman who has a previously unknown, wonderful talent. It’s an age old story line that goes back at least to Hans Christian Andersen and his ugly duckling. It’s the type of story most people respond to instinctively, and it works especially well in this case because we have all been trained to hate Simon Cowell for his acerbic and usually gratuitous insults. He probably doesn’t mind being saddled with this public persona, because he has become quite wealthy as producer of these talent contests.

Susan Boyle has already been on ABC News and is appearing soon on Larry King Live. I am nearly certain that she is not entirely as naive as the show’s publicist makes her appear (each contestant is assigned a publicist, by the way). There is definitely something feisty about her – she came on the stage promising to knock people’s socks off and show those judges a thing or two – so she has no problem playing along with the ugly duckling story line.

Besides, she does have a lovely voice, a bit too much vibrato for my liking, but she is 47 or 48, depending on who is doing the talking. It wouldn’t take too much coaching to get her ready for her debut in a West End musical. She is already likely to be offered a recording contract whether she wins the contest or not (Simon says he’s not ready to vote for her as the winner because there are other surprising contestants yet to appear – but as producer what else would he say; he wants us to keep watching).

For her recent television appearances following her sensational rise to global stardom, she has begun to pluck her eyebrows, so the ugly duckling is beginning to prepare for her transformation to a swan. I really hope she makes it big whether it’s as a duckling or a swan, because there seems to be a shortage of good West End/Broadway musical stars. I could just do without the whole pretense that the judges didn’t see this one coming.

I have to remind myself that this is business, after all. I once watched Indonesian Idol while on a trip to Asia, and then on the next stop in Kuala Lumpur came across Malaysian Idol. This global Idol franchise isn’t just business – it’s very big business. It thrives on story lines and fairy tales come true, and it has no compunction creating a fairy tale if it brings in the ratings.

That’s why I suspect we’re all unwitting but eagerly complicit participants in the Susan Boyle fairy tale. The Larry King’s and Jay Leno’s of the television world will be anxious to snap up interviews with such a clear ratings booster. Susan Boyle, in the meantime, will work with the best professional make-up and design artists to change her appearance – to use make-up, facial treatments, and hair styling to achieve the optimal look of a beautiful but slightly frumpy matron.

I will give Simon Cowell this much – in the end, he says, it’s all about the singing. I’ll be happy to put on her inevitable CD, close my eyes to all the fantasy that has swirled about her, and listen to an expressive and pleasing voice. She’ll be in my collection right next to Paul Potts and the debut album of Jennifer Hudson. I can be cynical about being sold an ugly duckling story, but like everybody else, I can’t resist the occasional graceful swan that happens to float on to the public scene.

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Numerian is a devoted author and poster on The Agonist, specializing in business, finance, the global economy, and politics. In real life he goes by the non-nom de plume of Garrett Glass and hides out in Oak Park, IL, where he spends time writing novels on early Christianity (and an occasional tract on God and religion). You can follow his writing career on his website, jehoshuathebook.com.

40 CommentsLeave a comment

  • the judges hyped the appearance and are still doing so, she’s a talented lady that deserves a recording studio making records of her voice and giving her parts in musicals.

    Listen to her recording of Cry Me a River which demonstrates aspects of her voice that appeals to those who prefer listening to more popular songs.

    America is becoming so accustomed to phonies, charlatans, and thieves, that it’s hard for them to fathom there are people from large families, living in small villages, that stayed home looked after their mother, sang regularly in the church choir, and didn’t have the opportunity to become famous until late in their lives. Hope they do dress her in a more flattering dress, get her to the hairdresser, and do something with her double chin. She strikes me as an unsophisticated Scot easily duped.

    Susan Boyle is a Cinderella story without being physically beautiful and having no appeal to the Prince. If anything, she’s the frog that no one wants to kiss even if they knew they’d be transformed into a Prince!

    Just enjoy listening to her and forget about the unethical, scumbag, ‘professionals’ in the background. Guaranteed that there will be those that will take advantage of her. E.g. Look what managers did with Elvis Presley’s talents…one of the greatest singers in the world–turned him into a cash cow, then milked him ’til he was dry. Elvis never was the sharpest knife in the drawer–came from a simple background and also sang in choirs. Fame, money, and managers killed him, not the drugs.

