UPDATE: Seriously, I just finish writing this post and this CNN story comes up on Twitter . . . case closed.
UPDATE #2: Welcome to everyone who got here from WordPress’ front page! I want to apologize in advance for the rather nasty tone some of this post took in the middle of my 2 a.m. rant last night . . . of everything I’ve posted on City Streets, I promise you this is not one of my favorite posts. Thanks for reading!
One strange thing about coming back from college to be with family is re-acquainting myself with the TV. Real-life people watch it all the time, apparently: the nightly news (haven’t these people heard of an RSS feed?), football, sitcoms, TV dramas and . . . talent shows. I’m amazed at how much of primetime TV is a talent show now. American Idol, of course. But also, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance–the list would go on, I’m sure, if I spend more time in front of the tube.
But sitting around with my mom, aunt, and grandmother a couple nights ago, we started watching something that finally started to bug me. It was this hour-long special celebrating Susan Boyle, this British lady who made it big on Britain’s Got Talent. The thing about Susan Boyle is, she’s not a great singer. I mean, she’s a good singer. But she’s nowhere near impressive.
No. The main thing about Susan Boyle is, she’s ugly.
It sounds mean, but I’m serious! The whole shock about her was that she was this old, ugly British lady who had a surprisingly good voice. That was the appeal. So she showed up on this Britain’s Got Talent show and everyone’s thinking . . . oh no . . . this is going to be terrible, when, to their surprise, what they get is a suprisingly good rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. And she makes it to the next round, and to the next round, and loses in the finals, but still ends up with a record deal AND this hour-long special recounting her story, with Colin Firth (I think) and Simon Cowell talking about how incredible she was and how she finally made her dreams came true and how you can too if you only try and try and manage to hit the right audition for the right television show, your dreams will come true too, or if you can’t do that, at least if you sit at home and watch our television show you’ll get to rejoice vicariously in this woman’s “accomplishment”, and sit back and think about how you, too, are just as special as Susan Boyle, because we’re all special aren’t we, deep down, we’re all good people just waiting for our big break . . .
Or something like that. I can’t remember exactly.
Seriously though, this stuff makes me a little sick. Susan Boyle didn’t “accomplish” anything except managing to capture the hearts of a bunch of people who have nothing better to do than watch TV, be used and manipulated by a television industry trying to save a buck (these types of shows are much, much cheaper than weekly dramas, but tend to get high ratings regardless), and ride that wave of popularity for all it was worth. The whole process is literally produced from beginning to end by TV producers, writers, and businessmen, and in one month, no one will care about Susan Boyle because we’ll all be crazy about that poor black dude from South Central LA who escaped gang violence beacuse of his talent for swing dancing as recognized by NBC Studios, or whatever amazing story these talent shows have in store for us next.
My suspicion is that all of this has been engineered by some genius who understands that the more ‘ordinary’, ‘everyday’ people who become special for an hour on TV, the more special and extraordinary all of the other ordinary people will feel themselves to be.
‘Cause you know, I’m not too bad of a singer myself, and I’ll bet if I went on one of those shows, I could show Susan Boyle what’s up.
In the past, what we had was a celebrity culture that worshipped actors, singers, or whatever because they are hopelessly beautiful and, perhaps, decently talented. You’d have a cult of people who might follow a certain celebrity for a long time—Britney Spears, say, or Mel Gibson or something. Who knows. But with Susan Boyle and all of these other zero-to-hero stories popping up, what you might be seeing is a cult of people who follow a succession of ‘heroes’ who, really, come from among themselves. So you go from singer to dancer to actress to whatever, in a very rapid succession so that you can hardly remember who the celebrity you adored a month ago was.
I, of course, have a theory about this.
Maybe we’re all secretly kind of hoping that we’re next, that inside of us, too, is someone worthy of celebrity status, for whatever reason. With the earlier celebrity cult, my impression is that what you ended up with was a kind of self-loathing among the masses, because really, what woman can live up to the standard set by goddesses like Jennifer Aniston or, you know, whoever, as far as looks goes? And what man can hope to be as, well, ‘manly’ as Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp or whoever?
But with this new kind of celebrity cult, what you end up with is a kind of undeserved self-love. We project ourselves onto these Susan Boyles: if she deserves it, then dammit, so do I! I, too, am special! And I won’t have to work for it, either. It will stumble upon me, or I will stumble upon it, and my dreams will come true, all because of the generosity of primetime television.
Whew! This constitutes a rant if I ever read one.
Now, here, perhaps, is the relevant point. When we listen to and watch these stories and celebrate them in our popular culture, what kind of heroes do we exalt? What kind of dream do we say is worthy of coming true? And what kind of dream do we say is worth having?
And what does that say about us, as a people?
How about a society that celebrates its people of virtue, rather than rewarding its seekers of fame?