By now at least 30 million people worldwide (roughly the same number who view the Oscars, or the Super Bowl) have watched an extraordinary clip from a popular UK show called "Britain's Got Talent." A dowdy, 47-year-old virgin named Susan Boyle takes the stage, wearing her low heels and her Sunday best. The crowd laughs at her, and Boyle - how devastating - laughs along. She says she wants to be a professional singer; people laugh harder and louder. They point. It's grammar school and the Roman coliseum combined. Simon Cowell - panelist and show creator - rolls his eyes. And then Susan Boyle sings.
In the past five days, Susan Boyle has been invited to appear on Oprah, interviewed on all three network morning shows and covered by news outlets all over the world - many of which have descended on her hamlet, where she lives alone with her cat, Pebbles. She is the favorite to win the competition and it's likely she'll sing for the Queen. Cowell will probably sign her to his record label.
But there is something disturbing about the collective rejection-embrace-elevation of Susan Boyle. There is the element of self-congratulation in the viral spread of this link around the Web, the idea that we, the secondary viewers, the judges of those who are judging, are far more evolved. There is the clip itself, suspiciously ready-made for online consumption: A 7-minute movie, slick and pithy in its perfect execution of the underdog narrative. (That something like "Rocky" took two hours to tell now seems antediluvian.) There is the classic David vs. Goliath subplot, the primal satisfaction of seeing the bully (Cowell) slain by such a seemingly inferior force. And there is the profound desire for this entire thing to be authentic, which in and of itself suggests that it probably isn't. Not since P.T. Barnum has there been a show business master of the trompe l'oeil like Simon Cowell.