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Who is responsible for Susan Boyle?

Razia Iqbal | 15:21 UK time, Monday, 1 June 2009

boyleblogpic_getty.jpgMost reality television is in some respects exploitative. And it is naive for the producers of Britain's Got Talent to pretend that the contestants choose what happens to them because they are chasing a mythical dream.

Susan Boyle is a real person. Her "realness" is what intrigued and drew millions of people to her performance on video sharing sites like Youtube. She is as unexpected a star as they come - not airbrushed and not manufactured. But the show that has made her and now possibly broken her, is as manufactured as you can be in the reality television genre.

The programme is, of course, about unearthing talent and creating an entertaining television show. But it is the back stories of the contestants that make the show what it is. And while Susan Boyle's back story has been manna from heaven for the producers of the show, they have failed to seriously consider the impact of the extreme arc of fame she has experienced. They have benefitted from her story and must have known how she might cope with becoming an instant celebrity, being praised and then quite quickly pilloried.

She is a singer, that's all. A woman with a big, lyrical voice. And while she has wanted to realise her dream of becoming a singer, the price she is paying now is surely too high. And this has become an international phenomenon, not just because it had all the ingredients of a Cinderella story, but because we now live in a Twittering, Facebooking and YouTubing world, where we talk about anything and everything simply because we can.

And when we do, we are as responsible for fuelling the international conversation which, in this case, has made a rather damaging impact on an individual, who just a few weeks ago was unknown outside her own circle.


  • Comment number 1.

    This particular series of Britain's Got Talent has seemed to cross that intangible boundary of passive/active exploitation a number of times. Not only in the very quick rise and fall of Susan Boyle - and the usual relentless use of the mentally ill, infirm or just plain daft for the mockery of the country - but also the worrying use of young performers.

    Three of the under-twelve solo performers were shown to be pushed to tears over criticism from the judges, nerves or a general inability to cope with the 'cut throat' talent contest format. The fine line that the producers usually tread in these areas - between emotional displays and emotional breakdowns was very off this time around.

    Of course, as the viewing public, we can only ultimately blame ourselves for this. The producers will always push the acts to the very edge because we enjoy emotion, the tension, as a viewing audience. This is the nature of lowest common denominator television.

  • Comment number 2.

    What do you mean by the sentence 'Susan Boyle is a real person'? Who isn't real? It's meaningless.

    And why is it the viewing public's fault (article number 1)? What ever happened to people taking responsibility for their own actions? If I couldn't cope with fame, or didn't want to change my life, I wouldn't go on a TV talent show in the first place.

    Honestly, where has common sense gone?

  • Comment number 3.

    This article is just typical of our media outlets and shows just how unintelligent and poisonous our media has got.

    Comments like Susan Boyle is a real person. As the user above states, what person isnt real?

    Or comments like

    They [the producers] have failed to seriously consider the impact of the extreme arc of fame she has experienced.

    Oh please. It is the media that has canonised Susan Boyle one week, only to demonise her the week after. Why should the produces have to take into account or be responsible for the disreputable reporting by the media? The media should take responsibly for themselves.

    It is the media that you should be criticising, not the producers. Oh wait, you are the media!!

    And the idea that the Twittering, Facebooking and YouTubing world is somehow responsible for her checking into the Priory is simply ludicrous. It is the press hounding her, sitting on her doorstep, delving into her private life and creating a frenzied media gold rush that is responsible.

    Why is it that the media always tries to blame everyone else, but themselves? You cant just say you are reporting the story. In most cases you are creating the story in the most immoral and self serving manner.

    Come on, step up to the mark and find some morals.

  • Comment number 4.

    Beware of what you wish just might get it.
    Segments of the media are bottom-feeders and will write or photo anything that they can sell, truth,lies and things they just make up. Serious discussion is considered something like the Victorian age at this point in time. Behaviors and verbage are all designed to excite or defile. The media is about money and the whatever is determined as the offensive common denominator. The media will only lift the spirits if it is a designed prelude to tear them down. Actually, the world is in the shambles that the press had always hoped for and now they don't know how to write about it in any intelligent manner. We are all in the circus now.

