When a friend sat me down to watch the now-famous clip of Susan Boyle on YouTube (appearing on a British television talent show), I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, most people have heard about it by now because the clip went ‘viral’ and has become among the most watched video clips in the world. Another friend later sent a clip of Boyle’s heroine, Elaine Paige, singing the same song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” from the 1980s’ Broadway musical, Les Miserables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. I hesitate to venture my thoughts on the video hit as a cultural barometer, however, it has spread so far and wide that it’s hard to deny it suggests a common bond among Westerners. I think the clip succeeds due to the contrast of an admittedly ordinary woman who possesses a lovely voice, the reactions of the judges and audience, which heightened the sense that Susan Boyle overcame their prejudices, and the particular selection of music, a melodic elegy for what might have been, which resonated from a person who seemed matched to the material.
But I think that the clip caught on fundamentally because people want to see a talented person in action. The culture’s not completely jaded. Not everyone is infected with nihilism. People may laugh at cynical shows such as South Park, The Simpsons, and sniveling nightly diatribes by Stephen Colbert, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart and Bill Maher (who can be funny, though not much anymore), but they don’t rush to spread sneers. People, judging by the overwhelming response to what was a memorable moment on television, apparently still seek to spread the sight of something good.