  • It wasn’t singer Susan Boyle who was ugly on Britain’s Got Talent so much as our reaction to her, by Tanya Gold, Guardian

    Is Susan Boyle ugly? Or are we? On Saturday night she stood on the stage in Britain’s Got Talent; small and rather chubby, with a squashed face, unruly teeth and unkempt hair. She wore a gold lace dress, which made her look like a piece of pork sitting on a doily. Interviewed by Ant and Dec beforehand, she told them that she is unemployed, single, lives with a cat called Pebbles and has never been kissed. Susan then walked out to chatter, giggling, and a long and unpleasant wolf whistle.

    Why are we so shocked when “ugly” women can do things, rather than sitting at home weeping and wishing they were somebody else? Men are allowed to be ugly and talented. Alan Sugar looks like a burst bag of flour. Gordon Ramsay has a dried-up riverbed for a face. Justin Lee Collins looks like Cousin It from The Addams Family. Graham Norton is a baboon in mascara. I could go on. But a woman has to have the bright, empty beauty of a toy – or get off the screen. We don’t want to look at you. Except on the news, where you can weep because some awful personal tragedy has befallen you.

    Simon Cowell, now buffed to the sheen of an ornamental pebble, asked this strange creature, this alien, how old she was. “I’m nearly 47,” she said. Simon rolled his eyes until they threatened to roll out of his head, down the aisle and out into street. “But that’s only one side of me,” Susan added, and wiggled her hips. The camera cut to the other male judge, Piers Morgan, who winced. Didn’t Susan know she was not supposed to be sexual? The audience’s reaction was equally disgusting. They giggled with embarrassment, and when Susan said she wanted to be a professional singer, the camera spun to a young girl, who seemed to be at least half mascara.

    And this observation in one of the comments.

    Absolutely right on, Tanya. Just what I’ve been hoping to read.

    Susan Boyle is in that very special category, older women (but how much older ? Piers Morgan is in his mid-forties and not exactly svelte, though he does have very pretty clothes and teeth…) about whom it is still fine to be condescending and dismissive. Can you imagine them saying, “Oh, since you were so Asian/Black/Jewish/etc, we were sure you would sound like hell and be amusing – but how shocked we are that you, a woman of a ridculous and inappropriate age, have talent ! ”

    Did they praise her voice ? Not enough ! Mostly they congratulated themselves for being moved by it. Sheesh.


    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • what a curse it must be to get old and wrinkled. Men too are judged by looks–how many ugly men get to date the really, pretty girls?

    I’m not such a hypocrit that I believe I don’t make those kinds of judgements myself. Pretty people all over the world get advantages, the crippled, too fat, hawked-nosed, dwarfs and others with defects don’t get. Sports personalities and movie stars are paid out of proportion to scientists and teachers. Guess it takes a person like Susan to remind us how shallow we’ve become.

    Reality check: life never is about fairness–it’s doing the best with whatever was given.

    May Susan have a long career from this appearance and live, happily ever after. (Yet another fairy tale!–she too will just do the best she can with the time she has remaining.) The world, unlike what the marketers sell, isn’t anything close to being Disneyland!

    IMHO, Tanya Gold’s, Guardian article, in places, is mean-spirited.

  • Men too are judged by looks–how many ugly men get to date the really, pretty girls? They pay for pretty escorts.

    But have you noticed how in nature kind looks for kind? Look around you and you’ll notice that couples are equally attractive or unattractive in varying degrees.

    While I agree that, in some parts, Tanya Gold’s pen is not kind to men, I also believe that society, in particular the media, is not kind to unattractive women, especialy older women.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • Hypothesis: To indicate ability to have healthy children.

    Would that explains our “prejudices” Toward women?

    What is the essential trait for men? Would it be able to provide food & shelter for women and childern (have means of some form)?

    Would answers to these begin to explain the differing standards between men & women?

