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The Commodification of Susan Boyle


I don’t own a television and I don’t live in the UK. I also don’t have an internet connection at my house. This is why it took me until Saturday night to watch a downloaded YouTube video of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. I was completely blown away. Beneath the dramatic editing of reality TV and the sweeping music added for effect there appeared to be a real moment of grace where something genuinely surprising and beautiful happened. That kernel of something was enough for me to get swept away by the rest of the trappings and the moment.

For those, like me, who are usually out of the loop, a 47 year old Scottish woman who was unemployed and never been kissed pranced onto the UK’s American Idol (It’s actually the reverse I think, because the UK version is the original. I digress) in her frumpy Edith Bunker way and proceeded to shock everyone by belting “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. I knew it was a real moment when the female judge (why is it always only one female judge, never two) said,

I’m so thrilled because I know that everybody was against you. I honestly think that we were all being very cynical. And I think that was the biggest wake up call ever.

The bubble had been burst and something beautiful happened. For a moment that upside kingdom was slightly visible, where the unexpected happens and the last are first. This wasn’t a rags to riches, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story. This was a moment that made us realize who we really were. Our assumptions, prejudices and cynicism laid bare for all to see.

My wife said, “Yeah, but what happens now?” Will this genuine moment simply be subsumed by the consumer religion into another marketing strategy, a line of “I Heart Susan” paraphernalia? Consumerism demands that everything is a commodity: ideas, seeds, mortgages and bets on bets on mortgages. Advertisers already toy with our heartstrings, otherwise the jokes about crying at cotton commercials wouldn’t ring so true. I hope that a moment like this would teach us something, but I’m afraid it will be drowned out by the noise about the moment, telling us what to buy in order to capture the moment.

We still like to occasionally watch this classic video of Jesus Junk Music that made the rounds last year. We watched it again right after seeing Susan Boyle as sort of a palate cleanser before watching her again. It seemed so hollow and empty in comparison. Ironic, isn’t it? Here is the YouTube video for you to judge.

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