Responding to Susan Boyle: What Were We Thinking?

20 04 2009

See Talent and the Mob in Chronicle of Higher Education Review’s “Brainstorm:Lives of the Mind” art blog:

I’m offended by the way talent shows offer spiritual redemption through show business. No one stands up to show off how they’ve taught themselves orthopedic surgery or math or carpentry.

. . .The whole audience for this performance — and if you think about it, for all theater — is in the same category as a mob, only it’s a polite version.

. . .For the health of society, it’s a good thing wannabe talents show off inside auditoriums, where audience responses are limited to clapping and booing. Otherwise, there’d be a lot of burning and hanging. . .

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12 responses

20 04 2009
JJ

Favorite Daughter sings on stage and thinks like an intellectual artist too, but I’ve never heard her characterize an audience this way.

OTOH she doesn’t enter talent contests and she has always believed that performance art like education and ethics and love, isn’t about what the crowd cheers but the music inside.

20 04 2009
terry@breathing grace

My first thought upon seeing the video was “how wonderful that this hidden talent was discovered.” Then as the story was covered ad nauseum, complete with tales of Ms. Boyle never even having been kissed, my thoughts turned to what a superficial culture we are. Not that I dodn’t know that of course, but this just magnified it.

That a spunky, talented, spirited woman such as this was being paraded about as an “undesireable” who made good says lots about who we are and what we value, doesn’t it?

I know this wasn’t the point of the link, but just my 2 cents. ANd i agree with the author of the piece you linked also. Performers get to showcase their talent, or lack thereof on national television. For most of these people, even the most talented of the lot, it’s just a fancy way of taking a shortcut to the top. We’re addcited to shortcuts, aren’t we?

Want to be a famous singer? Go on American Idol and skip singing in the smoky nightclubs and auditions.

Want to lose weight? Gastric bypass surgery! Or get on “the Biggest Loser” and enjoy the benefits of a chef and trainer for 3 months at no cost to you. If you get on the show, you get to lose weight and be famous in one fell swoop. Forget the hard work of trying to figure out who to live a moderate life and teaching your kids to do the same.

Want to know if a kid is literate? Shove a standardized test in his/her face. Never mind if she’s 18 and can’t read and comprehend a Jane Austen novel. But I digress…

20 04 2009
NanceConfer

Nice digression, Terry. 🙂

Nance

20 04 2009
JJ

“For the health of society, it’s a good thing wannabe talents show off inside auditoriums, where audience responses are limited to clapping and booing. Otherwise, there’d be a lot of burning and hanging. . .”

With Favorite Daughter soon off to Paris, I couldn’t help thinking about mimes! Lucky to be alive I guess. 😉

20 04 2009
COD

If they want to burn all the mimes I volunteer to light the fire 🙂

20 04 2009
JJ

Perhaps with elaborate pantomime, you would SEEM to light a fire — and then seem to shed a tear of regret. . .

21 04 2009
Nance Confer

Mimists! I am appalled! 🙂

Nance

21 04 2009
Kristina

Perhaps with elaborate pantomime, you would SEEM to light a fire — and then seem to shed a tear of regret. . .

Hilarious! I was just going to say that we DO have street musicians. They’re prevalent in big cities.

21 04 2009
JJ

Oh, oh! Kristina reminds me of an experiment a couple of years ago where world-famous violinist Joshua Bell posed as a street musician in NYC or no, Washington DC I think, with his multi-million dollar Stradivarius, to see if people could recognize his talent in that setting, during rush hour, let me see if I can find the story and some video . . .

The experiment, he said, made him realize that people have become desensitized to classical music and that the musical experience is “a participatory thing” in which performer and listener must be involved.

Joshua Bell: Hailed by peers, ignored on street

It was all videotaped by a hidden camera. You can play the recording once or 15 times, and it never gets any easier to watch. Try speeding it up, and it becomes one of those herky-jerky World War I-era silent newsreels. The people scurry by in comical little hops and starts, cups of coffee in their hands, cellphones at their ears, ID tags slapping at their bellies, a grim danse macabre to indifference, inertia and the dingy, gray rush of modernity.

