The following is from a 3-way discourse on the Susan Boyle Phenomenon over at the Perpetual Post:
Let’s face it: Pretty is the new pretty. And the old pretty. And next season’s pretty. Looks are about all we have the attention span for these days—words take too long to listen to; forget about ideas. Because we like pretty, we prefer to get much of our social and cultural stimulation from pretty faces, which is sometimes hard, because pretty mouths don’t always say pretty things. Or smart things, or things that make sense. This is not a tragedy, since at this point, nobody wants to know how you got your sharp wit or your theory of post-modern architecture—they want to know where you got your shoes.
Attractive celebrities, it is ever more commonly believed, are by virtue of their attractiveness able to excel at many different kinds of things. Models design clothing lines. Actors discuss globalization in tabloid interviews. Bono is an Op-Ed contributor for the New York Times. Jenny McCarthy speaks out against vaccinating your children. Tila Tequila wrote a book. Meanwhile, authors scowl, and schedule a professional photo shoot for their next dust jacket, because they have to do what they can to keep up appearances. Appearances are important, because they count, and they are what they seem. If you are attractive, you will likely receive the attention you deserve.
When these attractive people stumble or fail at something new that they’ve tried a hand at, we mock them, sure—but deep down, the very fact of their attractiveness tends to earn them our grudging respect. We are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Because they are attractive, they deserve to be treated as special.
In turn, these attractive celebrities do their best to remain attractive to us, their public. They get plastic surgery, they diet and exercise and attempt to make their bodies as appealing as possible. They get their hair and makeup done, they put extreme amounts of consideration into picking out their clothes.
Sure, ugly is still there, plodding around behind the scenes, rearing its turtle head into the spotlight occasionally, but we prefer not to think about it. We see enough ugly in our real lives; on the bus, at the gym, in the office. In the mirror. When we open a magazine or turn on the television, we’re ready to see some pretty, please.
When relatively unattractive people venture into these realms of television and magazines, therefore, they have the deck stacked against them from the beginning. This was demonstrated during Susan Boyle’s audition for Britain’s Got Talent. The audience took one look at this dowdy older woman and dismissed her. This is a common reaction to plainness. We lack patience for the unattractive; particularly the unattractive person who has the same hopes of achieving fame and fortune as attractive people do. Relatively unattractive people remind us that sometimes, we are vulnerable and human and unattractive ourselves. We too make mistakes, and we fear that no one will give us a chance either.
When Susan Boyle surprised everyone by being reasonably poised and talented, the most surprising thing about it was how much the audience disliked her before she gave her performance. When you don’t know someone, you can’t hate them—but you can hate the parts of them that remind you of what you hate about yourself. The loathing and disdain directed at Susan Boyle were not really meant for her.