Fooling the Audience – Susan Boyle and the Art of Storytelling

Gary Stein provides a close analysis of the video showing Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, causing quite a discussion about it. Approaching the piece from a journalistic point of view, I have asked myself if the video as it is edited could work as a piece of “news” considering the comments on Stein’s analysis.

Generally speaking, I would not consider her performance in itself news worthy, only the reaction to it by critics and audience otherwise known to be overly critical. However, there are more reasons why I think the video does not work as a journalistic piece.

What fascinates many viewers about this video is the transformation through which Susan Boyle appears to go during the video. However, as Stein points out: this transformation is staged! Music and sound as well as the comments by the two backstage hosts are meant to set up the audience, to fool it. News do not set up their audience, it is not ethical for them to do so! News are supposed to inform.

A way to make this a journalistic piece was to let the audience in on the knowledge the people backstage already have: that this will be a surprise. Instead, the audience is lead into believing that Susan Boyle is a failure, hijacking the authenticity of the person for an emotional reaction.

Don’t get me wrong here – I think the video is a fine piece of art (sic!), but I would not consider it news.

I personally did not watch the video entirely the first time. I was expecting a set up leading to yet another broken dream on the stge of the one or other talent show and I did not want to have to go through it. I was taken by surprise when I saw it completely later, but I also felt violated.

I felt the video violated what in film is called the “communicative pact”, since I expected the video to be of a different “genre”.

corrected some spelling errors


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