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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Beauty is as beauty does

The entertainment world has been abuzz about Susan Boyle, the Scottish woman who wowed the audience and judges of "Britain's Got Talent." Here's the clip, if you're one of the handful of people who haven't seen it on TV or YouTube.

The gist of the coverage is that Susan was greeted initially with cynicism bordering on derision because she is a plain, frumpy woman who tells a plain, frumpy woman's story: took care of her mother, lives with her cats, never been kissed. Then she knocked 'em dead with her angelic voice, which proves: Aren't we terrible for just judging someone so superficially instead of waiting to discover the hidden beauty?

But think about it. For there to be such general agreement of Susan's plainness, enough people have to have the same criteria for plainness so that we have gone from a subjective to nearly an objective standard of beauty. For there to be such general agreement of the beauty of Susan's singing, enough people likewise have to have the same criteria for us to near an objective standard for singing voices. Why are we superficial twits for succumbing to that standard on her looks but finally wise to succumbing to the standard for her voice?

Just asking.

To think about this more, check out Mortimer Adler on the difference between admirable beauty and enjoyable beauty. And if you really want to get into it, read the chapter on beauty in his "Six Great Ideas."


Bob G.
Thu, 04/16/2009 - 11:01am

Joseph Merrick fits into the same category...had a marvelous command of human nature (and saw both the good AND the bad at length, yet in spite of his physical impediments, he was a person of deep passions, convictions and highly lucid thoughts...
(...make a damn good senator THESE days, hmm?)

Michael B-P
Thu, 04/16/2009 - 11:49am

"Nearing" an objective standard (of beauty in either appearance or singing) is the key qualifier. Perhaps it's up to some sort of concurrence of empathy to fulfill the deficit between the subjective experience and a consensus judgement in order to establish an "objective" criteria for beauty. I'm just not well informed enought to say . . .

Thanks for the "Radical Academy" link though. Cool!

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 9:14pm

Watching the incredible Susan Boyle video, I was struck by her stumbling and bumbling during the initial interview, and after the performance when she hesitated, then began to leave the stage before her exit interview. She seemed confused by the discussions about her performance, her three "yes" votes and the offstage interview.

It occurs to me that she may be a savant. According to the Wisconsin Medical Society, "music is the generally the most common savant skill."

Michael B-P
Fri, 04/17/2009 - 9:02am

Good observation, gadfly. It will be interesting to see the outcome of all the publicity.