The water cooler is spreading a virus

Byline: | Category: Blogging, Culture, Media | Posted at: Thursday, 16 April 2009

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, two events have leapt into America’s consciousness this week.  The first was the Tea Party protests involving hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans in hundreds of cities all around the country. 

susanboyle.jpgThe second was the sudden and stunning success of previously unknown church choir singer, Susan Boyle, who wowed judges and the audience in an audition for Britain’s Got Talent, the Anglican version of American Idol.  Since Saturday night when her first song was broadcast to a British audience, Ms. Boyle’s televised appearance has been viewed by no less than 40 million people, a population eight times that of her native Scotland.  In just the last 24 hours she has been mentioned, complete with a color picture, on the front page of the Washington Post, was interviewed live on the CBS Early Show, and has been booked for an appearance on Oprah.

What these two seemingly unrelated events have in common is the internet.

Courtesy of Jonah Goldberg, I first became aware of Ms. Boyle Tuesday morning.  My wife discovered her two days later when she appeared on the CBS morning show.  I mention this because the timing is important.  In an era–even just a decade ago–before YouTube, Ms. Boyle’s audition would have been the subject of the conversations of only those few UK viewers who happened to see her this past Saturday.  In other words: water cooler talk. 

“Hey, did you see that dowdy church lady really belt one out Saturday night?” 

“Uhh, no.  I watched Manchester come from behind against Sunderland.”

And that would have been it.  Without the internet Susan Boyle might still go on to win BGT.  Now, because of the viral nature of the new media, instead of wishing to be as famous as Elaine Paige, which the unknown Boyle said she wished to be, it’s quite possible that some day very soon, Elaine Paige, the Sir Laurence Olivier Award-winning actress, will be wishing that she was as famous as Susan Boyle.

Hours before Oprah, the Post, and Mark Phillips had ever heard of Susan Boyle, I did.  And so too did millions of others.  Ms. Boyle was already an American sensation before the American media ever arrived. 

Which brings me to the Tea Parties. . .

In the last few days before Wednesday, I began to hear rumblings that the virtually-0rganized Tax Day protests had finally grown to such an extent that the Republican Party wanted to jump on the bandwagon.  It was too late.  Even the head of the RNC was denied a speaking role.  This was a movement that had already grown outside the mainstream of American politics. 

Oprah Winfrey, accustomed to giving unknown authors a portion of her prominence by featuring their works, felt compelled to jump on the Boyle bandwagon after only one song.  It was only two years ago when, it took until Paul Potts that years’ BGT winner, was already crowned, before Oprah, then still ahead of the new media curve, introduced him to an American audience.  Now, Oprah has to make the introduction early–or at least as early as she can, since millions of Yankees have already seen Ms. Boyle, even though her singing career spans a grand total of two minutes and twenty seconds. 

This is the speed of the modern internet.  Instead of needing the establishment to give credibility to a movement–be it political or cultural–the establishment needs those movements to keep them relevant.

Let’s be bipartisan here.  Before there were Tea Parties and unknown divas, there was Barack.  He, himself, is a new media creation–a man, who only five years ago was a back-bench state senator, who was thrust upon a stage long before the establishment would have ever deemed him ready.  But the internet didn’t wait for the establishment to lead.  The establishment followed them–eventually dumping Hillary, the one on whom all their bets were originally placed.

This is a new era.  No more do Susan Boyles need Oprahs to give them an American introduction, and no longer do Americans themselves need political parties to make a political movement.  The days when movements require an  imprimatur are past.  Water cooler talk, which not too long ago, followed where the establishment wished to lead, now leads where the establishment has no choice but to follow.


An example of how slow word, or rather song, travelled in the era before YouTube, here is a Susan Boyle recording of Cry Me a River from a charity CD produced in 1999.  It may even be better than her BGT audition.

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38 Responses to “The water cooler is spreading a virus”

  1. Kay Brooks Says:

    Timing is important. I saw Ms Boyle’s performance Sunday thanks to the great news gleaners at Probably Jonah got it from his mom’s site over the weekend too.

  2. Webutante Says:

    Great post Bob, and oh so true.

    I would like to add that the Internet also has given many people like me the information to research and invest like professionals, by-passing incompetent andoften slow-moving managers (at least some of them). Many of them had their clients ride the stock market drop down to the bottom while those of us who read IBD and other savvy publications often online, were able to get out with minimal losses.

    It’s a whole new world for anyone who cares to partake. Oh and God bless Susan Boyle.

