I've just finished reading Between the Monster and the Saint
by retired Anglican bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway. It's a fascinating reflection on the nature of good and evil, and focuses primarily on our puzzling dual nature. On one hand we are capable of goodness, generosity and tenderness, but on the other we can be unspeakably cruel.
Over the past month, this dual response has been illustrated by the treatment of Scottish talent quest diva, Susan Boyle. For those who missed the kerfuffle surrounding Boyle's rise to stardom, this video shows how it all started (click image to view).
It's the heartwarming transformation of an ugly duckling into a golden voiced swan. The 48-year-old Catholic spinster achieved her dream as she unexpectedly swept to victory in her heat of ITV's Britain's Got Talent.
And then, in a display of the power of new media and the internet, her amazing performance was taken far beyond the boundaries of British television. Via tens of millions of hits on YouTube, her triumph went global.
But sadly, the dream soured, and this was also played out in the global spotlight. Her homely looks were disparaged, and in an appearance via satellite on Oprah she was asked by the doyen of daytime TV if she would get a makeover. She was referred to in other press as a 'troll doll' and 'the 48-year-old virgin'.
Worse was to come. In the lead-up to the grand final, she was apparently taunted by strangers in the lobby of the London hotel where she was holed up with other contestants. In a front page article with the headline 'SuBo Goes Loco', The Sun newspaper reported that she roared: 'How f***ing dare you! You can't f***ing talk to me like that!' Police had to intervene.
In the grand final of BGT last Saturday, Boyle came second, beaten by street dance group Diversity. The following day she collapsed and was taken to hospital, reportedly with 'mental exhaustion'. The tabloid media was abuzz with cruel conjecture about her mental stability and psychiatric health.
Interestingly, in a quick random survey of the blogosphere, the tone of discussion about 'SuBo' seemed to be very different. Blogs, and their accompanying posts seemed to be much more understanding, supportive and compassionate.
It was the internet, the realm of new media, that raised Boyle to global superstardom. Is it possible this more democratic realm might provide a more saintly balance to the traditional tabloid monster?
Peter Kirkwood worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.