Though I am generally not a follower of pop “culture” (not having a television makes it rather easy to avoid), I found two stories rather interesting this week.
The phenomenon of Susan Boyle, a 47-year old, unmarried, unemployed, devout Catholic from an unknown Scottish village seemed to miss the point. Can she sing? Of course. But what if she couldn’t?
The three judges on the panel seem to have had this revelatory moment where they saw that the “true worth” of a person is not in her outward appearance, but in something else. The problem lies in them finding that the “something else” is her ability to sing well. If Susan Boyle couldn’t sing, her worth as a human being would be unchanged. If she was attractive, her worth as a human being would be unchanged.
As millions of Americans and others around the world pat themselves on the back for recognizing Susan Boyle as a person, they are in reality recognizing her for what she can do. One judge remarked that before Ms. Boyle sang, the crowd was likely being “cynical.” What is cynical is that the praise is not for Susan Boyle the person, but for Susan Boyle the singer. It is a signal of the utilitarian mindset running rampant throughout the culture–you are valued for what you can do, produce, sing, write, draw, etc. and not simply because you are a human person with innate worth and dignity.
How interesting it was, then, when the tables were turned. Miss California–a woman who is attractive by general consensus, has won beauty pageants before, etc.–gave the “wrong” answer by stating that she believed marriage was between one man and one woman. Immediately, her beauty was worth nothing, her performance the rest of the night did not mean a thing. Rather, she was judged according to one answer and her stance on one issue. She was valuable only insofar as her beliefs mattered to the judges.
Of course, Miss California was a good representative of her state because her beliefs matched the beliefs of a majority of California voters, but apparently that was not good enough. Even outward appearances could not save Miss California, Carrie Prejean, from being subject to the utilitarian code: if you are not actively furthering our agenda or you cannot produce what we value, you are not worth it.
This week in pop culture can only alert us to the fact that the culture war is still in its infancy. The value of a human life is greatly misunderstood when you must have a talent or you must say the right thing. It only goes to show how far we’ve strayed from our nation’s founding documents: “We hold these truths . . . that all men are created equal.”