Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why do we love Susan Boyle?

Susan Boyle is a an unemployed 47-year-old from obscurity, now with tens of millions of Youtube hits of her appearance on Britain's Got Talent.

In the off chance you haven't seen it, don't delay. Click the play symbol below and be transported.

Now, why has she become such an international phenom? Sure, she sings extremely well, But let's face it, not exceptionally well. Sarah Brightman need not look over her shoulder.

I think Sarah Boyle resonates because she has come into prominence at exactly the right time and context for her. In the past several months the masters of the universe have not only fallen from grace, they have fallen, period. In both Britain and in the US, the elites - financial, business and political - have proven to have feet of clay and have tumbled from their exalted heights. It doesn't matter, within this context, that we should have known all along that they were and are only human. They had both claimed from above and had been granted from below their pedestals.

When they fell, where did that leave you and me? What of the ordinary people, who live ordinary lives? The folk who just go to work every day, try to save for retirement while educating their kids, maybe get to Disney World every few years, and for many months have suffered a tightness of the gut, wondering whether they'll still have a job at the end of the month?

You know, the men and women whose equity assets got slashed and burned when the masters of the universe overreached and the economy tanked? Is there a comeback?

Susan Boyle says yes. Forty-seven, jobless, never married, living the kind of life that Henry David Thoreau would have said was one of "quiet desperation." By her age, the brass ring is not even in sight for most of us. Within our grasp? You must be kidding. We're just trying to get our kids through college, get another year or three out of the clunker and hope home prices recover before we're upside down down on our mortgages.

But take a shot at the top? At forty-seven? Sorry, we missed that elevator long ago.

Then walks Susan Boyle naked onto the international media stage. Not naked as in unclothed, of course, but naked in vulnerability, naked of armor, naked to scorn, naked to ridicule. Naked to derision, which she in fact got at first, though the traditionally reserved Brits choked it down for the most part. A target with no protection.

You, Susan Boyle, are an ordinary woman. What do you think you are doing here? You are one of the little people. If you were destined for stardom, it would have happened twenty-five years ago. But today? At 47? Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

There is no way to misunderstand that such is exactly what judges Piers Morgan, Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell (how well we of the colonies know Simon!) were thinking.

It cannot be overlooked here that Susan Boyle is, shall we say, physically unprepossessing. Her ordinary looks (ordinary? nay, actual homeliness) only reinforced the initial perception that she was a lightweight in the talent department, though not exactly light of weight, if you get my drift.

And then she sang.

And the ordinary Everywoman triumphed.

And everyone knew it within seconds.

They rose from their seats, clapping and shouting in surprise, joyous, celebratory surprise.

Because she was one of them, singing to them, singing for them. Singing about them.

Singing about their lives: her choice of songs can't be dismissed. Of course, she chose one that would best showcase the abilities of her voice as well as hide its limitations. But there are dozens of songs that could have done that, maybe hundreds.

Go read the lyrics to "I Dreamed a Dream." The beginning:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine untasted.
The ending:
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living,
So different now from what it seemed...
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed...
The song is a capsule of the Ordinaries' lives of the past fifteen years. It is not an inspiring song, but depressing. The words are of dreams broken and hopes shattered. So why did it lift us up and offer not only solace, but inspiration?

Because Susan Boyle in her person gives lie to the words she was singing. The masters of the universe have fallen, but we're still here. And we will triumph.

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