  3. Instapundit » Blog Archive » BOB KRUMM: What the Tea Parties and Susan Boyle have in common. And why Oprah Winfrey is like the … Says:

    […] KRUMM: What the Tea Parties and Susan Boyle have in common. And why Oprah Winfrey is like the Republican […]

  4. John Louis Swaine Says:

    Well, strictly ‘American Idol’s analogue in Great Britain was ‘Pop Idol’ (also its predecessor), which was usurped by ‘X-Factor’. “Britain’s Got Talent” is still helmed by Simon Cowell but has more variety rather than just singing.

  5. ThomasD Says:

    Somewhere there is a record exec who chose to ignore that 1999 cut because Ms. Boyle just didn’t have the look.


  6. Jeffersonian Says:

    I can’t decide whether Susan Boyle’s “Cry Me a River” is better than her BGT audition, but it’s every bit as good as Diana Krall’s version, and I’m a big Krall fan.

    What was it that Phil Gramm said about extraordinary things coming from ordinary people?

  7. Kelly Says:

    I remember when it was my dearest wish to buy my baby daughter a set of encyclopedia’s for her future learning needs. My husband was a lowly Sergeant in the Army, so we couldn’t afford them at the time. Whew! Glad I didn’t waste my money. I saw this video after following a posting in the comments section of a blog. The comment and link had nothing to do with the subject being discussed.

  8. More on Susan Boyle | Little Miss Attila Says:

    […] Insty, Bob Krumm links the two big stories of the week—that of the Tea Parties and Ms. Boyle—and draws a […]

  9. Robert Says:

    I think you meant anglicized instead of anglican, which refers, of course, to the Established Church in UK, headed by the Queen and whose chief prelate is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Ed: From Merriam-Webster: “2: of or relating to England or the English nation.”

  10. Weary_G Says:

    Hurrah for you, and hurrah for Miss Boyle, and Hurrah for the Internet!

    You make some extremely salient points about how the information landscape has changed, AND hit on exactly WHY there is so much hostility to the internet and people like bloggers from Pols and the establishment media.

    They are losing power, cannot control the message, and how many in history has taken THAT well?

    The revolution will NOT be televised; it will be viral!


  11. tree hugging sister Says:

    “…because Ms. Boyle just didn’t have the look.”

    Which is also the damnable reason a Susan Boyle will NEVER have a chance in our miserable Idol version.

  12. Moe Lane » Susan Boyle when she’s got a production studio behind her. Says:

    […] Bob Krumm, via Glenn Reynolds who has some interesting observations about how she’s like the Tea Party […]

  13. Kelli K Says:

    Nice piece. I completely agree with the argument. Here’s my addition to the analogy.

    1) Lookism: The two stories are linked by aesthetic critiques, completely accepted by the MSM, but subject to populist backlash. Susan Boyle is no looker, so no one took her seriously. But her sheer talent and quirky ways caused an instantaneous reevaluation and won everyone over to her side. The critiques I have read of the Tea Party Crowd, from the MSM and bloggy commentators alike, also center on how old, uncool and unattractive many of the attendees are alleged to have been. This is ridiculous, of course, but is also very widespread. And the fact is, the Tea Party crowd was older, probably whiter, and perhaps less sexy on the whole than your typical Move-On/Obamamania whistle stop. People who don’t have incomes or pay taxes aren’t going to protest crushing tax burdens, are they?

    Granted, there was no “aha” moment to the Tea Parties as there was with Boyle’s singing. But over time the movement that spawned the Tea Parties will hone its message and win converts. At that point, the “logic” of the beautiful people will be shown to be fundamentally wrong. Perhaps age and its attendant wisdom will be elevated above “looking cool.”

    2) Viral marketing is no longer the exclusive domain of the young. I am in my early 40s. I have lots of contact with teens. This group is not impervious to the charms of Susan Boyle, but they are late to the celebration on her behalf. When I asked 2 high school classes yesterday if they had seen the video only a handful of students had. By contrast all my friends have seen it and spread it around to each other.

    Like anything else that is associated with the young and the hip–Facebook, for instance–older people are now crowding on board. So it is with the Tea Parties. Old farts are taking to the streets with signs and costumes. Part of the derision on the part of the press and younger folk is the stock horror of having your parents trying to look hip. Too bad. This genie is not going back in the bottle. Middle-aged, middle-class people are too disadvantaged by the current economic crisis and the administration’s boneheaded response to it to keep quiet in their suburban (soon to be foreclosed upon) homes.

    The whole world is going viral.

  14. Rich Casebolt Says:

    “They are losing power, cannot control the message, and how many in history has taken THAT well?”

    Very few, if any … especially when their institution/meal ticket is sliding down into the valley of obsolescence.

  15. LIberty Says:

    I am fairly certain you meant ‘anglicized’ as Ms. Boyle is Roman Catholic… not Anglican.

