To ‘come a cropper.

As I may have mentioned here a time or two hundred, I’m a retired equestrienne. One of these days, when I get a working scanner again, I’ll put some pix up of me in my riding togs, jumping fences on my very expensive steed, who was only expensive to me; among people who ride, he was little better than a plug. I rode with 14-year-old girls whose doctor daddies thought nothing of dropping a mid-five-figure sum on a well-trained thoroughbred for their darling daughters, and even that was on the cheap end, even then. At the elite levels, a five-figure sum is the monthly bill.

But never mind that. I did my time in the saddle, and while I never had the build or the talent or the budget to be a contender, I didn’t totally disgrace myself, and I learned a lot along the way. One of the things I learned was how to fall off.

Falling from a horse, in our culture, is made out to be far scarier than it is. In a movie, if a pregnant woman gets on a horse, she will be suffering a miscarriage within minutes. Bonnie Blue Butler only had to put the fence rails up too high to meet her tragic fate. And while there are a number of horrible accidents in riding competitions every year, they are exceptional. People with fancy horses tend to work them in riding rings with deep, soft footing, and what’s good for Dobbin’s legs is also good for your sorry ass when you land in it. Not that it doesn’t hurt, but unless you come off head-first or somehow land on the jump or the rail, chances are you’ll be just fine. The classic riding injuries are not Christopher Reeve’s broken neck but the big three — broken wrist and/or collarbone (from putting your hands out as the ground comes up to meet you), and cracked ribs.

Which brings us to Madonna, who either needs to toughen up or stay out of the saddle. I’ve dismounted more horses the hard way than she’s dismounted boyfriends, and never once did I have to go to the hospital — on a backboard, no less — for what turned out to be bruises. I thought she was Miss Super Fitness. Just get up, dust off your ass, lead your mount back to the block, get back on and finish the class. That’s how the tough girls do it.

My trainer didn’t coddle people who fell. She wasn’t a tyrant about it; a kid who was honestly terrified by the experience wasn’t forced back into the saddle at gunpoint or anything. But she never made a big fuss one way or another. It was like oopsy-daisy, everything OK? Fine, up you go and pick up a posting trot. As all parents know, the bigger the fuss you make over any injury, the more the injured party is frightened. However, I get the feeling that making a fuss over Madonna is pretty much the point of her existence, so I’m not surprised she was content to stay immobile on the ground while worried faces and EMTs peered down at her.

BTW, I was dumped because of “paparazzi,” too. I could never afford a good, well-trained horse, so I rode a couple of young, spooky ones. A barking dog, a loud muffler, a sudden hand gesture or windy day could turn them into the sorts of animals who disappear from underneath you and simultaneously reappear 10 feet to the left. You felt like Wily Coyote, running off the cliff. As I picked myself out of the dirt, I’d tell my trainer, “(X) spooked him.” She’d say, “Learn to stay on your horse.”

In Madge’s defense, however, one of my favorite lines from Thomas McGuane, as a character is riding the spooks out of a young stud colt: “By your mid-thirties the ground has begun to grow hard. It grows harder and harder until the day it admits you.” True dat.

OK, some quick bloggage for, what else, a dreary Monday:

How fast food can kill you. It has nothing to do with cholesterol.

Dear Mr. President, this is how letters get to your desk.

It’s a good thing Berkeley has so many rich people. White roofs for all!

Why I keep bookmarked, even though the election’s over: For posts like this, about Minnesota’s Senate election.

Finally, since we seem to be heavy on the popculch today, to the next person who sends me the Susan Boyle video:

Stop it. I don’t care how much you were moved, wowed, whatevered. I don’t care. Don’t you realize how condescending this all is? Don’t you know how much you’re being played? Is there nothing Simon Cowell can’t make a buck from? You know why Susan Boyle is such a phenomenon? It’s not because she’s a great singer; how would anyone know? There are two recordings of her singing two songs extant in the world. No, Susan Boyle is a phenom because she’s ugly. Go ahead, say it: Ug-ly. Leave the nicer euphemisms — frumpy, dowdy — for the weak-willed. The bottom line is, when someone is ugly in our culture, we expect nothing good from them. The idea that a ugly woman could open her mouth and have something beautiful come out flummoxes us — how could she have been cultivating a love for music when she was neglecting her eyebrows and fitness routine so? Doesn’t she know our priorities? If a gorgeous woman had come out and given the exact same performance, you probably wouldn’t even know about it.

