Unless you spent the last week scaling peaks in central Asia, you’ve probably seen this video of Scottish hayseed Susan Boyle holding forth on “Britain’s Got Talent” to the boyish delight of a rheumy-eyed Simon Cowell. Word spread quickly in a world hard-up for hope, and overnight Ms. Boyle became the greatest YouTube sensation to come out of the U.K. since Charlie, the cannibalistic infant. In fact, she may be the biggest Internet sensation ever.
A week has passed, and now that everyone’s done fawning, the public discussion has shifted to what’s to be done about her homeliness. In yesterday’s Washington Post, fashion columnist Robin Givhan stated that the tale of Susan Boyle will not have reached a satisfactory end “until the shy spinster blossoms”—that is, until she is de-uglified. Others have lectured that Ms. Boyle is perfect the way she is, and that running her through the star machine would spoil her folksy charm and teach the kiddies a lousy lesson.
I tend to agree with the latter crowd. If Ms. Boyle’s ability to rise to prominence despite her decidedly unconventional appearance is what filled people with hope, then giving her lipo and highlights would be like transforming Barack Obama into an old white guy the day after the election. But whether Ms. Boyle “deserves” a pretty face to match her pretty voice is beside the point. Rather, If Susan Boyle had a pretty face, would people still think she has a pretty voice?
She’s good, of course. But is she 100-million-Web-hits good? Of course not. In her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, she hit the notes with good tone and vibrato. But her voice is nothing terribly special by professional standards; from a purely musical standpoint, she probably doesn’t even have one of the top ten vocal instruments among singers currently competing on shows judged by Simon Cowell.
So while many observers in the media have framed the question of whether the dowdy Scot should shed her dumpling look in favor of a more mainstream affectation as a question of societal values, the person who has the most to lose from such a transformation may be Susan herself.
(As Black Plastic Bag is now in compliance with the mandate that all media outlets comment on this phenomenon, there will be no further discussion of Susan Boyle. Thank you for your patience.)