The half-life of Susan Boyle

July 26th, 2009

Half-life: The time required for something to fall to half its initial value

Last week my nine-year-old was in the chorus at what was billed as an All Stars Concert for 60 kids in a summer theater program.

Just do the math and you know that 60 kids can’t All be Stars but try selling that to the kids or their parents who paid admission.

The day before the show, she fairly exploded with expectation. Then show time came. We couldn’t see her in the second row of 60 kids sing her heart out, but we know she did a fine job. Walking to the car after, she said, “I’m depressed.” Stardom will do that, apparently. The high lasts through one rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” before you’re slammed back to the hard pavement of the parking lot, as we see so painfully time after time.

I mean no insult to my daughter, or anyone else’s ambition, but our cult of stardom, this collective craving for instant inflation, the plucked-from-obscurity-to-overnight-hysteria thing, has me vaguely ill, as though I’ve been overfed.

We seem to have become sensation junkies. Each week a new sensation goes viral, whether it’s astonishment à la Boyle, grief à la Jackson, or this week’s cherry on top, the wedding dance being sensationalized for its “novel way of sharing matrimonial joy.”

Everyone puts on a good show. Indeed, All are Stars.

But gravity always has the last word. The simple cruelty of physics brought Susan Boyle swiftly low and likewise ensured that Michael would never rise to the occasion. I too, feel depressed, after I blow up ballooning expectations that inevitably blow up.

Now we have newlyweds that have reached, within a month of their nuptials, a summit that will surely never be scaled again. Two Today Show appearances in two days. Perhaps next they’ll be invited to have a beer at the White House. I know a thing or two about marriage, and this honeymoon would be hard for any ordinary couple to recover from.

Most of us have never seen anything like it, but there’s a veritable YouTube subgenre of choreographed wedding dances out there, the couples spreading their ambition for matrimonial joy by breaking into breakdance and hip hop, then posting it on YouTube just for friends and family. Tell me: are you surprised? These plucky couples and their videos feed the diet of morning news shows which are front and center in the televised wedding business. Weddings are already afflicted with an increasingly outrageous need to trump all. Don’t you know thousands, maybe millions, of betrotheds are now scrambling to top a new bar in the wedding-as-viral-video department?

When did we stop seeing the obvious? Viruses make us sick, and can even kill.

I hope Georgia picks herself up and keeps going for the love of performing. I hope Susan Boyle endures for the love of song. I hope the happy couple stays together in anonymity and health, as I wish for all couples. And I hope Michael Jackson rests in eternal peace.

As for me, I’m going away to a place where I can practice spreading another kind of sensation: obscurity.

Don’t worry, you’re safe. It’ll never go viral.


  1. Enjoy the obscurity. It might not ever go viral, but I think I've caught the bug.

    Comment by Marianne — July 26, 2009 @ 8:13 pm

  2. I often say … "when I'm rich and famous." What I mean by that is famous ala KISS before they gave up their identity. I'd like to be famous in a round-about way. Sadly Hannah Montana has already taken that role. I guess I'll have to be content just being me.

    Comment by Shalet — July 27, 2009 @ 6:41 am

  3. A voice of reason in an unreasonable world. 🙂
    Thanks, Karen, for reminding me to write for the love of writing itself. And I hope obscurity treats you as kindly as you treat us.

    Comment by shannon — July 27, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  4. Thank you. I was just thinking along these same lines after going to a soccer 'awards banquet' for 4-6 year olds that made it seem like they had won the olympics or something, all in the name of their 'self-esteem'. And in terms of the high/crash cycle, this crossed my mind after going to Disneyland with visiting family – so much anticipation, 9 hours of frenzied 'happiness' and then the inevitable 'crash' of getting back to everyday life.

    Comment by mommymystic — July 27, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  5. bless you, karen.

    Comment by Holly — July 27, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  6. Here's a hug for Georgia. xo

    Comment by Mary Ann — July 28, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

  7. well said, mae, as always.

    awaiting your return.

    Comment by wendy — July 29, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  8. Oh my goodness me. I just found you through Shutter Sisters today and I think I'm hooked on your words and your thoughts. Fabulous.

    Comment by Puna — August 4, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

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