The next step, after celebrating Susan Boyle for being a fine singer, is a YouTube video of some street-looking black kid who steps to a microphone in a speech competition and delivers a perfect reading of a Shakespearean sonnet. Look, he’s so articulate! Just be aware.

Also, pleeze: Does anyone honestly believe the judges didn’t know what was coming? Do you think people make it onstage at shows like that without a single pre-performance screening? You think Simon didn’t know the camera was on him, red light lit, when he smiled? How dumb are we?

Pretty dumb, I’d say.

Posted at 9:59 am in Current events, Popculch |

35 responses to “To ‘come a cropper.”

  1. Colleen said on April 20, 2009 at 10:10 am

    “The bottom line is, when someone is ugly in our culture, we expect nothing good from them. ”

    Yes. This. While I was moved by her performance, I do agree with your broader assessment. The opposite is probably also true…the more beautiful one is, the less we expect from them. Why else would we have some of the singing stars we have, who can’t sing w/o their fancy processing?

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  2. coozledad said on April 20, 2009 at 10:15 am

    I can’t imagine Madonna having the right attitude about a horse. I can also imagine an otherwise dutiful, calm, obedient animal popping her one in the leg out of sheer equine prudence.

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  3. Cathy D. said on April 20, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Robin rocked, but how she kept from burning the barn down, I could never figure out.

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  4. nancy said on April 20, 2009 at 10:27 am

    She never threw lit cigarette butts into the hay, for starters. But yeah, riding broke me of that no-smoking-in-the-barn thing, for sure. I never saw so many athletes who could put away two packs or more a day. It’s how they stayed skinny, I guess.

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  5. Peter said on April 20, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I can agree on the Boyle phenomenon – when I saw the Today show interview with her, I noticed that she wasn’t all that bad, and it seemed like she (or the show) made some choices to up the ugly factor.

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  6. brian stouder said on April 20, 2009 at 10:33 am

    and, agreed about Nate Silver, whose website always has the ring of truth, or at minimum – sincerity.

    After his golden 2008 efforts, he will always and forever be my go-to guy, on all things to do with elections and statistics.

    Aside from that, I confess passing on Nance’s Columbine link last week; more than a little of that is just too damned terrible.

    But I did dip into this collection of thumbnail “where are they now” bits

    edit re ‘beauty’ – I don’t think this chick articulated her point of view very well, but, honestly – was what she said hateful or unacceptable?

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  7. MichaelG said on April 20, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I lived in Berkeley for years. The City Council has been in the self parody mode since Moby Dick was a minnow. It’s this kind of crap that gives Berkeley residents a reputation as Volvo driving, pipe smoking, tweed jacket with patches on the elbows wearing, elitist, limousine (those who don’t drive Volvos) liberals. Unfortunately, the reputation has a very large, very irritating grain of truth to it.

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  8. Jenflex said on April 20, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Re: the ground has begun to grow hard. That’s why I now prefer dressage, the equestrian equivalent of ballroom dancing (slow, foxtrot, not “Dancing with the Stars).

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  9. LA Mary said on April 20, 2009 at 10:49 am

    That’s what I’ve been trying to say about Susan Boyle all along. Thank you for putting into better words than I could. And I too do not need anyone else sending me those damn you tubes. In an over the cubicles discussion of Susan Boyle, three of the people in my crappy little office could not get off the topic of Susan’s looks. Her eyebrows. Her hair. Clearly, people who do not get regular eyebrow waxes should not be able to sing.

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  10. michaela said on April 20, 2009 at 11:05 am

    I posted something similar about Susan Boyle on my FB page, and got HUGE pushback from people who went on and on about how “inspiring” it was. Gah.

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  11. Connie said on April 20, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Gosh LAMary, I get regular eyebrow waxes and still can’t sing.

