Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Profound Truth of the Susan Boyle Saga

Two comments about yesterday's post discussing the New York Times's essay, Desperately Seeking Susan, by Ricky Jay suggested that I hadn't revealed the "profound truth" missed by Jay.

I had written about that truth in an earlier post, which mulled over the general surprise when a frumpy woman arrived on stage only to be greeted by laughter and doubt. Once her angelic voice was heard there came calls for her to have a a make-over. Obviously her choice would be made based on how she has internalized reactions to her appearance over her lifetime.

At bottom, though, a "make-over" in this context means to re-style one's appearance in order to conform to society's idea of comeliness, or normalcy. In the context of disability, that's something that people with visibilities disabilities cannot do.

Two of Jay's other references -- Mathew Buchinger and Thomas Quasthoff -- were also people with visible disabilities, which meant the evolution of his argument into a rumination on "15 minutes of fame" left most readers with the idea that Boyle, Buchinger, and Quasthoff relevant only in the sense that their talents gained them notoriety.

I say instead that their notoriety is enhanced, their talents celebrated more elaborately, at least initially, because their appearances lowered expectations. Each was prejudged as less than.

Boyle, who reportedly has a learning disability because of a problem during birth, is closest to the norm, closest to being able to disappear in a crowd, but that she was greeted with snickers illustrates also that prejudice because of appearance doesn't always relate to disability.

Ask any significantly overweight person.

The profound truth Jay missed, to me, is that the wisest among us should sit quietly and wait for character, intelligence, and gifts to be revealed without prejudgment, without undue expectation, with understanding that we are all flawed creatures who might best serve one another with kindness, compassion, and empathy.
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