Reality and Perfection

Around these parts people always find something to natter about.  Most recently it’s been Beyonce Knowles, better known as Beyoncé, who apparently lip-synched her way through the National Anthem at President Obama’s Second Inauguration (my, that phrase has a lovely sound!).  Some people apparently thought she showed disrespect for the occasion, that she should have come to town earlier for adequate rehearsals, that somehow the lip-synch was artificial, phony, not worthy of the occasion.

Many of these folks doubtlessly gave Lady Gaga a pass when she simultaneously belted out a song in a strong voice and multi-puked on stage in Barcelona last October 8th.   That was either lip-synching or the first step to sainthood—a miracle. As for Beyoncé, her offended carpers are not professional vocalists, and don’t know the parameters of the artist and her situation.  You can talk about her lack of rehearsal time, the sub-freezing air, or whatever.  All I know is that Aretha Franklin defended her, and if the Queen of Soul says she’s OK, she’s golden as far as I’m concerned.

Chris Richards, in his Washington Post column “Give us reality—and also give us perfection,” talks of “how confused our culture has become over its wobbly standards of authenticity.”  We want passion, spontaneity, drama, the depths of the human soul.  But what if her voice had cracked from fatigue, cold, just an off moment?  The National Anthem is notoriously difficult to sing, even if you’re not an offensive jerk about it like Roseanne Barr.  Had Beyoncé faltered, the natterers would be picking that apart today.  The slim zone of perfection between failure and artificiality is all we want.

Needing so badly to hit that zone is reason enough to be persuaded to lip synch on such an occasion.  The problem is that we found out she did it.  As Richards says, that knowledge spoiled our fantasy that the whole event was a spontaneous expression of national enthusiasm rather than a carefully orchestrated (no pun intended) ritual.

Trek-riding cyclist that I am, I compare this to Lance Armstrong and the depth of vituperation poured upon him.  Few people wanted to challenge our vision of his heroic recovery, his amazing athleticism, his profound resolve to win on his merits.  But Armstrong, like his fans, needed to live in that slim zone of perfection.  He spoiled our vision of himself as the triumphant athlete by letting his use of PEDs become known, and so now many former hero-worshippers hate him.  The depth of that anger reflects the same “wobbly standards,” the same ambiguity about wanting it real and wanting it perfect, as does the indignation at Beyoncé.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

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