April 16th, 2009

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#8 – Dick Bernard: Susan Boyle, and “Cynical”, “Tiger” and “I dreamed a dream”….

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Susan Boyle, Britains Got Talent, April 11, 09. A great gift… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY.

To be as clear as I can be: Susan Boyle’s performance on Britains Got Talent on April 11 was stunning and real. She was so good, but the lead-up made her sound so unlikely to be as outstanding as she was, that I struggled a bit. But it didn’t take long to accept that what I was hearing was true: Susan Boyle was very, very real real.

Here is how the feelings evolved for me, and how I see them as applying to all of us in our very cynical and untrusting society.

ABC Evening News with Charlie Gibson on Tuesday afternoon, April 14, was my first contact with Susan Boyle. The last item was the piece on her appearance on the popular British show. From the first note, hers was a stunning and moving performance by a common country girl, her skeptical audience “turned on a dime” and was cheering unceasingly. I’m “country” to the core, and I felt huge pride in her performance.

I sought out the clip and found it on YouTube. At the time I seem to recall there had been something over 2 million views (as I write this, it’s over 12 million). I had noticed, even on the ABC clip, a slight difference between Susan’s mouth movement and the music, but I noticed the same difference in the other speakers, so I simply interpreted it as a synchronization problem, which I know is common in early edits of video. Still, the performance was so wonderful as to be hard to believe.

Overnight Monday night came an e-mail from a friend urging me to look at the video, from a different source than the one I had found.

Within a few hours everything mitigated toward the reality of Susan, her background, her outstanding voice, her dream. I sent the link on in the morning. At that time there had been 5 million views. Later, on Wednesday, I found Susan to be on the cover of my MSN page on the internet.

I received a few e-mail comments, which follow this piece. I had no doubts.

I’m still awestruck. Some observations:

1) Susan Boyle is, in my view, a shero of the first order. She did what very few of us would ever consider doing. She knew that she was good, but she also knew that she would be subject to the withering and “cynical” view of the panel and audience on the program. She went out there anyway, and represented all of us “commoners” in a most remarkable and real way. I share the feelings of one of those who commented (below): I hope that in the process of marketing her talent, her handlers will not try to remake her from what she is, a Scottish village lady who loves to sing.

2) Susan also represents to me our society’s tendency to dismiss reality in favor of fantasy. The expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind. But we are always looking for the cover, first: the resume, the reputation…. Ironically, had Susan come out on stage with a fancy “cover”, sophisticated-looking, made-up and all, in the latest fashions, then we would have seen an image, and, even if she sang exactly the same, the judges and the audience would have probably looked for flaws in her vocal performance.

3) My guess is that most of us are prone to fantasy. It’s how we’ve been “made-up” by our life experience, especially in the age of television and beyond. We’re taught “slick”. Or, even more, we’re taught to stay in our place, our “class”.

4) Susan Boyle and Britains Got Talent, and ABC and MSN and all the rest, demonstrate another truth: both the sophisticated media and we unwashed masses need each other, and provide benefits to each other. There needs to be some kind of a “truce”. Without the opportunity presented by Britains Got Talent, Susan would never have had the opportunity to be seen by what is already tens of millions of people. Without big media – ABC and MSN and many others – I never would have seen her performance. She would have been hidden in her Scottish village.

5) It is the Susan’s of the world who make life worth living. Her success is something we can and should celebrate. In our own ways, we can all be Susan in our own places!

Congratulations to a true diva cut from common cloth!
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Some early comments received:
Apr 15 09 12:11 a.m. “Check out the above site to hear the American idol lady from England…a real treat and inspiration to late bloomers everywhere.”
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Apr 15 8:14 a.m. “Wow. When did this happen? I just hope they don’t remake her. I like her as she is. Half the happiness is the surprise.
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Apr 15 6:04 a.m. “ I’m not the ultimate cynic, I loved this video, but I frankly wonder if it isn’t lip-synched. In the first two lines, I saw disparity between the timing of sound and lips. And a couple other times going through.
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Apr 16 7:37 a.m. “The Susan Boyle thing is quite a phenomenon. (I will admit that when I
first viewed it and I didn’t watch the whole thing, when I saw the guy off stage say something like “you didn’t expect that did you?”…. my internet skepticism was raised and I started surmising it was some type of scam with lip synching involved…. goes to show you how easily one can become skeptical in the modern world)….

This came just at the right moment…I watched “Tootsie” last night (25th anniversary edition) and there was a special feature afterwards on the making of the film in which Dustin Hoffman talks about how he felt to learn what it was like to be an unattractive woman in a society that doesn’t tolerate it. He cried while talking about it (maybe he was acting) but it was very moving to see; he said he had never realized how callous men are to homely women and how many doors shut in their faces without giving them a chance. He said for some reason the world forgives ugly men, but not women.

This singer must have never tried wholeheartedly, knowing that. Good for her, giving it one last go.”

We’ll see if anything comes out on this. I hope not, but if it does…
I’ve thought of another possibility, i.e. it may well be Boyle’s voice. But she would have sung this song many times to the same taped accompaniment, and they could have used a singing of it which was not the one in front of the crowd. I don’t know.”

My first take on this is that it is symptomatic of the recession, instead of high flying rich and famous types being idolized, people are seeing the quintessential “everywoman” who is something special. Is this hyper populism? On a psycho-social note the other thing is the interesting expose of human disposition toward expectations based on visual inspection. Can a middle aged, overweight, non hip person possibly be talented? Very interesting comment on human nature in my opinion.”

Update – May 24, 2009

The performance which led to this post on April 16, 2009, has now been viewed by 60,000,000.  Last night Susan Boyle won the highest number of votes in the next round.

Update June 1, 2009

Susan came in second in the final round, May 30, 2009.  As of this date, her video has been seen 65,000,000 times, the fifth largest viewership ever on YouTube.