Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Susan Boyle Melts Down

We should have seen it coming. Flush with the thrill of seeing a woman's life transformed before our eyes, we did not see that Susan Boyle was in serious psychological peril.

For my part I was suitably impressed by Boyle's voice, but I tuned out the discussion as soon as it entered the makeover zone.

To tweeze or not to tweeze... that is not a question about which I have anything interesting to say.

Susan Boyle was a rustic, an original, a perfectly natural woman who seems to have been untouched by modern life, by contemporary civilization, and by the beauty industry. The inimitable Tina Brown described her as: "that scrunchy-faced, eyebrow-enforested, dumpy representative of anonymous humanity...."

To Brown, Susan Boyle represented all the forgotten women, all the invisible aging women out there. In Brown's eye, Susan Boyle had picked up the mantle of sexlessness from none other than Hillary Clinton. Link here.

You will forgive me for being somewhat confused. In the old days we were told that the patriarchy was so threatened by female sexuality that it had built up its institutions for the precise purpose of repressing it.

Remember how much energy the patriarchy put into repressing the sexually attractive Sarah Palin.

Now it turns out that this same patriarchy is even more threatened by an anonymous and dowdy spinster who has never been kissed.

More seriously, we were all thrilled for Susan Boyle. After all, she had, in an instant, won fame and fortune beyond what most of us can ever imagine. And isn't that what life is really about... living a dream and becoming a rich celebrity?

Then we woke up one day to discover that it was not as easy as it appeared. We had failed to estimate the psychic cost of such a life-wrenching transformation.

And we did not see that it would end in a hospitalization for what the Victorians called neurasthenia, nervous exhaustion. See my post of last Saturday. Link here.

People suffered neurasthenia when they lost their bearings in the fast-paced modern world. Uprooted from their normal life, thrown in the teeming world of the cosmopolitan metropolis, stressed out by inhuman levels of competition... neurasthenics took to their beds.

So we did not see that while Susan Boyle will gain fame and fortune, at the same time she has lost nearly everything that mattered to her.

And she lost whatever it was that made her what she is. I cannot agree with Tina Brown that Susan Boyle rose up from terminal anonymity. The fact that your comings and goings are splayed across the tabloids does not rescue you from anonymity. It turns you into a fictional character, someone who is perfectly alien to who you are.

Susan Boyle was not anonymous in her local village. Her voice was not an unknown quality in her local church. Perhaps she did not have as dramatic a life as your average celebrity, but she did have a life. It had its rhythm; its joys and sorrows; its routines and ceremonies.

Susan Boyle had friends and relations in the small Scottish where she had spent her life. Everyone knew her and she knew everyone.

The life that she lost was not a story; it may have been somewhat limited, but it was real, and it was hers.

Now she has traded it all for celebrity. She has set off to live a dream. And yet, she is surely tormented with the question of whether she will ever be able to recover her life? Has she been seduced by the goddess of success into sacrificing her life for something aleatory and chimerical?

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