The Appeal of Susan Boyle

Within a week it seems that Susan Boyle has become a world-wide sensation. Last weekend […]

Todd Brewer / 4.22.09

Within a week it seems that Susan Boyle has become a world-wide sensation. Last weekend I was over at a friend’s house when someone put on the youtube clip and all 15+ of us were mesmerized by her surprisingly angelic voice. She was featured last week on Mockingbird and nearly everyone who watched the video commented that they were touched, speechless, or tearful.

Now a week later, people are beginning to take a step back and wonder why there so much fuss over an unemployed woman from Scotland.

Andy Crouch, the editor of Christianity today said this: “It offers a picture of our age’s übercynical critics surprised by joy. It gives a glimpse of the creative capacity latent in who knows how many lives. And perhaps therefore it gives us a glimpse of the embodied glories that await us, the grace that waits just around the corner of our hopes and fears.”

Entertainment Weekly uses the Boyle phenomenon to shame Americans for its preference of style over substance, pointing to Britian music stars such as: David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Elton John, Van Morrison, and Adele.

A USA Today article breaks it down into several categories:
guilt – “when we see [our] judgments were premature, we overcompensate by going so far the other direction”

hope – “we want to believe in something higher, that there’s meaning in life and that the ugly duckling can become the beautiful swan.”

– Life’s hard right now, and “this was a feel-good/underdog story”

– If she can do it, I can do anything…

authenticity – “she is perceived as the real deal… People want their idols to be authentic.” ,

In a sense, these categories are all the expression of the same thing. I’d suggest that a recent CNN article by Peter Bregman hit the nail on the head when it suggested that Susan Boyle’s popularity is really a form of abreaction (Mockingbird’s new favorite term):

“But there’s something else Susan Boyle awakens in us as we watch her come out of her shell: our own selves. Who among us does not move through life with the hidden sense, maybe even quiet desperation, that we are destined for more? That underneath our ordinary exterior lays an extraordinary soul? That given the right opportunity, the right stage, the right audience, we would shine as the stars we truly are?”

We know ourselves to be plainly average and, like Susan Boyle, wish to be a “diamond in the rough.” This Cinderella Story appeals to our hope and longing for true authencity and ability to transcend our finititude. Susan Boyle stands before the judgment seat of Simon Cowell and leaves him speechless. It unearths our own feelings of condemnation and the hope that we can avoid such judgments ourselves.

The hope of Susan Boyle is not that we too can be Susan Boyle. Susan Boyle cannot provide what she promises and what we hope to be true. We are not Cinderella. We are not all special. The wheel in the sky keeps on turnin and we still can’t make it through today.

Yet on the day that true love died (see Phil Wickham), we are freed from condemnation and seen by God as already perfect. The hope of Susan Boyle in a small way points to our only hope: the death and resurrection of Jesus.


4 responses to “The Appeal of Susan Boyle”

  1. dpotter says:

    Todd, your comments remind me of last week’s theology seminar on the theme of ‘Hope’ in Mama Mia (and a couple other musicals. The presenter said something that struck me, ‘Britain’s religion is talent’

    We have so many talent shows on TV here…complete with judges who serve as demi-gods, and in the case of the reality show ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’, a supreme being in the form of Andrew Lloyd Webber to whom the other judges literally bow on occasion.

    Someone once said that our image of a good pastor looks a lot like the greek ideal (tall, handsome, physically fit), yet according to Isaiah’s depiction of the ‘suffering servant’, Jesus may have had trouble getting a job these days.

    Susan, however, is a remarkable talent within an unremarkable exterior. I’m afraid that the only reason why people’s jaw dropped was because she ‘proved herself’ in a sense. Had she sounded like she looked, people would still be snickering. The only remarkable thing about us, as you suggested, is not our performance before the Father, but that the perfect work of the Son is imputed to us.

  2. Nick L. says:

    wow. great stuff, Todd.

  3. Todd says:

    Dylan, there’s a lot there to digest! A talent show religion is certainly the reality both here and in Great Britain. Thus, as you point out, we create the ideal of a good pastor which looks much like a American Idol contestant (soul patch and all).

    Though I would press it further to say more universally that we want religion to embody our ideals, which are currently represented in pop culture. Christianity offensively contends that such ideals are unattainable, though they are paradoxically found under their contrary form (Life found through death, presence known through absence. etc)

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