“It wasn’t singer Susan Boyle who was ugly on Britain’s Got Talent so much as our reaction to her”

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Tanya Gold in The Guardian:

… When Susan had finished singing, and Piers had finished gasping, he said this. It was a comment of incredible spite. “When you stood there with that cheeky grin and said, ‘I want to be like Elaine Paige’, everyone was laughing at you. No one is laughing now.” And it was over to Amanda Holden, a woman most notable for playing a psychotic hairdresser in the Manchester hair-extensions saga Cutting It. “I am so thrilled,” said Amanda, “because I know that everybody was against you.” “Everybody was against you,” she said, as if Susan might have been hanged for her presumption. Why? Can’t “ugly” people dream, you flat-packed, hair-ironed, over-plucked monstrous fool?

I know what you will say. You will say that Paul Potts, the fat opera singer with the equally squashed face who won Britain’s Got Talent in 2007, had just as hard a time at his first audition. I looked it up on YouTube. He did not. “I wasn’t expecting that,” said Simon to Paul. “Neither was I,” said Amanda. “You have an incredible voice,” said Piers. And that was it. No laughter, or invitations to paranoia, or mocking wolf-whistles, or smirking, or derision.

We see this all the time in popular culture. Do you ever stare at the TV and wonder where the next generation of Judi Denchs and Juliet Stevensons have gone? Have they fallen down a Rada wormhole? Yes. They’re not there, because they aren’t pretty enough to get airtime. This lust for homogeneity in female beauty means that when someone who doesn’t resemble a diagram in a plastic surgeon’s office steps up to the microphone, people fall about and treat us to despicable sub-John Gielgud gestures of amazement.

Susan will probably win Britain’s Got Talent. She will be the little munter that could sing, served up for the British public every Saturday night. Look! It’s “ugly”! It sings! And I know that we think that this will make us better people. But Susan Boyle will be the freakish exception that makes the rule. By raising this Susan up, we will forgive ourselves for grinding every other Susan into the dust. It will be a very partial and poisoned redemption. Because Britain’s Got Malice. Sing, Susan, sing – to an ugly crowd that doesn’t deserve you.

I wouldn’t have articulated it in quite the same way, but I think Gold is essentially correct. When Simon tells Susan Boyle she is a “little tiger” I really wanted to throw up. She rolls it off with a lot of equanimity and class. The only thing that makes watching the portions of the video clip in which the judges are speaking tolerable to me is the utter joy the entire experience seems to bring to Susan Boyle. Listen to the clip without watching it by burying it behind other windows, and see if it sounds different to you then when you watch it. (Incidentally, unlike Golden I did think the judges were condescending toward Paul Potts, particularly when Amanda Holden refers to him as “a little lump of coal” that’s “going to turn into a diamond.” But I agree that Susan Boyle got far worse.)

–Ann Bartow

ETA: See also.

ETA2: Link round-up of like minded sentiments here!

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