Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What have we learned from Susan Boyle?


One of my co-workers pulled up a video on YouTube last week, of a woman named Susan Boyle, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY. She wins over her audience singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

Talk about a hostile audience! The lead judge is condescending. The stagehands snigger and mock her gestures. Some female members of the audience curl their expressions in scorn.

Because my co-workers were familiar with the story and were explaining the circumstances, I don't know how I would have reacted if I’d been a viewer of the original broadcast. Would I have prejudged Boyle too, solely on the basis of her looks and her way of conducting herself?

Not since a Sebastopol bellydancing expo had I seen rude behavior that was so willfully and blatantly public. A dancer was giving a solo performance and some members of her troop had postured themselves behind her and were making fun of her gestures, nudging each other and goading each other on. Was this supposed to be part of the performance? It seemed very mean spirited and served as a pointless distraction from the solo dancer’s routine.

I didn't understand the other dancers’ rudeness then, and I was dumbfounded by the rudeness that confronted Susan Boyle when she came out on stage in “Britain’s Got Talent.” Seemingly everyone had decided that Boyle could not sing. They were expecting her to bomb! Except maybe the female judge, whose facial expression was blank.

Once Boyle began to sing, however, the scornfulness melted away. One of the members of my congregation, the local Unitarian Universalist community, said that hearing Boyle sing was an incredible blessing. And it was! Boyle has a beautiful voice and her choice of song complimented her ability.

Everybody who doubted her was shown up by her performance as a complete and utter jackass! It was a gripping and triumphant drama.

Boyle’s performance received widespread publicity. A YouTube video of her performance has been viewed millions of times. The Daily Record newspaper posted a recording of Boyle singing “Cry Me a River” circa 1999 that was also reposted on YouTube.

And the commentary! Numerous columns and blogs dissecting the implications of her triumph.

For those of us who could relate to her disclosure that she had learning disabilities and that she’d been bullied at school, her success was especially meaningful. Any of us could be a Susan Boyle, only seeking an opportunity to have someone be willing to look beyond pre-decided inability and let our talent speak for itself.

Even now, several people are saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

I wonder, however, why we need to be reminded of this axiom again and again. How long will it be before a Susan Boyle’s performance will face no prejudgement at all, and the only response it elicits from listeners will be simple admiration for its excellence?

I think it would be worthwhile if each of us took stock of where our personal prejudices lie and then ask ourselves if, like the television judges, we might ever have been wrong by making those preassumptions.

Published April 28, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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