I'm a huge fan of Bill Maher's wit and observations, so here’s a New Rule for Bill to ponder: The government must use reality television and use it relentlessly and exclusively as a weapon of mass distraction in order to divert the public’s attention from the nation’s major problems at the moment. They must take their lead from Great Britain, the old Mother Country and master colonizer; because the Brits have got this mojo down to an art.
We’re all familiar, by now, with Susan Boyle, the dowdy, little Scotswoman who tottered onto the television screen weeks ago on the reality freak show-cum-talent search called Britain’s Got Talent. She’s the one who looked like the back end of a bus and sang like a canary, the one who secured instant and worldwide fame from millions of hits on YouTube. No less than NBC News, amongst other entities, billed her dream-come-true performance as a fairytell feel-good factor for these troubled times. Bill even did a parody of her fame path a few weeks back on Real Time.
Within days of her first televised appearance, the public had an information overload about Susan Boyle. In fact, we knew more than we needed to know – that she was a 48 year-old virgin who lived alone with her cat, that she’d never had a boyfriend, that she’d never been on a date, that she’d never been kissed, and – most tellingly – that she had a crush on one of the two male judges on the programme, Piers Morgan. Once this was public knowledge, Morgan, ever the outwardly courtly gentleman and even more the self-publicist, stepped forward and volunteered to take her out for a meal, rounding off the evening with a courtly kiss.
Now, in the weeks afterward, the great British public has been daily apprised of Boyle’s activities, including the press-inspired rivalry for the winning spot in the show between her and a 12 year-old boy who sang like Michael Jackson (not that Michael Jackson and 12 year-old boys should ever be juxtaposed, mind you). And so the populace was duly distracted, and, lo, they thought no more of things like soaring unemployment, wage stagnation, the absolute tanking of General Motors (whose subsidiaries here employ a large number of the British workforce in certain areas of the country), a significant increase in violent crime directly related to the economic turndown … things like that. You know, things that matter.
Then, a few weeks ago, a British newspaper discovered and reported the fact that the officials the people had elected to serve them were robbing them blind – claiming taxpayers’ money for everything from lightbulbs to horse manure to moat-cleaning services right on up to mortgage payments on houses whose mortgages had been redeemed years ago. They were, they discovered, being conned. And, lo, the righteous public became indignant with anger and vented their venom on the politicians in whom they’d placed their trust.
The scandal widened. The hole became a veritable breach, a crevice in which, not only the elected government, but also the loyal opposition, threatened to fall and vanish without a trace. This bothered the public greatly. They thought about and discussed it constantly. In the pubs. At the hairdresser’s. In the gym. At the dinner table. They talked of nothing else, not even soccer (or football, as they call it), which is the religion by which the most of the male population lives.
Until last week.
Last week, attention was turned, by the tabloid press, back to Susan Boyle, but in a slightly sinister way this time. Whilst watching an episode of the competition in a public venue, Boyle heard her favourite judge and one-time date, Piers Morgan, praise her rival, intimating that he thought the lad might win the competition. In a New York minute, Boyle went beserk, screaming obscenities at the television screen, slamming crockery and glasses about the table at which she sat – she had to be escorted from the premises. The following day, when out and approached by some fans, she screamed at them also. People began wondering if she were cracking under the pressure of the competition.
As we all know now, in Saturday night’s final, she lost out to a bevy of youthful boy dancers, whereupon she thanked the show’s sponsors gratefully, hiked her gown up to her thigh and shimmied suggestfully in Morgan’s direction before retreating backstage, throwing a glass of water over a stagehand and screaming her distaste for the show. The following day, police and medical officials were called to her hotel, after she again threw a tantrum. She was sectioned, whisked away and admitted to The Priory Hospital, a private mental hospital in London. She’s due to remain there, at least, until the end of the month.
At first, two of the three judges, Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan, were at pains to reassure the public that Susan was ‘just tired and needed a bit of rest.’ But then the ugly truth started to emerge.
Susan Boyle wasn’t just a lonely spinster from a remote Scottish village. She was a woman with learning disabilities who’d been brain-damaged at birth. She was the youngest of a family of largely articulate people, and she’d been sheltered at home because of her disability and her erratic behaviour. So the date with Morgan, in Susan’s eyes, was seen in a completely different perspective than the condescendingly kindly gesture the man, himself, meant it to be.
Now there are three things to glean from this:-
1. In the midst of all this turmoil, when questioned about his sister’s health, all her brothers could think to say is that she would ‘bounce back’, but that he and she were both worried … because the promised recording contract had yet to materialize. However, he revealed, yesterday, a representative from Simon Cowell’s recording company was due to meet with Susan and discuss some terms. In a mental hospital. Even in the depths of mental and emotional despair, the greedy side of our nature, that desire for fame and fortune, never leaves our side. Perhaps it’s actually the last conscious feeling to leave us as we throw off this mortal coil. Who knows?
2. At the end of the day, everyone now admits what was previously inadmissible: that Susan Boyle really wasn’t a great talent, that her voice wasn’t astounding or exceptional. Merely good. What was astounding, mostly to the self-proclaimed experts by whose surprised reactions we allowed ourselves to be led, was the fact that the three judges were so unequivocally surprised that a woman who – by the perceived standard of the day – was no physical beauty, could pleasantly carry a tune in a strong voice. Of the three judges in question, I might add, two were privately-educated schoolboys, one of whom had been summarily dismissed from his position as the editor of a national newspaper for libel, and the third was an actress of dubious talent whose initial claim to fame was her very public dumping of her much older entertainer husband for a younger man. Indeed, why should any of us – and I never watched the programme – be surprised that someone who looks like Susan Boyle can sing? Look at opera singers. Devoid of slap (British slang for make-up) and costumery, most of them are plain, overweight women, who happen to have magnificent voices. Are we so shallow that we can only attune ourselves to a person’s outward appearance before examining the talents which lie within?
3. And finally, amidst all this kerfuffle, which has been dominating news media here, we’re missing the fact that the leaders of some of Britain’s biggest industries, in a year of recession, awarded themselves the equivalent of $750,000,000, in bonuses; that a professional soccer team here signed a player whom they’ll pay the equivalent of $225,000 a week and whose fans will see that salary reflected in price hikes for admission; that General Motors, which employed more than 300,000 people in the British workforce, has declared bankruptcy; and, that, as I write this the government is tanking and right wingnut parties are appearing ominously on the horizon.
And throughout all of this, the nation ‘prays’ (that’s right, Britain ‘prays’) for Susan Boyle’s recovery, almost with the intensity of a torchlight vigil. How touching.
So, the proof is in the pudding for Obama. In order to divert the public’s attention from the any serious worries about things that really matter - you know jobs and banks and home foreclosures and health care and Detroit - the President must appoint Simon Cowell as Special Advisor on Adversity Diversion, with a brief to utilize reality television to its fullest freak-show capacity.
You know, three hundred years ago, insane asylums hung the inmates outside their walls in cages, in order that they might entertain the passing public, who would see these poor unfortunates and forget about the pressing problems of the day. We really haven’t progressed so far, have we?
And, yes, in case you hadn’t guessed, I am having a bad day, so I apologise for the rant.