Beaten Down by All the Hype

The events of the last week have left my head spinning.  It’s almost like God has decided to cast his own version of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.  First you had a washed up ‘B’ movie actor in David Carradine, then you had a washed up variety show sidekick in Ed McMahon, then the washed up model/actress who had not worked in twenty years unless it was on Lifetime in Farrah Fawcett, then we had the freak show that was the washed up life of Michael Jackson (see MC Hammer), and finally we have the guy who was made famous by being in commercials, Billy Mays.  Paulie Shore had better hide.

The confusing thing in all of this for me has been the extreme revisionism that has come with all of these deaths.  Suddenly, people who were fringe at best a few months ago are being hailed for their greatness.  What’s up with that?  Can’t we appropriately honor the accomplishments of these people without all of the hyperbole?

I am always brought back to the year Princess Diana died when these things come up.  Do you remember who died the same week that Diana did?  Most people do not because the press was too caught up in the hype of Diana to properly give Mother Teresa and her lifetime of service to humanity her due.  I guess the explosion of media since then has given us the ability to overhype any number of things at the same time.

It’s the hyper-revisionism that bothers me the most.  Suddenly, Michael Jackson has been elevated to a level just below that of Martin Luther King Jr.  How did this happen?  Here we have a guy that had obvious mental and emotional issues that drove him to try to appear more, for lack of a better term, ‘white’.  He married a white woman, and I don’t ever remember him taking a strong stand on racial issues unless you count his song “Black or White.”  I seem to remember allegations of molestation, but somehow a 22 million dollar broom swept them all away (and, of course he was found ‘not guilty’).  Now, there seems to be confirmation that he was gay, and did like young men.  Has that become a popular stance in the black community?  And, all of the children of his ‘baby mammas’ have turned out not to be his.  Is this the example that so many young men are following today?

Suddenly, however, everyone is rushing to praise his greatness, not just as a singer and dancer, which he was, but all other aspects of his life, and many more that have seemed to materialize after his death.  Here’s a newsflash, you can be a great singer and a great dancer, and still be a freak in the rest of your life.  It’s OK to admit it in Jackson’s case, because it’s the truth.

Unfortunately, it looks like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are going to have to have a monkey knife fight to decide who will preside over the funeral.  The self-promotion of these two guys in this case is almost as nauseating as the self-promoting of Joe Jackson (anybody need a blue-ray?).

The truth is, Michael Jackson was a great performer in the 1980s, and sadly like many people, had a hard time dealing with his fame in the years since then.  The same group of leeches that followed him during his lifetime have turned into a flock of carrion birds whose ranks have been swelled by the likes of Jackson and Sharpton.

Sadly, the exploitation of Jackson and his children is just beginning.  They say he will not be buried at Neverland.  I’ll bet the opposite.  There is money to be made if they can put the body there, so it will probably happen.  Next, you will have the Michael Jackson memorial tour in which lots of washed up singers trying to jump-start their careers will get together and sing their versions of his songs.  And, of course the tribute anthology will be released on which every artist from Whitney Houston to Jamie Foxx will sing Michael Jackson songs.  Then, in a few years when the money has stopped rolling in, and the nostalgic fervor has worn off a little, his family will sell the movie rights to his life, and back up the Brinks truck once again.

What’s up with Susan Boyle?

I often have an adverse reaction to hype.  So, the fact that I do not hate Susan Boyle, and the incredible amount of hype she has generated in the past couple of weeks, is surprising to me, but the fact is, she has a pretty good voice.  The main problem that I have is the over-hyped situation associated with her.

I thought about the situation, and have come up with a few theories as to why this situation has blown up as much as it has.  Part of this has to do with the American Idol effect (Yes, I know she was on Britain’s Got Talent).  These types of programs offer several different stereotypical contestants.  Two of the main types are the ‘serious good contestant’ and the ‘complete bit contestant.’

The serious contestant is the one that the show thinks has a real possibility of competing.  They are usually very good singers, and average looking to decent looking or very good looking and decent singers.  Sometimes they offer the ‘total package’- the guy or girl who is both very good looking and a very good performer.  They go far in the competition.

The bit contestant is the one whose sole reason for being on the program is that he or she did not get enough attention as a child (no father figure), and has decided to make up for it in one impulsive spectacle that at best makes us laugh, but mostly makes us wonder why they, and the producers of the show are wasting our time.

Then, there is Susan Boyle.  I do not mean to be cruel, but it is not secret that she is not beautiful, quite the opposite.  As I said before, she can sing.  But is her voice that great?  Aren’t there lots and lots of singers out there who can sing that song just as well as she can?  The answer is ‘yes’.  So, what happened that catapulted her to fame so quickly?  I believe a lot of it had to do with expectations.  Those types of programs are built on expectations.

If  Adam Lambert, who has raised expectations very high on American Idol, came out this week and simply did a decent job, but not the great job (as he usually does), the judges would probably savage him because he would not be meeting their expectations for him.  While a guy like Scott MacIntyre, who recently left the show, received praise for doing a decent, but not great job after having a couple of off weeks.  He had lowered their expectations, and when he did better, he received praise.

This effect is multiplied in the case of Susan Boyle.  She came out, and the audience heard the collective giggles.  She looked silly, and she acted a little silly as well.  The expectation was that she would be one of the bits that provide a moment of comic relief on the show, and when she came out an sang a very nice version of the song “I Dreamed a Dream,” she so exceeded everyone’s expectations, that it was made to be more than it was.

The truth is that if a beautiful woman who looked like she belonged on the stage, had come out on the stage and performed as well as Susan, it would not have had nearly the impact that this performance did.  It all had to do with expectations. 

There is another factor that also helps.  There are lots of women out there who want to do what she has done.  They are sitting at home wishing that there was more to their lives.  For these women, Susan Boyle makes their dreams seem more achievable.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with that.

I hope she does well, and I hope that she cashes in quickly.  Eventually, I see her working in the theatre where there are lots of nice seats far enough away that all you really have to worry about is her voice.