Thursday, 16 April 2009

Ugly Woman Comes Good

Just in case I've been misleading you in any way, I am not the best with cutting edge stuff (hence even being a day or two off the pulse with this attempt). But, I thought I'd dip into the current pop TV-YouTube-media controversy which, if you haven't already heard, is Susan Boyle's appearance on Britain's Got Talent.

Susan, a 47 year old, unemployed, Scottish woman who, as she said, lives alone with her cat and has never been kissed, astonished the sniggering Cowell and co. and the hooting crowd with her performance of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. She brought them to tears and to their feet. She has now become a YouTube celeb with over 11 million hits, and, with Mr and Mrs Kutcher among her fans, the ugly woman has come good.

And now commentators are offering up reasons for this extreme response. Some say it's simply the surprise factor: a rough, frumpy woman with an enchanting voice. Others go a little further to say it is because, through Boyle, we are afforded a rare glimpse of human dignity and grace in a world obssessed with physical beauty and the right packaging. I was just sent an article from The Guardian that, I think, represents a more compelling take on the British (and worldwide) reponse to Boyle. Yes, it's excessive, but it pegs down the gauntlet completely (and the comments are fairly interesting too). Read it.


Alana Piper said...

I agree....why shouldn't she have been good? Why were the judges okay with 'everyone being against her'? Such a reaction might make more sense if she had come out saying she wanted to be like Britney Spears, but Elaine Page is an eminently appropriate role model! I thought the 'framing' of the gimmick by the editors and judges was really unattractive...

droid said...

Basically, throwing Christians to the lions is still quality entertainment, because the public are scum.

Kate said...

I like this: Can't "ugly" people dream, you flat-packed, hair-ironed, over-plucked monstrous fool?

Very much agree with this, but sadly, it's nothing new. Ugly women are the worst of the worst- you don't wonder why they were burned at the stake when you see that youtube clip.

And why WAS 'everyone against her' at the beginning, anyway?

Ink said...

I heart Susan! She stood up there and seemed completely unfazed by the awful crowd vibes, not to mention the sneering judges. (I don't watch that that how they usually behave? It's despicable!)

She sang like an angel and did a little joyful dance at the end of it all. She epitomizes grace in action and deserves to be beloved. I hope she gets a recording contract and all her dreams come true.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Pal 1: It broke my heart when she said she'd never been kissed. I wonder if after this she'll get an extreme makeover, turn into a mega pop star and get a young lover called 'Ricardo'....

Pal 2:
Well, in the judges/audience's defense, the pre-song hip thrust was pretty bad. I would have made an awkward face. But on the plus side, this video is the best classified ad ever. I bet she already has a hot date or two.

(It wasn't right to judge her just because she was older, and because she looked like a normal 47 year-old, which was probably the source of a lot of the derision. The hip thrust, though, the hip thrust!)

I agree the hip thrust was not the most smooth start, but I do think it revealed how female (particularly menopausal) sexuality has more rules around it than male sexuality. If she had been an older man, we'd think it was funny or slightly crazy, but not outright disgusting. I don't know, I may not have a point here. But I am loving the conversation about these issues! Thanks lovelies.

Pal 1:
I think the hip thrust is what will make her a star. Without it she'd have just been an ordinary middle-aged rural English woman with a mustache and some pipes. It's the hip thrust (coupled with the whole sad spinster thing) that made the segment interesting and which gives the media something outlandish and unexpected to sell: middle-aged virginity. It's like a reversal of this trend of sex-crazed, vagina-shaving nymphet-starlets that's being shoved down our aging throats....I'd watch her over Lyndsay Lohan any day. Keep on thrusting. You've come a long way baby. Full circle! ha ha.

Pal 2:
For me, a middle-aged paunchy man thrust accompanied by the phrase "that's just one side of me" would have been equally silly. But, jokes about hip thrusts aside.

I think the audience reaction was exaggerated by the camera-men and the judges. The judges wanted to create a sensational, underdog story, so they pointed out / created the fact that "everyone was against you from the start." The cameras spun to capture three people in the audience who reacted negatively to the woman's desire to be a professional singer - the negative reaction could have been to the woman's age as much as her gender (who starts a budding career as a professional singer at 47?) but no one is claiming that we've seen ageism at work here. The audience cheered Susan on when she did her infamous hip thrust. It was just the male judges who reacted negatively - the woman judge's face (which was apparently neutral, according to the Guardian) wasn't shown by the camera. Whoever the creepy men backstage were, they shouted triumphantly about 4 seconds after Susan started her song "Ha! You didn't expect that, did you??" Surprise, surprise. I think we may have been manipulated into thinking that there was more of an anti-feminist attitude at work than there actually was.

It is true that men are more easily able to jump the gap between hot and non-hot celebrity, to create a separate category for themselves beyond the actors and singers with Olympic athlete physiques, on the public stage. But it is also true that these men are often character actors, who either rise above their physique by covering it up, or more confidently exploit their normal bodies by making fun of them. And Susan's hip thrust was an attempt to do exactly that - transcend her body by poking a bit of fun at it, and judging from the audience cheers afterwards, she succeeded.

But, if a middle-aged man admitted that he were a virgin on national television, I'd argue that he would come under greater ridicule for that fact alone.

I can't believe I spent so much time thinking about Susan Boyle. I'd be even more surprised if you read this, lol. Sorry for the dissertation.

Pal 1:
Your dissertation is more interesting than my dissertation. My actual one. fyi.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Family member 1: The hip wiggle was a bit cringey - mostly for the age-inappropriateness ...I would cringe if a 47 yr old hottie did that too unless it was part of the act to be honest.

I actually dont think the judges like seeing people make a fool of themselves and that's why they get a bit tense and impatient. I dont think that's a bad thing. I dont enjoy seeing people make a fool of themselves either. I dont think thats a bad way to respond when it seemed possible/probable she could.

I do agree, however, that it's getting less permissible for women in the spotlight to be ugly and even more so, unkempt. I think there are a few ugly but well groomed women who still do well (outside politics that is). Its the unkempt thing I think that lends an air of crazy that makes success/talent less probable in a snap judgement. Again, unkempt translates more readily as crazy/weird in a woman while it could probably be passed off as eccentricity in a man. It's a cruel world.

What I liked most of all was her self-belief.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Nice one [Pal 2] - an astute commentary indeed!

I did a whole course in my undergrad degree on the use of camera angles and editing to create "truth" so I am completely with you on the essential manufacturing of this adversarial situation (whether on the basis of her age, looks, untidiness, undue confidence, gender, Christianity or virginity/sexual awkwardness). That said, I am quite sure that most of those members of the audience would have in fact sniggered and hooted (or been uncomfortable by her presence at the very least) but then been ready to be elated when she went well. We're pretty weak-minded like that.

Just so you know though, the female judge is riddled with Botox and can't express too much! She is generally more sympathetic than the others (as the woman judge), but not overly so.

Anyway, ladies, I think we've covered all the issues more or less. Well done team!