Susan Boyle

July 11, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Society, Web

At a gathering of a group of seven friends in April, folks in their 40s to 60s, someone mentioned the Susan Boyle video.  Everyone had seen it after being directed to it by other friends.  On that particular day, over 35 million people had viewed the most popular version of the video.

I was deeply moved by the piece as had been the other people in the discussion.  There seemed numerous layers to the production.  We began parsing out some of those layers as have millions since Susan Boyle appeared that night.

There was a lifting of veils on several levels, usually characterized by a reversal of expectations.

Most obviously there was the ugly duckling story.  Expectations were flipped completely as an expectation of the mundane was replaced by an experience of the exceptional.

There was the participation in a sadistic ritual of expecting to observe the destruction of someone’s dear dream to instead becoming aware that we had been participating in a sadistic ritual.  The power of Boyle’s art ripped away the very context that had created the opportunity for her performance to occur.

A deep congruence emerged in her performance that is perhaps so rare as to be almost unfathomable.  The song she chose was a presentation of the moment she was in, lyrics perfectly pacing the context of the execution of her talent.  I’ve never seen American Idol or the other variations of this show.  For me, it was a new experience to view and hear someone so vulnerable with a particular dream singing about being vulnerable with that dream.  She seemed to be singing about the very moment she was in.

We were not just observing a talented performance; we were observing an artfully produced video portraying a community engaged in unanimous consent.  The video piece I saw was highly produced with cutaway views of judges and other participants offering several variations of astonishment, from exuberance to epiphany.  The audience erupted in approbation before Boyle had finished a single line.  Contributing to Boyle’s talent was the skill of the producers of the short piece along with the universal adoration expressed by those present at the event.  For example, after Boyle’s performance the background music guided us on what to feel.

As an online video, it allowed us to listen/watch multiple times.  The piece was short, allowing easy entrance from our daily routine.  It was easy to share with folks we know, creating millions of bridges among friends in the middle of the day.

The Susan Boyle video was an obvious next step in the transformation of modern culture as we have now moved from one-to-many television media creations of shared societal experiences to many-to-many online sharings.  Starting with the Kennedy assassination, last occurring with the Obama inauguration speech, media has been encouraging mass experience, nurturing large shared contexts that attract us.  We are now crossing a line where what is created in a media/art hybrid is distributed not by corporations but through the actions of individuals.  Individuals have created video that has acquired followings of millions.  The Boyle piece is a harbinger of things to come.  It will not be long before a video garners a billion viewers.  That video will not be made by a corporation.

In a very real way, American Idol and other shows allowing voting by the viewer from their home are shows making significant contributions to the empowerment of the population.  People are becoming used to feeling good as part of a community that is having an effect.  What we influence as part of a corporate media entertainment vehicle is insignificant.  What we are learning about what feels good as part of a larger group is compelling.  Combine the spontaneous sharing of what makes us feel good with an expectation that we can have a positive influence and you achieve something that looks very much like Susan Boyle looked before she stepped out on that stage.

Susan Boyle manifested the optimism, exuberance, creativity and confidence of the very young, a stage in our development usually quashed by life and circumstance.  The rituals of American Idol and its variations are built around a sadism born of deep disappointment.  We experience sadistic satisfaction while observing the loss of innocence, the violation of trust that we all experienced when we transitioned out of the Susan Boyle space.  It is a sadistic satisfaction with roots in rage and grief.  We carry this loss throughout our lives.  Sometimes it manifests as compassion.  Sometimes as sadism.  Observing Susan Boyle before her performance, we had a direct window into the soul of the child that expects success because he or she feels the success within her.

It is a feeling we are beginning to experience across society.  It is an experience we are learning to share.

The experience of younger children living life within a world that embraces and respects them is becoming a social and political reality of adults when vehicles like the Internet and social networking allow an exponential increase in our idea of community while permitting a sharing of our experiences online.  The Susan Boyle video offered a lifting of veils on several levels, not the least of which is an opportunity to view our child self as healed, revered adult performer along with an inkling of what our future society holds.


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