    Thanks for the link to ‘Cry Me a River’… it’s just as wonderful as her TV audition.

  16. Jeff Shultz Says:

    Remember folks… there is also (or was) a “America’s Got Talent” show as well. David Hasselhof, Sharon Osborne and (I think) Simon were the judges of it last time I tuned in. You actually do get to see some fascinating acts.

    I think between his various talent show judging gigs, Simon Cowell has seen more _bad_ talent than most of the world put together.

    Which might explain his general attitude, actually.

  17. Josh Says:

    This is really not that important, but “Britian’s Got Talent” is the Anglicized version of “America’s Got Talent” on NBC. “The X-Factor” is the Anclicized version of “American Idol”

    Simon Cowell is a brilliant man! He knows what stirs people and that’s why he has hits on both sides of the pond.

  18. Locomotive Breath Says:

    Video Killed the Radio Star

    That song by the obscure band The Buggles is the flip side of the coin. It was the first song broadcast on the fledgling MTV.

    In days gone by Susan Boyle might have had a BETTER chance at being a hit on the radio because her looks would have been irrelevant. As a result of the video revolution, it became more important to have great abs and dance as long as you could lip sync acceptably.

    Technology taketh away and technology restoreth.

    Ed: Excellent point.

  19. A.W. Says:

    one thing to add is that Oprah has a non-laughable right to claim she had a role in promoting Obama, too.

    And it seems to me that youtube, etc. can also make people a brighter flash in the pan than usual, but it is a briefer flash, too.

    I think in Obama we have a flash-in-the-pan president. A “fad” president. a “pet rock” president. I think he is wearing out his welcome alot faster than his term will be up and that is, well, a problem. Maybe it will teach us to be immune to this sort of thing in the future. We can only hope.


  20. ALEXISTAN Says:

    There is another linkage, here, and it has to do with the classic cool vs nerd dichotomy, which I thought was going to be Krumm’s point.

    It’s as simple as the dismissive eyeroll sent Ms Boyle’s way by Cowell and the overly made-up girl in the audience, or the sneering obscenity of Garafolo (and the rest in “Journolist” lockstep) in regards the motives of the Tea Party protesters.

    There is an underlying merit to the expressions of both Ms Boyle and the protestors, however, that refuses to be ridiculed away. And when it hits, as it did me when I first witnessed Boyle’s singing, it hits right in the lachrymal gland. And that reaction you can’t deny.

    Which, I guess, weould make me a reactionary. So be it.

  21. Yet Another Reason The MSM Is Pretty Much Irrelevant « Casualprofundity’s Blog Says:

    […] Another Reason The MSM Is Pretty Much Irrelevant By casualprofundity [a href=”″ target=”new”]From Bob […]

  22. jimmy Says:

    Five years ago, I was at least a week ahead of talk radio, (Rush, for instance), in my awareness of current events. (Of course talk radio was still ahead of the MSM, if the old media even bothered.)

    By two years ago, I was only two or three days ahead.

    A year ago, it was 24 hours.

    Now, sometimes it’s maybe twelve hours or less.

    (And the mainstream media still can’t be bothered half the time

  23. About face. « True Sailing Is Dead Says:

    […] to Comments Variations on the anti-establishment theme that seems to be obsessing me a bit today. This from Bob Krumm: This is the speed of the modern internet.  Instead of needing the establishment to give […]

  24. Right Angles » Blog Archive » Gatekeepers no longer Says:

    […] Krumm has an excellent post showing how the gatekeeper function of the traditional media is defunct. No longer does an event […]

  25. Insufficiently Sensitive Says:

    I saw the YouTube video. The singing is magnificent. The video production is awful – endless shots of people acting ‘dismissive’, then ‘surprised’, then ‘elated’ – all poseurs, knowing in advance how they’d be seen onscreen. The video is full of cuts from scene to scene of folks acting out what the producer has scripted. Yet it’s presented as if it all was so spontaneous – what a fraud.

    The video production was a fake and bad as the singing was good. Mud for the producer, flowers for Susan Boyle.

  26. Warren Bonesteel Says:

    There are no “ordinary” people.

    We each have a skill, a talent, an ability, an insight, or knowledge that the rest of us need to know and to understand and appreciate.

    Anyone who denies this is either a fool or they’re trying to sell you something.

  27. I Dreamed a Dream - Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum Says:

    […] (and it is), listen to her remarkable 1999 recording of "Cry Me a River" at the bottom of this blog page. She made that recording for a charity and someone found it after her appearance on the […]

  28. Alistair Says:

    ‘Ed: From Merriam-Webster: “2: of or relating to England or the English nation.”’

    Robert is right. “Anglican” in modern usage always refers to the church, never the nation. Merriam-Webster is wrong on this.