    Assertion: We, as a species, are driven by selection of traits.

    Either one believes in natural selection and evolution, or one does not.

    If one believes in natural selection the question is not “why do we do these things?”, or “are our standards misplaced?”, but What is the advantage to a set of genes’ survival and preocreation from this behaviour? .

  • for one, Susan did not sing the standard version of “I dreamed a dream” — it left out a verse. But the music never missed a beat.

    I got the feeling that Simon was acting in some respect, just watching on You Tube. He makes some odd faces, and then looks to his left directly into the camera…. as if to say, ‘am I being filmed now?’

    But I certainly will buy a CD by Susan Boyle,if I like the songs. I loved her voice.

  • It appears that even very smart people do have warped ideas.

    This is another addition of myths, religions, and ‘scientific’ data specifically created to support the views of the dominator class.

    By your logic only ‘beautiful’ women qualify to have kids. If you take a look around you, you will realize that the best place for your theory is the dustbin.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • ….yeah, the conspiracy-nut in me thinks Simon knew something the other two judges didn’t.

    At the very least, he was the least effusive in his praise (but then again, that’s his schtick, no?), but he also seemed the least gob-smacked by the sheer surprise of Susan’s voice.

    I think Susan’s got a contract headed her way, that could keep Pebbles in high-end tuna till the end of her days (should help out the presently-unemployed Susan, too…..)

    I sang in school, and knew voices came in all sorts of wrappers, but Susan Boyle was something extraordinary: one who kept her ‘voice of youth’ when many more women her age lost it screaming at the kids…

    cover me with feathers and call me Foghorn Leghorn…..yeeeeeowwwsssaaa

    “God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.” — Robin Williams

  • Has there been such an sensation. Kurt Nilsen won World Idol in 2004 in a huge upset – but not before being compared to a hobbit by the judges. He’s gone on to produce several albums, (most of which I own, he’s got an amazing voice) but he’s still short, slightly overweight, and not so very beautiful. Just like me.. 🙂

  • preconceived notions about progress doesn’t mean that Synoia doesn’t have a point. There actually happens to be a great deal of real scientific evidence to support what Synoia says.

    The catch here is that your position of a ‘dominator class’ and that of people selecting for traits, be they men or women, are not mutually exclusive. We are humans, governed both by instinct–no matter how much you detest it–and reason. Try and keep that in mind.

    The purpose of science, in my opinion, is to hep us better understand ourselves, so that we as a species, a species which I hasten to add has very real biological and evolutionary imperatives, can better ourselves. Just because you don’t like what science tells you doesn’t mean it isn’t factual.

    If you could put aside your outrage for a moment and look at the issue dispassionately it might add some very important perspective to the arguments you passionately, but sometimes with very little evidence, make.

    Fuck it man, I’d wade through a river of shit ten times to see this place. ~ On Istanbul, April 2009

  • Yeah, the vibrato put me off, but I have an animus to singing anyway. The Cry Me A River thing is from 10 years ago and it is really good. A younger voice. Opera singers peak around 40, so she’s late to the game.

    There are hundreds of similarly talented and accomplished people for every one who gets their 15 minutes of fame.

    “Turning Japanese I think I’m Turning Japanese I really think so da-da-da det det det det” – The Vapors

  • Attractive people are clearly the product of a strong and resourceful family, and have no major physical vulnerabilities. The person has had no developmental problems or famine or diseases.

    Physical symmetry may be the most common trait of the beautiful. Height is another signal of health; childhood diseases stunt growth. Before 1900 childhood diseases were more common and hit harder. I really think this is why industrial countries have had a continuous increase in average height. And also growth hormones in meat.

    Now, women picking men is really fascinating. They line up around the block for artists, writers, and especially musicians. These qualities all require complete brain development. Also, women tend to like men who can talk, yet women are innately more verbal. This creates a non-environmental drive for increasing verbal ability.

    There is some great science on women and scent. As to dominators, women find dominant male androgens sexy. If a guy wants to get laid he should find a bunch of schlubs he can boss around. And, even more fun, I give you The Sweaty T-Shirt Experiment.

