Sunday, July 08, 2012

Doctor Boyle

I know that honorary degrees are one part 'rewarding the worthy' to one part 'let's remind the wider world that our university exists', but even by the second of those standards Queen Margaret University's honorary doctorate for Susan Boyle is puzzling.

The official press release says the honour is for her work:

She will receive her honorary doctorate in recognition of significant services to culture and the creative industries.
Really? Significant services?

The university tries to suggest what these might be:
Her first album, I Dreamed a Dream, was the fastest-selling debut album of all time. With the release of two further albums she has since sold over 18 million albums worldwide, and had over 120 platinum and gold albums across 38 countries. She was the first female artist to have two number one albums simultaneously in the UK and USA twice within 12 months in the history of the charts. Only the Beatles and The Monkees have achieved the same.

She has performed for Pope Benedict XVI and Queen Elizabeth II, and performed on TV in the UK, USA, Australia, Ireland, and Japan. She has also performed live on television in China to half a billion people on China’s Got Talent. A documentary has been made about her life and the stage musical, I Dreamed a Dream, has sold out across the country to enthusiastic and appreciative audiences.
Falling back on chart statistics suggests a surprising lack of academic rigour at QMU - these may or may not be achievements in their own right, but surely the changing nature of the recorded music market and the way the rules of chart qualification have been rewritten so regularly makes any historic comparison meaningless.

And, yes, she sold a surprising number of records - many of which, I think we'd guess, lay unplayed in the middle of piles of other well-intentioned gifts. But does that really qualify as "services to the creative industries"? It's just turning up and doing your job, isn't it?

It's nice to give prizes, but she was sharing the ceremony with Colin Trevarthen, who has a somewhat different CV:
[He] worked with Roger Sperry on the neuroscience of consciousness and how complementary motives of the two cerebral hemispheres serve intelligent acting and communicating. He was a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard, where his influential research on infant communication or 'intersubjectivity' began with Jerome Bruner in 1966
Silly boy. He should have just learned the words to Oh What A Circus and gone on Bob Says Opportunity Knocks.


Tim F said...

At my graduation, they gave an honorary degree to Wayne Sleep. At least he did The Hot Shoe Show.

Anonymous said...

not a fan but you're surely being a bit hard on her?

She does a lot of 'Charity' work & genuinely seems to make time for her fans esp disabled ones. She's done a lot more & been more successful than many 'pop star'/celeb Honourees(?)

You should watch the An Unlikely Superstar Documentary

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

I'm not being hard on her - I suspect that she made a charming acceptance of an honour offered - but on the university for making the honour in the first place, and more importantly, the grounds on which it was offered.

I could see a useful narrative being built around her having a major life change at a time when many people are thinking about winding down; and how she has shrewdly used opportunity - I could see that being an inspiring story; I could see the QMU deciding to honour her as an example to people who think they should have chosen different lives when they're young, that it's not too late to change direction. Maybe her charity work could also have provided a reason for them to award her.

But it's expressly "in recognition of significant services to culture and the creative industries." I don't see any significant contribution to culture in a couple of cover versions and an unfunny comedy single with Peter Kay. It's a mockery of the fine traditions of the former Edinburgh School of Cookery.

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