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Calling out The Voice

The big TV channels have been tweaking the format in relay for some years; finally, after numerous iterations, the BBC have hit upon the ultimate reality TV contest…expertly crafted to provoke maximum despair; a sitting quarry for all that pent-up frustration (which I would doubtless be tempted to unleash all the more loudly and frequently if only I had Charlie Brooker's vitriolic eloquence).

I'm talking about The Voice. That's what it's ALL about, apparently. In a remarkably groundbreaking and radical move, they've decided to make their latest search for talent about…well…talent. Blind auditions! Wow! We are in post-SuBo Britain now people -- a new era has dawned, and there's no going back. Gone are the days when we didn't realise that even people who looked slightly odd might be able to do something impressive…something powerful enough, even, to bring a conservative tear to the heavily-mascaraed eyes of female TV judges, to 'go viral' across the nation, to make Simon Cowell a pretty penny or two via a best-selling album of lazily arranged cover songs and to feed the tabloids over the quiet summer months.

So now they've turned it into a whole television program. Curiosity got the better of me and I did actually watch some of the first episode, but I needn't have bothered. My existing cynicism already heightened by Charlie Brooker's recent 'Black Mirror' (which I've written about before), I was thoroughly primed for annoyance -- and what I saw did nothing to stay my pre-meditated wrath. Rife with excruciating faux-suspense and emotional manipulation -- the 'will-they-won't-they?' hovering over the buttons, the synchronised chair turns, the pantomimic facial expressions of the judges, the hero worship and pedestalling, the inevitable 'charming large chap' and 'attractive lady with alopesia' (whose physical attributes were exaggerated for effect, in direct contravention of the program's stated philosophy) -- it is hard to imagine a more contrived display under the label of 'reality'. For all that they talk about 'the voice' it's pretty transparent that the program makers know exactly what 'story' they're going for.

OK, so I concede that someone somewhere along the line is probably genuinely trying to say something positive about appearances not being important, but by making appearances so much the focus they are rather undermining that noble intention. I'm fairly sure that no-one who isn't at least average-to-mediumly-odd-looking doesn't stand a chance; there'll be a whole parade of Susan Boyles and then, for the winner, the big make-over moment and the Christmas number one and the tabloid coverage and the album of covers and that'll take them back round to the next slot in the annual program cycle.

I refuse to be moved by funny-looking people singing. It is a sight that greets me daily in the bathroom mirror.

When it comes down to it, huh?! What?! I'm just confused. Is it really the case that we need to be told that even physically less appealing people have value too? That we need some big news story to draw attention to the idea? I really, really was naive enough to assume that people were aware of this fact, even if there is a common struggle and failure to reflect it in our treatment of others.

Please don't get me wrong…I'm not dismissing beauty; I think it's a beautiful thing and a gift from God; I enjoy it in the world and I appreciate it in others even though there is a rubbish and fairly sizeable part of me which tends fairly determinedly towards jealousy and comparison.

Much of the Song of Solomon is a celebration of physical beauty in elaborate and highly descriptive language -- albeit full of metaphor that seems (to 21st century Western culture) rather more amusing than flattering:

Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
    behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
     behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
    leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
    that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
    and not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
    and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
     behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
    built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
    all of them shields of warriors.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
    twins of a gazelle,
    that graze among the lilies.
(Song of Songs 4:1-5)

But the Bible also has a lot to say about the fact that beauty is a somewhat secondary issue. In Proverbs 31, at the end of a rather lovely and inspirational description of 'an excellent wife' comes the warning "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." And similarly, 1 Peter 3:3-4 makes it clear that it is in character that true beauty resides "Do not let your adorning be external —- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear —- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." Of course, this is no very great consolation if, like me, you have a pretty grumpy and tempestuous spirit…but I trust that God is at work even in me; I certainly (to the horror, I expect, of those who know me now) have a more gentle and quiet character than I used to. And, thanks to the miracle of grace, change isn't a pre-requisite but rather a product of relationship with Him…

Aside from what the Bible specifically has to say about beauty, it surely communicates that the big picture is so much bigger…that all the things we get completely caught up in -- appearances, talent, validation, recognition, fame, success, popularity -- are superficial and transitory compared with His plan and purpose for mankind and His ongoing intervention in the world…"we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor 4:18)