    Did I win the Darwin Award yet?

    “Turning Japanese I think I’m Turning Japanese I really think so da-da-da det det det det” – The Vapors

  • But neither you nor Synoia provide references for this great deal of real scientific evidence

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • …that the effect of culture is such that humans are essentially immune to natural selection. Given the quite firm scientific grounding on which natural selection rests [barring the politically driven views of wingnuts] this is quite a claim – seems to me the burden of proof is on you. If this is not the claim, by all means clarify.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • Given the quite firm scientific grounding on which natural selection rests … References, please.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • …biology or zoology will do it. Insisting on references for natural selection is akin to insisting on references for gravity in a discussion of physics.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • to choosing a mate, but it’s mixed. Emotions, based on experience, mingle, as well as life experiences combining to play a strong role in what attracts individual people. Nature/Nuture is constantly challenged.

    The long-term future of mankind isn’t limited to biology. Perhaps in simpler life forms it is, but not so as one moves up the chain of more complex creatures. No, I don’t have a link to support my opinions, but well-documented in just about every field, especially the more modern ones, such Psychology, Sociology, branches of Medicine, Anthropology, etc. (the bordering scientific fields.)

    Individual differences can be seen in the comments section of the Guardian article. Several people voiced the opinion that Susan was physically attractive.

  • the theory of natural selection are you saying that Darwin is beyond criticism?

    Though Darwin considered sexual and natural selection to be two separate processes of equal importance, most of his contemporaries were not convinced, and sexual selection is usually de-emphasized as being a lesser force than, or simply a part of, natural selection.

    The sciences of evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology, and sociobiology study the influence of sexual selection in humans, though these are often controversial fields. The field of epigenetics is broadly concerned with the competence of adult organisms within a given sexual, social, and ecological niche, which includes the development of mating competences, e.g., by mimicking adult behavior.


    Cultural critics have noted that Darwin’s ideas about sexual selection were strongly shaped by Victorian mores and at times reflect a distinct chauvinistic bias. Source

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • There is a clear link between the pressure on women to appear a certain way and the pressure on women to act a certain way. The qualities that are considered beautiful in women act as symbols for desirable female behaviour. Cultural ideals of beauty are about prescribing behaviour, not appearance.

    ….. Buying into beauty ideals has serious consequences. It ensures that women’s value is determined by their appearance rather than on what women do, how they think, or even how they treat other people. Women of colour are automatically devalued, since cultural ideals of beauty exclude them from the start. Beauty ideals reward women who look good, say little and pose no challenge to male power and domination.

    Striving for unattainable beauty ensures that women lack self confidence and a belief in their own value. There is something important at stake here. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, how can you fight for gender equality and a better world? How can you believe that your political arguments or beliefs have value, when your value lies in how you appear?

    The problem is not that women are neurotic, irrational and shallowly focused on their appearance. We live in a deeply sexist culture in which women are disempowered in their personal, work and political relationships. Images of beauty are a cultural expression of that disempowerment, and play a role in its continuation by prescribing gender roles that devalue women.

    The ideology of beauty is one extremely powerful tool in the arsenal of gender oppression.


    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • …in your statement you appear to be denying that beauty traits have any potential selective role. That seems to me to be an odd concept given how central they are to the whole mating “dance” and the very wide range of other traits selection operates on [i.e., it seems to me that the reflexive assumption should be that a trait is active in selection unless proven otherwise].

    As I’ve said, if that’s what you’re claiming it seems to me a claim that needs some backing beyond simply saying that the other guy hasn’t cited references – and if that’s not what you’re saying, then please clarify.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • My position is that yes, physical attractiveness is one of the criteria used for mate selection. But it is a criterion for both genders, not just for men as Synoia suggests. I have rejected men that did not equal my level of physical attractiveness and so have my daughters and girlfriends. It happens all the time. Yet women have never been allowed to express this behavior the same way that men have. We have the same instinct. Although I believe a better description would be that we select a mate on the basis of the trait of equal physical attributes. It doesn’t require a scientific study to prove this is so. As I stated in a previous comment, just look around you and the evidence is there – in front of your eyes. Let me repeat, men and women that form a couple are equally attractive or equally unattractive in varying degrees. The only time one sees an attractive woman with an unattractive man is if there is money involved as in prostitution, bride buying, or women looking for sugar daddies – fame and fortune can buy beauty and youth. But those are unnatural conditions.

