Susan Boyle, Talent, Trust, and Emotions

I don’t know if this is an appropriate statement to make at the start but it’s been over a year that I lived without a TV in my flat. And I don’t watch TV on my computer. This isn’t a claim – it is a statement. If a paparazzi were to visit my flat, he or she would find lots of knitting yarn there – but no TV set.

So be that the tearful story of Jade Goody or the sensational story of Susan Boyle or something else, TV coverage passed me by. Or I passed it by, however you may like to see things. Yet, of course, there is YouTube, there are publications in the print and online media, there’s Twitter… but sometimes you only get a glimpse of things.

Speaking of Susan Boyle, I noted the frantic search for a proof that a 40-odd Scottish singer was kissed. First, it was a magazine story about her neighbour who habitually gave her a peck on the cheek. Next, I came into a YouTube video posted on Twitter: in it, Boyle was singing Mary Magdalene’s part from Jesus Christ Superstar in the presence of someone half-drunk or half-wit. This male entertainer crawled and rolled on stage, then at the end of the part he grabbed Boyle and mouthed her. I cannot call that a “kiss” – and if I were in Boyle’s shoes, I’d certainly not count that as a “kiss” either. But the public and media seemed to be paralysed by disbelief that the parable of “40 year old virgin” has so suddenly manifested itself off screen. And so to fight the paralysis they were twisting meanings of the words.

On the eve of the finale I was too busy with work, but I couldn’t help noticing stories that were looking at Boyle’s mental state. Some of them claimed that Boyle has suffered breakdown or similar because the judges predicted she wouldn’t have any longevity as a singer. So, when I started watching this CNN video of Larry King talking to Amanda Holden about Susan Boyle and surprise finale win, I thought: Amanda says they were all so supportive of Susan and other contestants, but it was her who said Boyle had no longevity!

I turned to search and in nanoseconds found out exactly what Amanda said:

Amanda Holden, the no-nonsense judge on Britain’s Got Talent, believes Susan Boyle’s 15 minutes of fame on the popular talent competition are almost up… it’s […] rather because audiences today tend to be fickle and in a hurry to find new things to get their attention. However, the judge underlines, with Susan Boyle, it shouldn’t be as much about winning the competition as it should about her making music. With a voice like hers, she should focus on launching her career with Cowell because it would be a shame if the world missed out on such extraordinary talent. Being a superstar is not really important, as it is to build a reputation for herself as a solid performer…

You find it out if you read the full text. But as we tend to scan texts these days, or even not go past the title, this is where many people would’ve stopped: Susan Boyle Doesn’t Have Longevity, Amanda Holden Believes. The same was uttered on Digital Spy.

This brought to mind My Trade by Andrew Marr, the passages where the seasoned journalist contemplated the problems in British journalism. The first class of problems was about trust: “our problem is less direct lying than slimy misinterpretation“. But there was the second class of problems: problems of tone, exaggeration, and general emotionalism.

If there is a medical doubt, we cry plague. […] If there are questions about a politician’s motives, personal behaviour or honesty, we tend to treat him as the moral equivalent of a serial killer and turn to the facts later. The tabloids pretend to quiver in shock about absolutely normal, if regrettable, human behaviour […] Neither the journalists writing the stories, nor presumably the regular readers reading them, are actually shocked […] We wring the facts to get the biggest emotional impact“.

It looks very similar to the case of Susan Boyle, doesn’t it? How she was kis… er, mouthed, how her makeover went wrong, how “this” and how “that”. The situation is all the more amazing as the likes of Trinny and Susannah are teaching the British public how to dress well both on TV and in magazines, but when an unknown Scottish woman who decided to try her luck as a performer attempts to vamp up her wardrobe – which makes every sense to me – her efforts are decried. Hello? Kissed or not, she is a woman and has every right to like herself and to dress nicely. What’s wrong with that?

Piers Morgan’s words on Softpedia were only read by a handful of people (less than a thousand), so here’s the direct quote from there:

“The Susan Boyle backlash has already started, and pretty unedifying it is too. She’s had a ‘terrible’ makeover, she’s ‘cracking up,’ she ‘lied’ about not being kissed and so on. It’s so typically British to do this, and so utterly pathetic.” Morgan writes on his personal blog. The worst part about this, he says, is that it’s making the public that fell in love with her at first sight forget about what really matters, namely her voice and her lovely way of being.

“Susan is a lovely, decent, church-going, modest and kind woman who is dealing with becoming the hottest star on the planet with remarkable patience and good humor. She is a fabulous advertisement for our country, and her success is a wonderful testament to the powers of persistence, positive thought, and living a dream, however unlikely the chances of realizing it.” Morgan further says. As for those who feel the need to criticize everything she does or doesn’t do, the judge on the talent competition has the best piece of advice: get a life – in more or less words“.

Marr has had a word on the subject, too:

You could say that this is simply journalism reflecting modern Britain, as it always does. We have become a more emotionally open, or soppy, country. We expect to be moved as much as informed. We make sense of our lives not through politics or class, but through tales of personal redemption, pitying ourselves and blaming anonymous others. […] The trouble is, it isn’t working. […] Journalism needs […] the unpredictability and oddness of real life. That means it needs real reporters. […] It goes for the general reporters too – the people who back to the source of hysterical-sounding quotes, and discover that she was misinterpreted, or didn’t quite mean it that way […]“.

The reason I mentioned Jade Goody above is because the media reaction to her life and death were once again the case of exaggerated, overly emotional story-telling. I would perhaps go as far as to say that we should start distinguishing between journalism and story-telling: the first gives us facts, the second – delusion. In case with Jade, story-telling was too huge even for a Guardian journalist to unmake it into a chain of facts that could show Britain its face. Or maybe Dorian Gray doesn’t want to look into the mirror just yet.

As for Susan Boyle, there is only one piece of advice I could give her: trust your heart and protect it, my dear. And if that means appearing “cynical” to some people, don’t worry: a lot of them are probably very cynical themselves.

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3 thoughts on “Susan Boyle, Talent, Trust, and Emotions”

  1. Hi Marie,

    Thanks a lot to you and to Abby for finding the article and spreading the word! I really hope that Susan manages to keep her cool amidst all the hype… wondering, though, if Piers has fulfilled his promise to ask her out for a dinner? 😉

    I am close to the media myself (apart from some Russian publications, I worked in the radio in UK), but, Russian or British or some other media, I cannot endorse its wringing facts and perverting things for whatever reason. I recently wrote about this, following the publication of David Carradine's photos in the Thai press:

    http://www.loscuadernosdejulia.com/2009/06/publishing-photos-of-dead-people.html

    Once again, thanks so much for all the comments over at Susan's forum. I very, very much appreciate the attention and opinions.

    Julia

    Like

  2. Good morning, Julia. I just noticed more activity on the fansite ~ people have rediscovered this blog entry of yours. Keep up the great work on behalf of true journalism.

    Like

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