A couple posts ago, I stated:

Another things that bugs me is that if [Susan Boyle] was a beautiful woman and sang exactly the same way, the reaction might be different. The “triumph” here depends on our prejudice. And then we say our prejudice is a bad thing? Then why do we love getting over it so much?

(And what if she had sung terribly? No one would say “how dare we judge a person based on their singing!” and yet that’s what we do here; we’re still basing her worth on something…)

Today I came across this article, which says:

If Susan Boyle couldn’t sing, Simon Cowell wouldn’t have stopped smirking; the spectators would have kept on snickering; and America’s newest heroine would have gone back to her Scottish village to resume the life of an unmarried, unemployed, ungainly, middle-age woman who lives alone with a cat.

In other words, without what we define as talent, Susan Boyle would be an object of mockery and pity.

“What has Susan Boyle taught us about the way we judge people based on appearance?” I heard some radio host intone on Friday.

My answer: Not much.

… after the rooting’s done, what’s the lesson? That we shouldn’t make fun of odd people because they might have talent?

… the lesson I’d hope we take from Susan Boyle is that people deserve respect, however strange they are, even if they don’t have talent.

Oh, look, someone agreed with me!  Though she makes a larger point of it.  But, YES, I agree!

Which leads me to some questions about this thing called love… what makes one person love someone else, and when is it really love?  Can anyone really love Susan Boyle from just watching such a short video?  And if so, why?  Just because she can sing?  Is there some subconscious pity going on?


Of course beauty seems to be one of the first requirements for love.  This can probably be illustrated best in the movies; ugly people are rarely cast as lovable main characters.  It’s much easier for audiences to instantly sympathize with someone on the more attractive side.  Even on TV channels for children like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, characters are often seen being instantly interested in other characters only because of their looks.  Isn’t that… extremely shallow?  But it’s natural!  It’s what the human mind is designed to do.  But… certainly that’s not love, is it?  That’s just physical attraction.

It’s obvious most people can get past this, as there are plenty of ugly couples all over the place.  But beauty is still important; I’ve never overheard any husband say “honey, you’re ugly, but I love ya!” nor have I heard any wife say “you’re out of proportion and I wish you looked different but I had to pick someone or I’d never get married!”  What impolite things to say!  So I guess in a sense, we never really get past it.  We only learn to ignore it more.

Intellect and talent

The next thing we are instantly attracted to is talent.  Who has that wonderful voice?  Who painted that beautiful portrait?  Who can play that instrument so beautifully?  Who can blah blah blah do whatever so well?

Isn’t this part of what has Susan Boyle’s audiences in tears?  Is this love?  What is this?  I suppose this is partly some sort of admiration, and partly some sort of wanting to have the talent yourself, but not in a terribly envious way, perhaps more of a subconscious desire.

When you ask people why they love their spouses, they’ll probably list some cliche traits.  Wait a sec?!  Are they saying that love is based merely on a list of traits?  I doubt it… there’s something more that can’t be expressed in words I suppose… or is there?  Is the act of love actually a pretty shallow act that only feels deep, like putting a mirror in front of a mirror?

If this isn’t love, what else is there to base love on?  I guess common interests?  Common beliefs?  A balance between interests, beliefs, talents, and attractiveness?  It’s gotta be something, doesn’t it?  If it wasn’t anything, we’d fall in love with rocks in the streets!


I don’t think this is often a conscious thing, so not many people will admit to it, or even know they’re feeling it.  It’s something like a deep desire to see someone else succeed because there’s something about them you feel superior to.  An ugly person is the simplest example.  Quasimodo may be a good example, though I’ve only seen film versions of the story.  In those versions, the audience is meant to love the hunchback merely because he is deformed and not a villian.  “I’m ugly!  Poor me!  Love me because you feel sorry for me!”  I think in fiction writing there can often be a fine line between wanting readers to understand and care about your main character’s plight, and wanting readers to just downright pity the characters.

This is why I usually hate movies with mentally challenged characters; they’re so often portrayed as objects of pity, but the screenwriters and directors might not even realize they’re doing it, because it’s coming from their subconscious pity for the characters.  (One film that thankfully doesn’t portray mentally challenged characters as objects of pity is the classic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

Actually, I suppose there are several different definitions of “pity.”  There’s the more “sympathize with, understand” pity, and there’s the more “oh, poor you, I’m obviously better than you and want you to succeed at something because you’ll never be as good as me in this other thing” pity.  It’s obviously the latter I’m blathering about.

This sort of pity is a vile thing and should be avoided.  Trouble is, I think, it’s often subconscious.  We can feel the emotional effects of it without actually feeling it itself.  And what are these emotional effects?  Well… it probably feels like love.

But is it love?

I don’t know

I obviously have more questions than answers.

But I do think it is a bit of an insult to Susan Boyle to love her only because of her singing.  Then again, how could we expect ourselves to be any different?  Our biases are nothing new.  Nihil novi sub sole!  (Is that the phrase?  I can’t remember.)

That said, I still enjoy Boyle’s performance, just as I enjoy movies with attractive people in them.  But Boyle’s performance and “triumph” is not a “wake up call” to our cynicalness nor does it really say anything profound about prejudices.


LanthonyS · April 19, 2009 at 1:01 PM

It is indeed “Nihil novi sub sole”.

Interesting thoughts. (By the by, I decided to start writing a blog. It’s probably quite uninteresting, but I know I’m obsessive enough to frequently update it, so if you’re interested I’ll toss you a link.)

I guess none of the tangible, nameable things are love. They’re attraction (oh dear, am I in this strain again?). The really obvious simple example is “That person is beautiful, I feel attracted to them, I want to [do situationally exclusive] things with them.”