    However, with the centuries long suppression of female sexuality and desires, it is easy to believe that women were put on this earth to serve as eye candy for men – one only needs to look at the media, movies, advertisements, etc. If there is not an equal amount of eye candy for women, it is also easy to claim that men are more interested in physical beauty of the opposite sex than women are. However, that is nothing but a self fulfilling prophecy.

    What I object to most is the public ridicule that unattractive and older women have to endure. Not too long ago, The Onion, showed a video about older unattractive women titled “Pathetic women using online dating”. What made it even more disturbing was that the introduction to this video was given by an unattractive older male. Imagine a video titled: “Pathetic men using online dating” with an introduction by an unattractive older female? How would men feel? Since men do not tolerate this kind of ridicule for themselves, I find the insensitivity of some men towards women’s feelings incomprehensible. If women can learn to see past the lack of physical beauty of men, men can learn to see past the lack of physical beauty of women while at the same time, we can continue to appreciate the physical beauty of those men and women fortunate to possess this trait. Ideally, in equal numbers.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • snookered. The young welsh lad starts a song, then gets stopped and asked to sing another, on cue the music track is already available and the show goes on with another crowd screaming and cheering another hopeful….

    meanwhile I found some thoughts to ponder here:
    Mary Schmich in the chicagotribune.

  • who would disagree with the main points of what you just wrote. As a matter of fact, much of what you say is pretty much what I was saying.

    Might I hazard a suggestion? Rather, let me tell you about my personal experience. When I first started blogging back in 2002 I got very defensive at times when people called me out on posts or comments or grand ideas. I learned that when my reaction to a criticism was especially uncomfortable or visceral, that what the teller was trying to tell me was something I really needed to know. And most of the time they were usually right. After all, I told myself, many, many times, this is exactly why I blog. I don’t blog exclusively because ‘my message’ is more important than that of others–although at times I do feel that way. I blog because it is in the exchange of ideas, ideas even I find repulsive, that I learn. First and foremost I am here to learn.

    But that’s just me.

    Fuck it man, I’d wade through a river of shit ten times to see this place. ~ On Istanbul, April 2009

  • Even Susan Boyle’s sound track was edited in advance of her singing to remove a verse.

    We really don’t know much about Susan Boyle’s personal life, other than what she has told us in brief snippets, which means it is highly edited as well.

    Since the sound track was edited we can only make some judgments about her voice. We particularly do not know if she can project her voice on a stage without a microphone. We have no idea how she performs in other musical styles. And since her comments about herself are brief, we can only make projections about her based on stereotypes of other ungainly people we have met who are unemployed and live alone with a pet.

    About the only thing certain here is that the show is keeping its ratings up so that advertising dollars can flood in. That seems to be the sine qua non for Simon Cowell.

    These talent shows are certainly not new to radio or television. A long time ago there was the Major Bowes program in the US, and then Arthur Godfrey had a long-running talent program on television. A very young Barbra Streisand got her first taste of fame on that show. But back then the talent had to produce with a live orchestra and a microphone – no editing, no viewer voting, no publicists, no nasty judges sitting in condemnatory judgment. The only thing the producer had to worry about was something offensive to the public or sponsor slipping through, as there were no ratings to fret about. It was a lot more innocent, a lot less filtered, and a lot more real than what we witness today.

  • It appears we are learning from each other. That’s good 🙂

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • we live in an artificial and contrived world. There’s nothing natural about it.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • Is flawed BS, S-P… Just because something gets published it does not mean it’s a good study. Often, it means that your buddy is on the editorial board and whatnot. Evolutionary psychology is a fad without much substance. It will go away.