Even at this accelerated pace, though, the fiddler’s movements remain fluid and graceful; he seems so apart from his audience — unseen, unheard, otherworldly — that you find yourself thinking that he’s not really there. A ghost.

Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.

IF A GREAT MUSICIAN PLAYS GREAT MUSIC BUT NO ONE HEARS . . . WAS HE REALLY ANY GOOD?

Pearls Before Breakfast

Video here.

Notice at the end one woman does recognize him (by his appearance, not necessarily his music?) because she had already seen and heard him, at the Library of Congress.

22 04 2009
JJ

Another connection — on the Diane Rehm Show today, her guests were all reviewing a French-original novel titled, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” about a Parisian concierge who they agree is Susan Boyle-ish.

11:00Readers’ Review:
“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery

One French critic called “The Elegance of the Hedgehog “the ultimate celebration of every person’s invisible part.” Diane invites listeners to join in a discussion of this international best-seller by French novelist and professor of philosophy, Muriel Barbery.

Guests
Leslie Maitland, former New York Times reporter whose memoir will be published next year.

Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize winning book columnist for the Washington Post and author of “Readings,” “An Open Book,” “Bound to Please,” and “Book by Book.”

Sarah Pickup-Diligenti, Educational Director of the Alliance Francaise of Washington, D.C.

Someone quoted the story that made such great homeschooler discussion for us, about individuals struggling to make peace with the institutional: “the fox know many things, and the hedgehog knows one great thing.”

So I’m off to the bookshop — again! — to see for myself.

**********
“The Hedgehog, The Fox, and the Magister’s Pox” is about reconciling science with the humanities, or how to understand them as an integrated whole, and “The Ant and the Peacock” is about reconciling this seeming paradox in nature: are individuals or collectives favored?

The “ant” could be home education in this discussion — insignificantly small, renouncing tooth and claw — but also could be schooling because it lives in the “public-spirited ways of the commune.” Or is home education the flamboyant peacock?

(Hint . . . the question is deeper than choosing between individual and institution. The only right answer seems to be that homeschoolers and all humans are both and neither, and that the real trick is being able to see and appreciate the full spectrum of individual and collective characteristics in all its complexity.)

Is home education the single-minded and prickly hedgehog or the lithe, inventive fox? (”The fox devises many strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy” – translation from Latin version by Erasmus)

The Hedgehog/Fox author says that our human tendency to make every question a simple dichotomy between two opposite choices is probably just baggage from caveman decisions like fight-flight, sleep-wake, mate-wait. I suggest that tendency itself should be evidence against institutionalized education – look what “school” does to knowledge and wisdom by breaking it up into little disconnected learning “standards” with forced choice right-wrong answers and discrete disciplines. (But that’s another thread?)

Neither book performs its scholarly consilience [unity of knowledge] by taking sides, both books raise whole new lines of inquiry rather than prescribing answers, and both books are about beauty, goodness and intelligence, three things which one reviewer said “especially puzzled Charles Darwin.”

23 04 2009
writestuff444

I just bought the book…because I heard the same show. My education is in the hands of NPR. Without my NPR..I would be a stupid boob! I certainly cannot compete in a talent show. None of these thoughts string together well, but I know there’s a connection to the thread…I know it! You need to blog these thoughts from the Hedge Hog..too much for a comment. I thought of Susan Boyles as they were talking about the book

24 04 2009
JJ

Betty, you might like this too, from the Christian Science Monitor (I do):

Is Boyle like Obama?

Patricia Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University in New York, likened Boyle’s story to the election of Barack Obama in an op-ed piece for Britain’s Observer newspaper headlined: “I know those sneers. I’ve heard them too.”

“Boyle’s ability to up-end conventional preconceptions is akin to what the ‘black is beautiful’ movement of the 1970s tried to accomplish: a debunking of surface-based biases in favour of deeper commitments to fairness, intelligence, courage, humility, patience, re-examined aesthetics and the willingness to listen,” wrote Professor Williams.

“Dismissing her – or anyone – based on careless expectations about what age or lack of employment supposedly signify is the habit of mind common to all forms of prejudice.”

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