  • Comment number 5.

    yes, Ramsaym1, guess who's paying the media to feature Susan Boyle on every tabloid, newspaper or media Blog? Did you ever hear about PR companies? Do you honestly think that the media decide what to publish when it comes to entertainment?
    The goal of reality TV shows is to make entertainment that sells, that is their only goal, no matter at what cost. Of course they exploit people for this when they can. And yes, contestants are fools if they apply without being aware of this.
    Susan's case is a little different though, because Susan has a learning difficulty. Somebody with learning difficulties is not automatically aware of the potential risks of being in a reality TV show, simply by definition. The responsibility is not in the hands of the producers as far as there's no law to regulate these issues.
    The responsibility lies within the public who is in fact responding in such an immature and superficial manner to quick fame and cinderella stories. Just go on youtube and look at the comments below Britain's got talent videos. most of them read like:"Susan should win because she is such a nice person" or "Susan shouldn't win, she looks like fat hippo" or (about the young kid in Diversity) "look at that gay boy, he is so gay!". Not many comments about talent really, just about what the contestants portrait with their image and story. This is the superficial world we live in and this is the kind of audience that reality TV shows strive to target and entertain, to make money.

  • Comment number 6.

    There are only two winners with this show, Simon Cowell and ITV because they benefit financially through exploitation. The losers are the contenstants and the public for watching such trashy, low-down, cretinous shows like this.

    If nobody watched these kinds of reality-based shows they would die a death because of low audience ratings.

    Do yourself a favour, don't watch them. Change channel to something more appropriate - even better switch the TV off!

  • Comment number 7.

    "I'm Razia Iqbal, the BBC's arts correspondent. This blog is my take on the UK's arts and culture scene. "
    So, this is what you call arts and culture is it? I don't call it either. As for Susan Boyle and the horrible car crash "talent" show that so accurately reflects our modern society, I have no sympathy. I only feel shame that anyone visiting this country or viewing from abroad, would think that, because it is a prime time Saturday evening broadcast and therefore very popular, we all love watching people sneared at. These days if you say you do not like or watch programmes like this, Big Brother etc people say you are elitist and mean it as if it is a bad thing.

  • Comment number 8.

    I feel that Piers Morgan, who has came out as a support to Susan in the final week and after her hospitalisation, was also a large part of the problem. Piers knew Susan had a school girl type crush on him, knew she had never had a boyfriend and had led a very simple life, and may have had learning or emotional difficulties possibly due to lack of oxygen at birth. Yet he seemed to lead her on, inviting her to a romantic dinner, jesting with Simon that she liked him more, laughing and applauding when she called him Piersy Baby and did her shimmy, which seems to be a nervous behaviour she exhibits, and talking about her big kiss to him back stage at the semi-finals. I think he was making sport of her, I doubt he had the type of feelings for her that she has for him. I dont think she is savvy enough to understand it was just a bit of a laugh for him and a way to get more attention to the show. Now he comes accross as a caring supporter, which may be genuine, but I think he has added to her pain.

  • Comment number 9.

    All reality television is about the exploitation of the participants and to a large extent (and where the format permits) the audience. Programs like Britains got talent, Big brother, i'm a celebrity etc are all hideous reflections on the way we are now encouraged to lead our lives.

    As mentioned several times abvoe the contestants are real people with real frailties and in some cases issues that are probably best left alone. The media help sell the idea that fame is good and can come to you with little or no preparation, the public are encouraged to sign up to the dream and compete in a biased uneven program presided over by a curt uncultured savage with no tact or sensitivity. The idea of a PR and media Mogul like Simon Cowell being able to nurture talent in the vulnerable and weak is laughable. While admittedly I do not know the man personally the image he portrays of himself and that portrayed by the media are not flaterring in this respect.

    I think that the recent events sorrounding Susan Boyle are the chronicle of a death foretold, reality TV has been playing with fire for a long time and it has finally been scolded perhaps it will be enough to change media attitudes to reporting and programming but then again I have always been a bit of an optimist.

    I watch very little television but my sons watch a lot (or so it seems to me) and what they miss they can download .... so as not to miss the latest oh so funny humiliation of someone, their excuse is that they are adoloscents and my hope is that they will grow out of it. There is no such excuse for the adults who seem to feed off this trivia.

  • Comment number 10.

    When the BBC's 'Arts & Culture' magazine starts to feature pieces about lowest common denominator television I start to wonder if it's because Britain has become devoid of any talent in the areas of art & culture or, whether the BBC have erroneously appointed an aspiring entertainment journalist to the "Arts & Culture' section.

    Please, Razia, let's keep the overexposed media post mortem on the highs & lows of Susan Boyle out of "Arts & Culture'. A television talent competition will never fall into the true sphere of either category, no matter how hard you try and dress it up.

  • Comment number 11.

