April 20th, 2009

coffee LOLcat from icanhascheeseburger

The Susan Boyle phenomenon, me chiming in on

She's all over the Internet. She apparently has a MILLION FANS on Facebook.

But somehow it's become about US, the rhetorical us, and not about her..

People are focused on the appearance thing. On how the audience at her audition looked sceptical. How she "won them over with the first note". How people on the Internet, in the media, in live audiences, judge her by the "cover" and how apparently astonished everybody is that someone with that "cover" has a voice like that hidden underneath - as though she somehow deliberately set out to disguise her voice by that appearance.. I've seen at least one rather patronizing article on how shallow we all, all are... and how "ugly people", you know, have rights too.

Did I need that pointed out to me?

Did Susan Boyle somehow miss the point of her audition and turn up at a beauty pageant audition by mistake? Because too many commentators on her performance on Britain's Got Talent (as well as other assorted bits and pieces elsewhere - she's sung acapella now for NBC and for Larry King and both clips are naturally on the web...) seem to hinge on something like, "Wow, you'd never have thunk it to look at her". Truth is, the voice that sings her recorded performance of "Cry me a river" sounds like it belongs to a willowy raven-haired and slow-eyed beauty with long legs and a full mouth brought into prominence by glamorous 30s-filmstar scarlet lipstice, singing in a smoky speakeasy where cheap bourbon is being sold in the back and the patrons in the ill-lit bar are wearing fedoras and have half-smoked cigarettes hanging from their mouths illuminating manly cleft chins. Yes, all that - from voice.

The point is, that's MY VISION OF IT. Susan Boyle owns the voice - she does not owe me the vision. And honestly, the vivid, wisecracking dame on that audition stage, sassing Simon for all she's worth, is the real deal. I've seen the clips of her on NBC, on Larry King, and omigod somebody - possibly even Susan Boyle herself - have tried to "prettify" her. She has this odd hairstyle that looks like it was sprayed on with two cans of hair lacquer, curling out in unlikely directions; she's wearing chunky jewellery, and she has this owl-eyed stare that speaks to me of unaccustomed make-up. They tried to make her "pop" on television and - as far as I am concerned - they just made her into an uncomfortable painted doll, a caricature, because dear lord she has to be beautiful in order to sing on TV we can't have anything other than that...

The truth is, Susan Boyle is not "ugly" - but she has committed the cardinal sin of being "ordinary". And they don't do ordinary in front of cameras. It's too weird for the rest of us, it might give the rest of us ideas of our own, it might seem possible to, you know, have a TALENT and not the looks that appear to be required as an accessory to it. Yes, it affects even those of us a little bit more behind the scenes, too, because these days authors stand a much better chance of success if they're photogenic and if they can show a good set of white choppers to a TV camera. We're all being turned into anchorpeople for the late-night TV news, ferchrissakes. Ordinary isn't bad. Ordinary is what we all are. Even the most extraordinary of us don't look extraordinary all the time - you might find, here and there, an Iman whose natural perfection leaves the rest of us in the dust - but by and large the perfect people we see in pictures or on camera are that way because they have just spent a couple of hours GETTING that way. And to be painfully honest... it shouldn't matter just what kind of package that voice which came out of Susan Boyle actually arrives in. She might have sung from behind a screen, we might never have seen her, we might have never had the opportunity to go, oh, wow, listen to that voice, who'd have thunk it that it came out of that dumpy little Scotswoman whose eyebrows I've seen compared multiple times to a pair of caterpillars in internet articles about her.

She might never get cast as Fantine in a production of Les Miz on stage, where, let's face it, you have to be able to reasonably LOOK the part as well as sing it. And no amount of primping and transformation is going to MAKE her into a candidate to be cast as Fantine in such a production. It is neither lookism nor ageism to try and cast an actor in a role for which they are suited or not cast them in that role if they are not - and the way the musical is put together it calls for a still reasonably young and attractive woman to play Fantine to the tragic hilt (but Susan Boyle appears to have a talent for being perky and comic on stage - she's perfect for those old English pantomimes - if we go back to Les Miz, she'd make a fabulous Mme Thenardier on stage, actually...)

I'm not quite sure what brought this particular little rant on - but it was, perhaps, just one too many of the fawning "who'd have thunk it to look at her" articles that crossed my screen. I would like to seen Susan get honoured for what and who she is - for the life experience she has ammassed - for being so fiercely ordinary and one of us in a world of so much that is fake and false - for the gift of that amazing voice. But please, for the love of God, give the woman her dignity. On American TV she looked depressingly like the way ET looked when the young Drew Barrymore dressed him up in finery which ill-suited him.

Susan Boyle may SOUND like a dark-haired speakeasy siren - but no amount of physical faffing in this world will transform her into one for the benefit of the TV cameras. I hope she wins the competition. I hope she wins because she can sing like an angel. Not because they desperately trued to glue wax-and-feather wings on her to make her LOOK like one.

There. Film at 11. Now I really have other rather important chores to do.