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  12. LA Mary said on April 20, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Connie, I just pluck. I can sing harmony.

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  13. MichaelG said on April 20, 2009 at 11:27 am

    I can’t sing at all. I even lip-synch in the shower. Can’t play any instruments either. In fact, I can barely play the radio.

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  14. jeff borden said on April 20, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for that common sense on Susan Boyle. The level of condescension shown her because of her looks is almost equal to the level of elevation given her performance. Yeah, she sings a damned site better than many, but this is hardly the voice of the angels. For that, one must listen to Ella Fitzgerald.

    We ignore the tyranny of looks at our peril. The public speaking textbook I’m using this semester makes no bones about the fact that attractive people are seen as more competent, more talented, more believable. For us schlubs, the book suggests we dress well (one step above the audience) and soldier on.

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  15. brian stouder said on April 20, 2009 at 11:30 am

    It’s the Gomer Pyle, one-joke effect, down to (and including) the folksie and unpretentious banter, followed by a highly polished vocal performance.

    But, hey, Pyle was 40 years ago, and he’s not even in reruns anymore! There’s a whole new generation to run that joke past.

    btw – this past weekend I watched a short (5 minutes?) film on IFC called “Spider”, and the cryptic description was simply “It’s all fun and games until someone puts an eye out”…. and the movie made me howl!!

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  16. ROgirl said on April 20, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I liked Andy Borowitz’s blog post: Talented Ugly Person Baffles World. She’s being treated like she needs a telethon to help her overcome a disability, and people are marvelling at her pluck and apparent childlike innocence, her lack of awareness about how her appearance is viewed by the world.

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  17. Priscilla said on April 20, 2009 at 11:33 am


    I agree about the emotional manipulation on the Susan Boyle video–the producers were certainly capitalizing on the reaction they knew Boyle would get. I agree that Simon Cowell absolutely knew she could sing before he heard her perform on the show. And I agree that a large part of the reaction, at least initially, was the shock that the ugly, odd woman had a beautiful voice.

    But I think you’re missing part of the point with why the video resonated with so many people and why people have such a warm, emotional response to Susan Boyle. IMO, people are tapping into the compelling notion of pursuing a long-deferred dream, deferred, in part, because of self-sacrifice.

    Anyone who has cared for ailing aging parents can attest to the collateral damage to the lives of a caregiving family member. A casual friend of mine who looked after her widowed mother for years (the mother died at something like 100 or 101) is now finding herself in her 60s, unmarried and, I’m guessing, with little money (because she couldn’t give her graphic design business the time/attention she could have w/o the burden of her mother.) If my friend has an unrealized dream she wanted to pursue, I would cheer her on.

    Susan Boyle will never be Elaine Paige–she doesn’t have the looks or the presence. But I listened to her recording of “Cry Me a River,” which I thought demonstrated real talent in the jazz/caberet genre, where vocal cords trump looks. I saw Ella Fitzgerald perform, and, frankly, she was at best plain and had a slightly awkward stage presence, but I loved her singing.

    So if Susan Boyle proves herself to have sufficient vocal talent, I’d be delighted if the TV show served as a springboard to a career in music. Who cares if the Simon Cowells of the world are exploiting her for their own purposes if she wins as well?

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  18. Mindy said on April 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Susan Boyle makes me dread checking email, and I fear the future because she’ll open her mouth to sing something else that will make its way into my inbox repeatedly. Arg!

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  19. LA Mary said on April 20, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    MichaelG, what do your eyebrows look like?

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  20. beb said on April 20, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Nate Silver and his fivethirtyeight site is one of the best things to come out of the last election. Not only is he able and willing to do the most arcane statistical analyses but he can explain them in language that is clear and east to read. It’s rare to find someone good either with math or with writing well, to find someone who good at both is a miracle.

    God that woman did look like a frog. Actually my first thought was severe autism, all the moreso because she had a savant-like beautiful voice. Peter at 5 notes that she’s not as ugly as she appeared on Idol, which suggests, as Nance suggests that what she was and could do was known in advance and they probably ugly-fied her a bit to make the pathos all the better.