  • That said, I will admit it’s common enough that when I see deviations from it, it’s a datapoint I tend to weigh and probe – as in “they got something going on there – let’s take a look and see what other drivers are there”. I find the folks in those relationships are commonly kinda interesting people.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • the few instances I know of where the woman is significantly less attractive than the man, has usually turned out to be the woman is the bread winner, and the man is bi-sexual.
    or the man is seriously damaged goods emotionally, in the sense of Lou Costello’s “If an ugly girl leaves you, who cares?”

    and these are my normal friends? 🙂

  • …uh, “wholesome”. At least I think so…

    Jeez, I was thinking about the lively intellectual life they live and now I’m like “must not form mental image”. LMAO

    Clearly I don’t get out enough.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • We really don’t know much about Susan Boyle’s personal life, other than what she has told us in brief snippets, which means it is highly edited as well.

    I think you have got a clue but you have got it the wrong way. The neighbors will tell everything on the personal life of Susan Boyle, thus the story is true. The catch is that there have been thousands of candidates for the show and the jury has chosen the most interesting mix. They do not need to teach a script, they just choose those who fit scripts.

    These talent shows are certainly not new to radio or television

    Eurovision Song Contest -> American Idols -> Britain’s got talent

    –Sell Texas to China!

  • Commentators find deeper meaning in British singer’s YouTube popularity.

    Ben Quinn | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
    from the April 21, 2009 edition

    London – It was to her elderly mother, sometime before she passed away, that Susan Boyle pledged she would “do something” with her life.

    Two years on from that loss, she honored that promise with a now almost legendary appearance on a British television talent show.

    A video clip of the Scot winning over skeptical judges and a cynical crowd with a rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” from the musical “Les Misérables” has been viewed more than 40 million times, making it one of the most popular YouTube videos ever posted.

    The youngest of nine, Ms. Boyle is an unlikely global star. Or is she?

    She’s a middle-aged woman from a village called Blackburn in Scotland’s West Lothian region, where she lives alone with her cat, Pebbles. Her unruly hair and spinster image have long attracted taunts from local children, an echo of the bullying she endured as a girl. Several times a week, she serves as a volunteer at Our Lady of Lourdes church, visiting elderly members of the congregation.

    The mass media – especially in the United States – are now hugging Boyle close ahead of a second performance (May 23) on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent.”

    Capturing the doubts – and hopes – of millions

    But her sudden rise to popularity is prompting many commentators, even those not usually noted for their interest in light entertainment, to find a deeper meaning in her performance.

    “Boyle let me feel … the meaning of human grace…. She reordered the measure of beauty. And I had no idea until the tears sprang how desperately I need that corrective,” said Entertainment Weekly writer Lisa Schwarzbaum.

    Robert Canfield, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., quotes Ms. Schwarzbaum in his blog where he typically comments on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

    [Editor’s Note: A quote by Lisa Schwarzbaum was incorrectly attributed to Robert Canfield.]

    Dr. Canfield says, in response to emailed questions, that Boyle captured “the hopes of a multitude.”

    Her performance resonates with millions, he says, because “most of us in our heart of hearts have severe doubts about ourselves.

    “So when a Susan Boyle appears on stage before a clearly condescending audience in a society that can read class status in every move, the hairdo, the dress, she appears as a loser. And we feel for her. We see how precarious her position is, how vulnerable she is, and we feel for her,” he writes in his email.

    “We can see in her an objectification of what we fear about ourselves. So when she comes forth with that voice, that music – as if we have discovered Judy Garland at the age of 47 – we are thrilled. She’s going to make it, we think. She’s going to win (!). And we unconsciously invest ourselves in her achievement.”


  • Virginia Heffernan @ NYT ponders the “anodyne tautologies of dreaming dreams”, and the impact of a few minutes of video on the world. I find echoes of Numerians’ musings in her article.

    For those who care, Susan has continued on with the live tour, and no doubt will be releasing an album in time for Christmas. Simon says what Simon says.

    I agree with Virginia, we may have been manipulated by the production of the video, but something more archetypal has touched those who appreciate the rare moments of someone rising beyond the mundane even if there is a land of dreams where people love to win and where tigers live to profit off the dreams of dreamers

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