And then there’s also a stronger feeling for a person’s qualities once you discover them, and I think that that’s where a lot of people stop (and consider that they’ve superseded shallowness): “This person does this really well,” or “This person makes me feel a certain way by what they do.” Then you might exclaim, “I love that about them.” But is that feeling really a ‘I would choose this person over ANY OTHER person who can do that same thing as well, or better’? NO!

Then there’s the third level of “love, or attraction” and I think it’s as far as is comfortable to understand. This would be a “who they are” type of thing. For example, “This person gives to charities,” or “This person just is really funny, warm-hearted, cool,” etc, whatever you want to tack onto their name. But that’s still not something that’s… I don’t know how to say it … exclusive to that person. As Pascal said in Les Pensées, “People might love me for my wisdom or beauty or talent, but as I grow old, those things will fade or even disappear. If any of those things were ruined, if my face were suddenly deformed, or my mind fell to insanity, or it was discovered that I had been faking it — would they continue to love me? Or did they only love those things about me? If not, … For what can they say that they loved me?”

I really dislike that last step. I hate the idea of loving a person for anything you can possibly name or give idea to. But does that mean the thing you love them for is so far out of mind, so intangible, that it may as well not exist?

I don’t know. It also raises the question of “Is there a sole person for me? If I never meet that person, could I ever be as completed and fulfilled as I was meant to be with that person?”
That’s also something my mind feels like rejecting. Why should it be possible for a person to not find “true love”? Why should it be an option that they could search hard all their life and never find it?

But does that mean that there are multiple people who could fit the bill? And does that mean that there ISN’T a special thing about a person’s “soul” that makes them unique?

Two quotes come to mind suddenly, which I think I’ll close this tangent with.

1, by Douglas Coupland: “What’s the one thing, more than anything else, about you, that makes you different from any other person?” Can you name anything like that? Doesn’t “my soul” sound like a cop-out?

2, (paraphrasing) by a pastor in some church we visited once: “What does it mean for God to ‘be’ love? Who does he love, and what? Love requires relationship–it requires a minimum of two people, a subject and an object. In this sense, God didn’t really come into existence until He created us… assuming of course that He is love, and that love requires an object.”

S P Hannifin · April 24, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Thanks for the comments!

Oh, yes, I’d definitely be interested in your own blog! I’ll even put a link to it on the side of this blog if you’d like.

Maybe another word for love is “accustomed” … as in that My Fair Lady song “I’ve grown accustomed to her face” (I think that’s how it goes). We get so accustomed and comfortable around friends and family that we care about them naturally; it’s easy for our brains to deal with those people. We don’t have to make a conscious effort to care about them / love them, it just happens by getting used to interacting with them. Then you’re sad when they’re gone because you’re brain isn’t comfortable without them…

In movies and at weddings, when people feel they have to talk about love in very … romantic ways, they often claim love is almost “dependence” … “I can’t live without her!” … “he/she completes me!” blah blah blah. I don’t see needing someone as particularly romantic. Food is something you need, oxygen is something you need. Having a certain person’s company is a strong desire. That might seem less romantic, but that sort of “dependence” definition of love is something I’ve never agreed with.

(Hahahahahaha… I’m working at the library as I type this, and I just asked for a patron’s name, and she said “Love” … what a great cosmic coincidence!)

In my original post, I wasn’t really thinking about the sort of love people get married over, I was just thinking about love in general.

I do think multiple people would be compatible with multiple people… at the same time, I can see the world as being completely deterministic (almost like there being a “fate” or “destiny” for each person) so in that sense, there may be only one other person “meant” for you… but it’s still up to the choices we make. God might know which two people will end up together, but I think he knows our decisions play a part. I don’t think he puts one person on Earth for us and then if we don’t find that person we’re just out of luck, and might end up with a “wrong” person. There are no “wrong” people. There might be people that annoy you and you wouldn’t want to marry or live with, but when there are two people you love that much, it’s up to you… one of them is not wrong… your fate is what you decide it to be.

So whether or not multiple can fit the bill is just something you can’t know until you find two people who you think fit the bill. Otherwise, there may or may not be.

Anyway, to that Pascal quote… I agree and disagree with him… on the one hand, I also don’t like the idea of being able to name what you love about a person… on the other hand, I don’t love non-living things the way I love living creatures, and I don’t love animals/pets the way I love other humans. If a person magically turned into stone, I think I’d still love them (and be quite upset that they turned to stone); I’d know who they were was not quite the same as what they were. But why don’t I love stones that didn’t used to be human? Can’t that be expressed with names and ideas? It has to have the qualities of humans for me to love it as a human. Isn’t that something I can give a name / idea to?

I’m just thinking out loud…

As for the quotes… for the first quote, my answer would be my DNA! But, yeah, “my soul” does sound a bit like a cop out, but I don’t know what else one could answer… there couldn’t be any single trait that would really be unique.

I like the second quote, but I think using the word “until” kind of implies that God exists “in time” like we do, which I don’t think would be necessary for God. He’d be in all times at once; there is no “time” for him.

To go off on a tangent on the subject of “time” again, I think “time” exists with consciousness. It’s something we sense, like color, it doesn’t exist outside of our brains. Before you were born, there was no time, and if you go unconscious for years, the “time” you spend unconscious would not seem to pass, you just “jump” through time from one point to another. To rephrase, time exists, but the passing of time does not exist outside of our brains.

And now I have a headache…

S P Hannifin · April 24, 2009 at 2:47 PM

Although I’m not sure what the difference is between “time” and “time passage” … doesn’t time have to pass for it to be time?

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published.