> Heavenly Voice

I received an email from Ed which wrote:

There is an old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” this video from YouTube is an example of that. Some of you may want to have a tissue handy. Please check out this, none of you will be disappointed. If you like send it to all your friends. As a side note there are several different clips of this video online at youtube and she has over 11 million hits in total from all the clips since Saturday.


Her name is Susan Boyle


I immediately viewed it and was brought almost into tears.

The video was great fun to watch, because Susan Boyle herself was very appealing, her voice was great, and because it’s always satisfying watching a high point in someone’s life.

But primarily, the video was fun because everyone likes watching the underdog kick ass.

But the weird thing is, why is she such an underdog? Partly it’s because she’s not TV-pretty [Boyle herself was apparently dismayed by how she looked on TV], and TV has taught us for years that only thin, pretty people have any talent. Partly it’s because she’s heavyset [at least by TV standards, which are harsher for women than men], and partly it’s because she’s nearly fifty.

Even more than that, however, I think people were shocked because of the class markers she carries — in her voice, her attitude, and her hair and clothes. Ms Boyle’s presentation fairly screams “working class,” and people don’t expect working class to do good work.

I’m not above judging people by their presentation. Presentation is one of the ways we assure each other that we know what we’re doing. If someone hasn’t learned how to present themselves professionally, we assume that they also haven’t learned how to do their work professionally. And sometimes that’s justified.

The trouble is, a “professional presentation” is bound up in a lot of things — voice, grooming, body shape, clothing — which are in turn connected to class, to race, to body shape, to gender presentation, to disability status, etc.. None of these are hurdles that it’s impossible for [say] a fat Black person auditioning, or applying for a job, to overcome, if they have sufficient talent and drive. But these are hurdles that well-off, abled, gender-normed, thin white men don’t face.

And for the judges and audience to be so utterly shocked that a woman whose presentation isn’t “professional” sings beautifully… it’s says something pretty sad.

But that Ms Boyle was such a hit — and that millions of people have viewed her on YouTube — maybe that says something optimistic. Maybe it says that there are a hell of a lot of us who are sick of the sick, slick standards TV promotes. That would be nice.

The male judges, rolling their eyes when she answered about her age, made me sick. When they got all choked up watching her, I was so disgusted, yelling at the screen, telling them they had no right to it. When she’d finished, I didn’t want to hear them dramatically give her the respect she deserved: I wanted to hear them berate themselves for being such orifices, and to stress that their attitude toward her was unacceptable whether *or not* she had any talent. Nothing less than that would come near redeeming them in my eyes. She shouldn’t have had to knock them out like that to deserve basic dignity. What a revolting culture we live in!


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