    I blame the Americans really... Susan Boyle (Mrs Doyle) is plucked from the land of West Lothian and given the "next big thing" label, thrust into the spot light and told to put her feet up on Oprah's coffee table. Given praise from Hollywood stars and placed on a pedestal with no way down except to plummet to the bottom. At the end of the day (sorry to sound like a Big Brother Contestant) but its the British that choose the winner not the Americans. But if she were to think before she launched the water jug she'd have realised that she was bound to get a recording deal from someone over the pond, plus a movie contract for her life story, a column in Heat magazine, or at least a 30 minute episode of extreme makeovers. America always has it bigger and better, just look at our attempt at a Britney Spears style career meltdown!

  • Comment number 12.

    susan boyle and the rest of the contestants entered of their own free will susan was excellent every time she sang and to be honest the sun didnt help her publishing what they published last week as for people complaining about hollie steel getting to sing twice did any of them ever get scared or frightened in front of a large crowd of people simom cowell has gone up in my estimation i dont doubt he can be nasty and sarcastic but he was kind and caring to that little girl and she was the one wanted to sing again she wasnt forced as maybe these people seem to think if susan boyle supposedly did what the sun said she did and maybe she did but she was under stress and how many can say they have not acted that way at some point in their lives

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with #2. This blog is patronising twaddle.

  • Comment number 14.

    @2 and @13

    -But is every single person capable of making sensible, informed decisions for themselves? Would you let a drug addict run a pharmacy? Would you let someone with heart problems run a marathon, even if they really wanted to, and when they collapsed, foaming at the mouth, say 'oh well it was their choice'?

    What makes me cynical, especially in articles such as this one on the BBC website:
    is the argument that having 'psychologists' and 'counsellors' on such programmes will make everything alright.

    Programmes such as Big Brother and Castaway have had psychologists supposedly screening out 'unsuitable' people, yet both have also had contestants who have been violent, and in one case, expressing potentially suicidal ideation. Psychology and mental health are not exact sciences that can be predicted or instantly soothed. Someone can lie about their background and thoughts, and usually psychs are none the wiser. And they can then make it on the show - where they can wreak havoc.

    Big Brother in some other countries has seen some incredibly disturbing behaviour, from contestants threatening each other with knives to potential sexual assault.

    So we need programmes to be compassionate from the beginning not just with damage limitation as we seem to be experiencing with Ms Boyle. Perhaps its time for shows like Big Brother and BGT to call it a day, or radically change their format. In the days of ITV's Popstars, the band Hear'Say were not selected live nor was their a public vote, so the whole thing had been done and dusted when the public watched, reducing pressure for everyone involved. But having live votes means having big telephone revenues for the commercial channels - and big pressure for contestants.

    Maybe tighter controls are ultimately required for live competitions.

  • Comment number 15.

    Dont get me wrong doublethumb, I have no time for the big business that sits behind the talent shows or behind any other car crash culture. They are equally immoral in their pursuit for money at all costs.

    But as you rightly allude to, the Media is a big business in its own right, and is in effect, the propaganda wing of big business. As a result, the masses get stupefied as the propaganda wing feeds the masses and thus, the vicious circle continues.

    Of course the public have a responsibility, but so do the media. As I said in my last post; do I think internet media or indeed, glossy magazine articles had Susan Boyle running for the Priory? No. Do I think the tabloid journalists and television news crews sitting on her doorstep looking through her windows and pumping garbage into our newspapers and onto our TV sets did? Yes, absolutely.

    As for your other comments; do I honestly think that the media decide what to publish when it comes to entertainment? Yes, in many instances they do.

    As for guessing who's paying the media to feature Susan Boyle on this media Blog. Id take a guess at no one.

    I feel it is about time that the honest people within the media, of whom I consider Razia Iqbal to be one, need to take a stand and bite the hand that feeds them. Just once in a while. Please.

  • Comment number 16.

    Who is responsible? Susan Boyle is responsible, if you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen!
    People don't enter these talent shows hoping to get knocked out at the audition stage, they enter because they want to win.
    There have been numerous stories over the years of people not being able to cope with the fame, and fortune, so being constantly in the public eye isn't portrayed as being an easy ride.
    If you find yourself in this situation you have two choices, give up and say it was good while it lasted, or carry on and put up with the pressure.
    Nobody at any time has held a gun to her head, or threatened her in any way, it's been her choice since day one, she knew the possible consequences, she took the risks and paid the price, no sympathy.


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