    Besides, if Ms Boyle is actually from Scotland, as your entry states, then it is completely inappropriate to use any “Anglo” derivation, as Scotland is a nation in its own right, distinct from England, and most Scots are offended to be grouped in with the English.

    I know, you used the term to describe the TV program and not the person, but the fact remains that, if contestants are drawn from all over the British Isles, then it was incorrect to describe the program using “Anglican”, even if it were a synonym of “English” as you claim.

    See what problems people get into when they try to use a “big word” when a simpler one would have done?

  29. Chris Foleen Says:

    “Unless you’ve been living under a rock.”
    Well. Our President professed complete ignorance of the Boyle phenomenon when he was asked, so …

  30. Just Me Says:

    Isn’t this a little scary? I don’t mean popular entertainment. The internet is a boon to that.

    But what about politics? Barack Obama: “only five years ago was a back-bench state senator” Is a media sensation ready to be President? Is this a good thing?

    Also, some of the best things in life require subtlety. How much of that is there in the internet? I hate to be a grump, but don’t people already have too short of an attention span? Isn’t it only going to get worse?

  31. Hot Air » Blog Archive » Audio: “Lost” Susan Boyle recording discovered Says:

    […] Bob Krumm, who’s got a shrewd take on what she has in common with the tea parties. Note his data point […]

  32. Audio: “Lost” Susan Boyle recording discovered; Update: Boyle covers Celine | But As For Me Says:

    […] Bob Krumm, who’s got a shrewd take on what she has in common with the tea parties. […]

  33. Broadsword Says:

    The attitude of the Dying Dinosaur media and the White House to the tea parties was, and is, exactly what the attitude was of the audience before Susan Boyle sang. Afterwards, the former are still either in denial or incredulous, the latter, hopefully, beginning to question their assumptions about peoples’ appearance, and understanding what, and where is the source of beauty and truth.

  34. Dollayo Says:

    First I want to say that you have made some great points. I just have 2 areas of you’re analysis in which I respectfully disagree. (1) It took a TV show to make her famous. She didn’t originate on the Internet in the same way the “Leave Britney Alone” guy did. If not for that TV contest she would still be an unknown. The fact that the Internet acted as a catalyst of distribution to showcase her talent and build her name recognition doesn’t mean that she is wholly a new media creation. I would say it took a traditional TV show and the Internet to make her famous in this case. (2) I think it’s kinda unfair to characterize her entire singing career as lasting only 2 minutes and 20 seconds. She said before her performance that she has been singing since she was 12. She has had professional singing lessons and it shows. She has spent many years practicing her skills in churches and singing at charity events. It takes a lot of practice to sing “cry me a river” as well as she did, something many professionals have bombed out in the attempt. For example, you don’t say that all you need to do to make money on corn is to sell it and ignore all the effort it takes to grow it do you?

  35. Jerry Says:

    Sorry I missed the Tea party, but I actually have been under a rock this week. Those 2 songs made an excellent start for my Saturdy morning!

  36. The Effect of the Internet as a Watercooler | SOBCon09 Says:

    […] Krumm wrote this week: The water cooler is spreading a virus Unless you’ve been living under a rock, two events have leapt into America’s consciousness this […]

  37. Saturday Afternoon - The Cycle That Never Ends - Laundry Time , An Ol’ Broad’s Ramblings Says:

    […] The water cooler is spreading a virus – Bob Krumm (check out the video at the bottom of the post…..WOW!) […]

  38. Seerak Says:

    Somewhere there is a record exec who chose to ignore that 1999 cut because Ms. Boyle just didn’t have the look.

    Which is also the damnable reason a Susan Boyle will NEVER have a chance in our miserable Idol version.

    In days gone by Susan Boyle might have had a BETTER chance at being a hit on the radio because her looks would have been irrelevant. As a result of the video revolution, it became more important to have great abs and dance as long as you could lip sync acceptably.

    HELL yeah!

    Since I was a teenager, I wondered why female singers (much more so than their male equivalents) were almost invariably “hot”.

    Voices are not contingent on looks. I wondered, where are the amazing voices in plain packages? I can name two women of “non-standard” shape who were able to succeed: “Mama” Cass Elliot, and Rita McNeil. And even then, Elliot’s career was delayed because John Phillips thought she was “too fat“, and McNeil’s success is mainly in the relatively small Canadian market.

    In the meantime, while Susan Boyle was languishing in anonymity, sundry mediocrities in “hot” bods were having their crappy voices “fixed in post” by sound engineers, who digitally adjust pitch to fix all the off-key notes!

    I doubt this is going to change things on the part of the existing recording industry, alas; it’s up to us to ferret out talents like this ourselves.