Susan Boyle and the Reality of Reality TV

I’m sure it is global news by now that the widely feted Susan Boyle has been taken into a private clinic following her failure to win Britain’s Got Talent. She seems to have suffered some kind of mental breakdown. It has been clear from the outset that Susan is a vulnerable woman. I’ve read at least one report that states that she has a learning difficulty- I would not be surprised if that were true. She is clearly vulnerable and the strain she was under was written all over her face on last week’s shows. Her story raises a number of issues.

1. The format of BGT has long disturbed me. While they have unearthed some great talent- the dancers who won the show were fantastic- the format is concerning where in the auditions anyone and everyone is put in front of the public. The result is that people who have no talent, who are deluded and obviously suffering from different kinds of disorder are put on display so that they might be humiliated. It reminds me of the old Bedlam and side shows where people who ought to have been protected because of their weakness became a curiosity. The finals are great as talent is put on display. The auditions I find hard to watch.

2. Susan was clearly thrown to the wolves aka the tabloid press. She was clearly offered no protection so that her life was sifted in an attempt to create a monster. The tabloid press could not be happy celebrating her talent. They wanted to destroy her. This is what reality tv creates- tabloid fodder as the press tries to destroy people. The blatant hypocrisy surrounding the death of Jade Goody is another clear example. In such an environment ‘giving them their chance’ is no defence of the treatment of vulnerable people

3. No doubt the powers that be on BGT will argue that Susan deserved a chance. We are constantly fed the mantra by these shows that the greatest thing anyone can be given in stardom. There are of course gifted people but the last thing they need in their state of vulnerability is to be thrust into the limelight. Susan’s case makes clear that there are more important things- such as peace of mind- than being rich and famous.

4. We keep hearing the line that success on shows like BGT will change people’s lies forever. No it won’t. Winning a talent competition has nothing to do with anyone’s eternal destination. That is determined by being in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In our fame, obsessed, money drive, show biz driven, society we need to recognise that this is the most important thing about us. Celebrity is at best fleeting. It is always a two-edged sword. But God’s love is everlasting.

I hope Susan recovers well from her problems. that she finds support from people who truly have her best interests at heart. And I hope above all that she comes to know the peace of God in her life.

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