A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Crucifixion of Susan Boyle

There is something very disconcerting, nay, alarming about the British love/hate relationship with celebrity. It is found in the way they systematically raise individuals to the point of blind adoration and in the next breath, they gleefully begin the process of destroying them. Is "destroy" too harsh a word? Actually, no. I've seen it too many times while I have been here. In America, we cheer for the underdog and then applaud when they win and keep supporting their victory. If they happen to screw up, we are still there for them (unless of course, the object of our adoration turns out to be a sleazy politician or someone accused of a heinous crime. We don't like to be fooled.) Think about Britney. The American public was there when she stripped to dance semi-naked with a boa constrictor to lay her "All-American girl" persona to rest once and for all. They were with her when she ran off with a guy that was a train wreck waiting to happen. Everyone knew she was in for trouble, but she became even more of a celebrity topping the hit lists on "Google". They watched her get wheeled off to a hospital a few times and then supported her even when she shaved her head and was pounding vehicles with umbrellas. Now she is again playing to sold out houses, and not even singing (she is miming). And America is still cheering Britney. It is the myth of life: success, temptation, selling the soul to the devil, death of the soul and resurrection. Americans love a good mythological journey.

The American public is extremely loyal when they decide to support a celeb. (Have you ever seen the Barry Manilow followers?) Americans don't judge as harshly as the Brits do, mostly because we know how one day, that could be us...well, maybe not pounding cars with umbrellas, but we all have relatives who have gone off the rails at times. Americans aren't that quick to throw stones when they know they live in glass houses. We are, alas, a nation of optimists always wanting to believe the best in someone. Hence, the popularity of Oprah Winfrey. That's her philosophy. That's quintessentially American.

Not so for the Brits. "Famous? Think you are such a "big shot"?" they jeer. And the game is on to find the trashiest bits about you. They will talk to some old boyfriend you snogged in the back of a Ford Fairlane in 1980. Some guy that you can't even remember and someone you wanted to forget. For a bit of money, the papparazzi on Fleet Street can coax all sorts of tawdry information out of seeming strangers. It is a huge industry. It sells newspapers.

So it was for Susan Boyle who was skyrocketed out of seeming obscurity through "Britain's Got Talent, " which showcases the talented, not-so-talented and sometimes downright vulgar Brits who desperately want their three minutes of fame. No sooner had Susan Boyle been touted as the "Scottish spinster" who "took the world by storm" with zillions of YouTube downloads ( that even had Demi Moore's "Twitter" in a twist) that she was quickly trashed by the British public led by the attack dogs of the British papparazzi. She was dubbed "The Hairy Angel" simply because she didn't have her eyebrows done by Anastasia. Part of the only charm of the show had been to find talent where none was to be expected and certainly this spinster in her 1972 bridesmaid's dress and her sensible orthopedic shoes ticked all the right boxes. She couldn't have been a better draw for a show if she had been Judy Garland in an "Andy Hardy" movie. Simon Cowell (the producer of the show) must have been in heaven when he saw how the whole world was enchanted with this mega-talent that came out of nowhere. He could not have written a better script. It's what the show is about...or so they say.

We know the story. Susan was chased and goaded by the papparazzi and struck out by using a few expletives and soon she was imploding running and ranting in the halls backstage. All the negative attention was too much. She threatened to leave the show. Piers Morgan (who is not the most compassionate man on the block) in an uncharacteristic gesture defended her and convinced her to stay. She made it to the finals where she gave a riveting performance though she looked as if she had been slipped a few Valiums to keep her in line. The ebullient, cheeky woman of the auditions was gone. Her face was drawn. Eventually, she came in second to a street dancing group called "Diversity". They were equally as talented, yes, but it was like comparing apples and oranges. After her defeat, which she seemed to take graciously (even though she was criticized for dancing and showing a bit of leg) she was whisked off to the Priory which is a place for celebrities to "recover". She will have to get well soon, as Cowell and his gang are taking the circus on the road soon.

Allegations were made yesterday in the papers by past winners and losers of the different shows under the Cowell umbrella. They alleged that they were often coaxed by producers to "cry on cue" and to dig up the most horrendous story possible about their family. One contestant who had lost her father a year before was ordered to go to her father's grave to be filmed. When she said she could not do that, they screamed at her and ordered her to do so, "You want to win don't you?" was the sort of scare spin they used. It's all a big money game and the producers want to make sure that they have a show that will rival none other. And that's how they succeed. To be honest, one contestant said that he wasn't even sure that Simon Cowell knew the tactics that his underlings employed. I've heard in circles that Cowell is by nature, a generous and kind man. None of these ridiculous antics are necessary. Britain does have talent and has a lot of wonderful people who don't need to be exploited for an extra million pounds. In many ways, tactics like this are insulting to the British viewing public. Someone likened the show this season to watching the Christians being fed to the lions in ancient Rome.

No one knows what will happen to Susan and she didn't deserve the treatment that she received. It was downright cruel. This woman had led a very sheltered life and she was shot into fame in the space of a few weeks. Even veteran entertainers have difficulty adjusting to fame. Can you imagine this happening to a woman whose only job had been volunteering in a church? A woman that had never had a relationship or been kissed? A woman that was living a 1930's spinster life in the new millenium?
There is no doubt that she has reveled in the attention that has come her way. But she has also learned how being famous brings its own heartache.

I still am appalled at how she was treated. I don't understand why so many Brits cannot be happy for another's success. It is the harshest thing I have learned about living in this country. Ironically, even Simon Cowell remarked one evening during the filming of "American Idol" when he said he didn't understand how the contestants genuinely cared for each other even if one was chosen and the other not. He said, something to the effect that it was not at all like that in Britain.

Indeed, it is not, and for Susan and others like her, it is a crying shame.