Here’s the latest viral clip from Britain’s Got Talent, currently approaching 8 million views after just over a week on youtube, a number which is exploding now that the American audience has discovered it. Perhaps you’ve seen it but if not, watch and pay attention to your reaction.
On the surface of course this is a feel-good story with the trite and true moral of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” as homely shy teen wins over a skeptical audience with the power of his booming voice. But of course we’ve seen this before, Susan Boyle became a worldwide phenom. So why is it working again?
Because the producers know you, and they know exactly how to make you think what they want you to think.
They know your prejudices, they know what you want to believe about yourself, and most of all they know you’ve seen this before. That’s why they know it will work again.
When you watched the video, did you immediately think something along the lines of, “Christ, what a fatass” followed almost immediately by a self-satisfied, media aware recognition that “I’ll bet he’s going to blow them away?” They knew you would. They knew that you are savvy enough NOT to judge a book by its cover because they know you’ve seen this before. And they know just how damn satisfied you’ll feel when you’re right.
Think for a second: do you suppose that Simon Cowell, mastermind of multiple singing and variety competition shows, doesn’t understand that the next person on stage could blow the audience away? Do you really think the studio audience doesn’t understand this?
Simon Cowell is the executive producer of BGT. He calls the shots. Which means he knows in advance exactly who is walking out on to that stage. He knows exactly what he’s going to see and he knows exactly the part to play—as the “audience” who is incredulous that some fat boy has managed to drag himself on to the stage. “As if it couldn’t get any worse.”
They want you to believe that both Simon and the studio audience have pre-judged the performers when in fact they know it is anything but. Do you think the audience doesn’t know there are cameras on them? Take a look at the piece again, and ask yourself if the reaction shots you’re seeing really came from that moment. I’ll pull rank for a moment and tell you that as a professional television editor, I can guarantee you they did not. There was a team of producers and editors scouring footage to make the audience seem unimpressed.
They want you to know in advance that this guy is going to blow the audience away, and they want you to feel smart when you’re right. And furthermore, they want you to feel like you’re the person that you say you are–a person too kind to judge a fat book by its fat cover. Even though secretly all you saw was fat and instantly felt all the judgments that come with it.
They’ve made it easy to play the part of the person you pretend to be. All that’s left for you to do is share it on facebook.