Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Otherness, and Fifteen Minutes of Fame


There's an interesting piece in today's New York Times -- Desperately Seeking Susan, by Ricky Jay -- discussing the Susan Boyle saga.

What is interesting is that Jay writes, "Because of their appearance, both Buchinger and Ms. Boyle were saddled with low expectations. This can work to the performer’s advantage: lessened anticipation coupled with high ability can bring on an exponential acceptance."

The Buchinger he refers to was Mathew Buchinger, who in 1726 performed in Scotland. He played musical instruments, danced, "and performed conjuring tricks ... "
"Buchinger was 52 years old, 29 inches tall — and, he had neither legs nor arms."

Jay then goes on to note "Thomas Quasthoff, the magnificent contemporary German singer whose physical appearance somewhat resembles Buchinger’s (he is a phocomelic thalidomide baby), also provoked low expectations."

But even though he goes on to note that, "It is not only physical appearance that colors our expectations, but also class, education and location ... " Jay weakens his observation by refusing to see the power of the lesson to be found in the issue of "otherness" -- that is, discrimination -- and instead limps to a conclusion built around the cliché of fifteen minutes of fame.
A performing cycle that once could have taken years is herein reduced to days. She’s unknown, we’re surprised. She’s embraced, we’re disenchanted. She’s the runner-up ... next?
Too bad Jay does not recognize that he wrote past, and thus buried, the profound truth to be found in the Boyle saga.
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