    It’s also well to remember that a lot of famous singers would never havemade it on American Idol. My hero, Neal Young, for example. Or nasally Bob Dylan or mush-mouth Bruce Springsteen.

    I fell from a horse once. I was very young. It was my first time on a horse, the animal bolted. The ground seemed very far away and very hard (it was October as I recall, so the ground would indeed, have been dry and hard. I rode horses since, but never faster than a walk. And had the pleasure many times of cleaning out their stalls.

    I really liked the line about the ground getting harder as we grow older. That seemed particularly true last year when I tripped on a sidewalk last year and took and hard fall. The older – and heavier – one gets the harder the falls and the harder it is to get back up afterwards.

    Yeah it’s a dreary day but the sun comes back either tomorrow or the day after and when it does the grass will look so green, the skies so blue and the trees will be starting to bud. So, Nancy, this is a glass is half full sort of day, not a half empty one.

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  21. MichaelG said on April 20, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Jeez, Mary, I never thought of what they looked like. I just checked with my fingertip and it seems like I do have two of them. Which is good because I remember burning them off one time years ago when I was still stupid enough to use starter fluid on the BBQ. I’ll try to remember to look next time I go to the can. They’re probably gray. Everything else is.

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  22. moe99 said on April 20, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    As someone who only recently acquired the guts to sing a solo in front of people, I rather appreciated my first view of Susan Boyle. I give the woman credit for having nerve to go out into a hostile audience and perform. I’m not sure my voice would not have quavered a time or two before taking off. And face it, this society has a real Cinderella complex–we all want to be discovered in some fashion.

    The real problem here is overkill. Pet rocks or other fads, anyone?

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  23. moe99 said on April 20, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Brian, The Andrew Jackson bio by Meacham got the Pulitzer. Glad I put it on my reserve list this weekend.

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  24. harrison said on April 20, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I’ve dismounted more horses the hard way than she’s dismounted boyfriends

    nancy, that’s one of the funniest lines you’ve written. congratulations!

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  25. brian stouder said on April 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Moe – I finished it this past weekend; a genuinely wonderful book.

    Further to how past is prologue (and/or – the idea that there’s nothing new under the sun), there is a scene where President Jackson is walking out of the House of Representatives, and a very nicely dressed would-be assassin walks right up with a gun in his hand, and fires. BOOM!! – the cap loudly explodes, but the powder doesn’t ignite. The fellow immediately pulls a second weapon out, fires again – with another BOOM!! – and again the caps explodes but the powder doesn’t ignite. By this time, Jackson’s blood is up, and he is pursuing the guy who wanted to kill him, and whacking him with his cane!

    But the point is, the fellow (an unemployed house painter) had attended many sessions of congress, and taken in all the fiery rhetoric from Calhoun and Clay and Poindexter (etc), and took those blowhards seriously, and decided he had to act to save his country. (he was essentially a nut, and indeed was never prosecuted! – which surprised me, being as it was the 1830’s!)

    Later, the weapons were test-fired, and found to be in perfect working order – it was simply luck that the damp air* was damp enough to affect both weapons. Meacham informs us that the statistical probability of BOTH guns (otherwise operational) misfiring amount to 1 in 125,000

    *We learn that George Washington indirectly helped save Jackson’s life, since the tomb they dug for him beneath the capital rotunda, and which his family opted not to use, remained open (beneath the floor) – and helped keep the atmosphere in that building extra damp…in addition to the damp day)

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  26. jeff borden said on April 20, 2009 at 4:49 pm


    I read a biography of Samuel Pinkerton years ago that contained a story about how he prevented his own murder by slipping the webbing of skin between his thumb and index finger into the space between the hammer of the revolver and the shell when an assailant confronted him with a pistol. Must’ve hurt like hell, but it did save his life.

    BTW, appropos of the Scottish singer and her looks, my Yahoo landing page tells me Brooke Shields is lamenting the onset of the aging process.

