Beyonce’s talent is beyond doubt — what we will never see is her ability to rise to that particular occasion.
“The synthetic perfection of faux-live performance may enjoy an appealing gloss,” the Wall Street Journal’s Eric Felten said after the 2009 inauguration. “But you can say the same thing about supermarket apples — and we know how good they taste. One of the main challenges of the organic food movement has been to get people to see past the scuffs and dents and blemishes of honest produce, to focus on authentic flavors.”
Yet all of this would have been insignificant if we had been told beforehand rather than finding out afterward. Instead, on the US Capitol steps, the band members pretended to play, the director pretended to conduct, Beyonce pretended to sing and everybody involved pretended they did not know for several days. Lip-synching may not be a crime, but the cover-up was definitely heinous.
So while too much can be made of it — it is not a metaphor for how the US got into Iraq or, as some conservatives claimed, Obama’s record — it is more troubling how nonchalantly some shrugged it off. Also, there is considerable danger in making light of it, for these skills are transferable.
Clem Whitaker, the co-founder of the US’ first political consulting firm, once said that there are two ways to interest the average American in a political campaign: put on a fight or a show.
“So if you can’t fight, put on a show, and if you put on a good show, Mr and Mrs America will turn out to see it,” Whitaker said.
Civil rights leader and cable television host Al Sharpton hailed Beyonce miming as “the patriotic thing to do,” while CNN’s Anderson Cooper, whose catchphrase is “keeping ’em honest,” said: “It is Beyonce’s world and we are just living in it.”
Our expectations are so lowered that we reckon on being lied to and those in power reckon on lying to us. The only issue left is how much they can get away with it.
“At the end of the day, does the audience really care if they get a good show?” Bertram van Munster, executive producer of US reality show The Amazing Race, told USA Today last week in reference to docusoaps.
However, the audience should, lest indifference and skepticism become our default positions. When beef burgers may or may not contain beef and all feats — sporting, musical or otherwise — are discounted for doping and lip-synchs, we should be concerned.
When Beyonce sings at the Superbowl next month, we will wonder. At the next inauguration, we will wonder. Words we thought we understood — “live,” “beef,” “world record” — become depleted of meaning. What we see is no longer what we get, but what we are given, and what we know is only what we are told. Ignorance may be blissful, but it is still ignorance.