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.


Middle-aged Diva said...

I love this, Gary. Right on.

Ross Eldridge said...

Hi Gary,

I'm not sure that Susan Boyle has now vanished, she's getting more attention with hourly live telly updates from outside the hospital that she's recovering in than there are reports on our hapless Prime Minister with his failing government.

Why has Susan Boyle become "distasteful" in some ways here? Someone on the telly took on this uncomfortable subject. The thought was that the British, perhaps the majority of the younger folks who have waistlines still, are embarrassed because they think the world, looking at Susan Boyle on U-Tube, thinks all British people are like that (frumy, spinsterish and odd in their behavior) ... nobody thinks all we Brits sing with the voices of angels, of course.

If the world sees an American in a wheelchair, or a German without arms and legs, they are not thought to be from countries where everyone is "like that". However, there are a great many people who think the British as a race are pretty darn strange ... most of us just like Susan Boyle. Without the voice, of course.


Ruth D~ said...

One "profound truth" I see is that if we are not careful to fight it, the media shapes what is normal, and acceptable for us. That people actually laughed when Susan came out is beyond my imagination, and unspeakably thoughtless, and cruel. If any of my students acted that way . . . Let me rephrase . . . when on occasion my students acted that way, bam! Not allowed.

As my daughter points out, the second place winners--and that's a huge win--get more freedom of choice of what to do next in the furthering of a career. The first place winner become a commodity owned by the Idol crew.