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  27. Joe Kobiela said on April 20, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Anyone else catch breaking bad last night? The part with the turtle was just perfect, This show is one of the best on in my humble opinion. Dark, I’m really looking forward to see how they include his brother in law deeper into the mix.
    Pilot Joe

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  28. Judith said on April 20, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    In 2007 Paul Potts, a cell phone salesman, appeared on Simon Cowell’s show in UK. He was not handsome, nor could he speak well. But when he began singing from a Puccini opera, his voice was truly outstanding. The beauty and emotion of the music did bring tears to the eyes of the audience and a standing ovation. Simon at least seemed to be astonished, and the publicity was tremendous. Is Simon’s show trying to duplicate that success? Did they find someone who would not look like a celebrity nor be good with words. Add a little spunk and a good voice, and perhaps the scheme will succeed. However, Susan Boyle’s voice is not comparable to that of Paul Potts. But we can all cheer for an unlikely success and a dream fulfilled!

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  29. paddyo' said on April 20, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Yeah, Joe, the “la tortuga” scene was amazing, wasn’t it? And as a bonus, bro’-in-law Hank (I’ve really come to like him, no longer as just the DEA buffoon, since that riveting shootout with Tuco) has the latest of his own dark, PTSD-style episodes to thank for not ending up as raw and shredded meat in the maw of that fiendish Tex-Mex IED.

    Speaking of turtles:
    Given the sometimes tortoise-like pace of popular TV drama series in keeping up with real-world developments, I must say this one has really caught the fire (friendly and otherwise) and the flavor of the U.S./Mexico borderlands trade in drugs, guns and people … and now, bodies.

    In its own way and on its own terms and turf, “BB” is in the worthy company of “The Wire” and “The Sopranos.”

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  30. Ann said on April 20, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Mary Schmich did an excellent column on the Susan Boyle story, with a slightly different twist, but much the same overall skepticism.,0,6444611.column

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  31. Dexter said on April 21, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Pilot Joe, paddyo’…
    That was the damndest thing I have ever seen, I believe! When the head was spotted, bobbing along, I thought it was probably stuck on a kid’s motorized toy or something like that…I had not instantly put it together that the victim was already called “tortuga”, and when the tortoise was revealed I grinned and thought “perfect!”. Bryan Cranston is really good, but Aaron Paul has been super this season…he’s a great actor when he tones it down just a little bit.
    Vince Gilligan, the creator, is quite the goofball , by his podcasts I have heard, and he had a ball filming these episodes.
    However, the commercials alone take this show a step below comparison with any of the great HBO shows like The Sopranos and The Wire.

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  32. Dexter said on April 21, 2009 at 12:51 am

    I haven’t yet been soured on Ms. Boyle of Scotland…she was charming on Larry King last night. Was it a set-up, a tear-jerking wake-up that all charm-challenged folks are not all morons? I ain’t into these reality shows so I don’t care. I got a kick out of her song and then I moved on.

    Don’t like eyebrows? Meet my man, Popeye Jones:

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  33. CrazyCatLady said on April 21, 2009 at 12:53 am

    I have never considered myself by any means a beautiful woman. Not even remotely good looking. No door ever opened for me because I was a gorgeous beauty queen. So in a way Susan Boyle strikes a blow for us ugly girls everywhere. People judge others by looks and it doesn’t matter if you are compassionate, kind or even a rocket scientist. People judge. She will be gone from public minds in no time as are all instant sensations, so just wait a few weeks and she won’t bother ya’ll anymore.

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  34. Dexter said on April 21, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Wow, the Naperville couple nearly done-in by a McDonald’s sign…60 mph winds or not, is simply horrific. The concept is cartoonish, like if Mr. Crabs’s sign fell on Sponge Bob’s boat-car or something like that, but the injuries suffered are very serious. I wonder how many comedy skits were written and trashed.

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  35. Carol said on April 21, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Madonna is probably jealous of all the publicity Natasha Richardson got when she died from the ski accident. Maybe she thought she could get the coverage with out actually having to die.

    I was appalled at the cruel and nasty comments made by the stage hands (or whoever they are) before Ms. Boyle sang. Then they were all “OMG, can you believe her voice”. Set up? Sure. Although I’m sure the mean comments were sincere.

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