By now almost everyone has heard of Susan Boyle, a homely Scotswoman cum singer. Her vocal renditions have made for sensationalized television and banal internet fodder. Whether you find her singing exceptional or abysmal is neither here nor there (though it’s a good indicator of your ear and quality of taste). What concerns me is the public’s reaction to her performance.
If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. But here is a short play-by-play: Unattractive, single, cat woman, who is seemingly self-unaware, decrees her amazing musical prowess, much to the dismissive comedic enjoyment of everyone around her. She sings a song, and people think she’s great. Suddenly, some giant proverbial-societal mirror is held up to all us ‘good looking and self-aware’ people and we realize how we’re the ugly ones in the end.
What a sweet story – so sweet that I get ten emails a day from parish members (including my own mother and sister!) who shock me with their seeming surprise of Miss Boyle. Firstly, I find it silly that I am the one they choose to email. As if to say that I too should be surprised by what an ugly woman is capable of.
Secondly, almost every email is accompanied with the note: “I don’t watch such a shallow, bromidic show as American Idol, or Britain’s Got Talent, BUT YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS UNBELIEVEABLY UGLY WOMAN SING BEAUTIFULLY!” The blind stupidity (and irony!) with which such an email is forwarded literally astounds me (as it does with most email forwards). I even had to sit through a poorly delivered sermon yesterday wherein society’s initial dismissing of Miss Boyle and subsequent acceptance was childishly compared to how outcasts were treated before and after Christ healed and accepted them before the crowds. Sweet Jesus, I thought I could escape the Susan Boyle ridiculousness at church!
Perhaps the beauty in Miss Boyle’s performance lay not in her relatively raw ability, but in her passion to make music from her heart and soul: something we see little of today’s consumerist driven music industry. However, I fear that the real sympathy toward Miss Boyle is the underlying and vastly accepted notion that we should feel sorry for her because at the end of the day, she’s still a physically unattractive woman. To which I offer this proof: If a beautiful woman sang the way Miss Boyle had, she would have been laughed off the stage. Don’t believe me?- check your own conscience.
In the art music world I was trained to respect people for their art, not for their appearance. The beauty of one’s music can far surpass the physical limitations with which one may be wrought. How one appears and how one makes music are, more often than not, completely incongruous with one another. We ought not to feel sorry Miss Boyle, nor should we validate her because of society’s own insecurities. Neither one truly gives any respect for her as a person, or a musician.