Am I the only one in the world who is not bowled over to Kingdom Come by UTube sensation Susan Boyle singing “I had a Dream” from Les Mis? Feminist journalists are praising her for having had the courage to show her plain-Jane face, middle age, and figure, risking scorn from “ageists and looks-ists,” etc. There are triumphant, politically correct commentaries about this at both the Huffington Post and the New York Times. Yes, ’tis true, what she did took guts and her sturdy, sunny disposition was delightful and yet…
Enough! Boyle hit every note square-on—but that’s precisely what singers are supposed to do. This is not cause for amazement. Haven’t judges like Simon Cowell and the ecstatic audience members ever heard Maria Callas, Marilyn Horne, Montserrat Caballe, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi, Kiri Te Kanawa, Dolora Zajick, Renee Fleming, Natalie Dessay? God, I guess not. But, to be fair: These days, many opera house audience members also seem to be applauding the singers merely for being able to hit the notes, especially the high ones.
Boyle lacked the emotional nakedness, the aura of tragedy that this song evokes in other Les Mis performers. At best, Boyle is potentially another belt-it-out Ethel Merman, another imitative, derivative, look-alike, karaoke-era sensation.
But I quibble. Of course, a song on UTube can become an instant sensation among an attention-deficit disordered mass population because it is short and because the Rise of Boyle reprises the myths of Cinderella, the Ugly Duckling, and Horatio Alger all rolled into the unexpected rise of one cheery, gutsy, rather sweet Scottish woman.
In a time of economic catastrophe and free fall, any one of us could be Susan Boyle, we can, each of us, be lifted out of anonymity and wildly embraced by the world; yes, even if we are no longer young, not that “pretty,” and without any serious training.
No we can’t.
Yes we can: At least some of us can and this fact, (the amateurishness of our icons and stars), suggests a lowering of standards that is alarming, proof that our civilization is also rotting from within.
UPDATE: Friends, Readers, Countrywomen:
It is a slow and quiet Sunday in Manhattan, a slightly less glorious day than yesterday when the sun shone and the temperature gently soared. I have not sent this brief post around to any mailing list and yet, rather quickly, four comments, (now nine), have come in, all chastising me for being “mean-spirited” about the Sarah Boyle matter. Well, here’s the problem.
I am, or rather once was, a singer, I studied opera, sang with bands and I thus have musical standards. (No, I do not miss The Life, nor do I wish to perform in public; my singing is confined to the shower, my synagogue, among friends, sometimes, rarely, at a piano bar). The problem is not Boyle. She is simply one more symbol of how our many pop singers leave so much to be desired. Boyle’s “rise” has won the sympathy vote among women. Fair enough. Perhaps she has won the sympathy vote among all those who are “non-famous” and who view their lives as quietly desperate for that reason.
Despite the fun generated by popular culture my point here is serious: People do not like to be separated from their illusions and fantasies: That Any Woman Can, that everyone can be a star for a day–when this is patently untrue. The problem is also that many people’s standards are non-existent or very low (in this case, standards for musical accomplishment) and this problem is not that different from our many political problems.
Anyone who is handsome and charismatic can become President, the poor will inherit the earth, etc.
I just found an op-ed piece by Maureen Callahan in the New York Post (“Fairytale, Ending. Is No One Suspicious of Simon Cowell’s Latest Creation?”) which suggest that Cowell and Boyle might have cooked this all up as an attention-getter. Don’t know. But now I’m not the only one to part company with the crowd.