The Midas Voice

Seeing that video of Ted Williams -the homeless man with the golden voice- put me in mind of Blake’s The Human Abstract. The poem is from Songs of Experience, and sits as a response to The Divine Image from Songs of Innocence.

The verse goes like this:

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

The voice of the person speaking in the poem is that of a person who, nowadays, might do media work for a right-wing think tank – if we didn’t have poor people, then we wouldn’t be able to feel pity, and how terrible would that be? Or put another way, we need some measure of inequality in order to propel forward the system that nourishes our human needs and affects. And, in the same way, it strikes me that what the heart-warming sentimental shit surrounding the man with the golden voice (and his voice is golden because it is identified with a voice of masculine authority that commands us to enjoy and consume) enjoins people to do is to celebrate a system that produces homeless people, because if we didn’t have homeless people, then we wouldn’t be able to enjoy such enchanting moments of pity and awe.

This is the same dynamic behind the countless “Mary Byrne-from-Tesco” exultations in the X-Factor before Christmas. It wasn’t enough that Mary Byrne could sing; it was the implicit lowly status of working in a checkout in Tesco that became the launchpad for her outstanding singing voice. If it wasn’t for the implied gulf in status and power that separates someone who works in a supermarket from someone who owns a TV production company, then -so goes the logic- there would be nothing especially marvellous about Mary Byrne’s singing.

Or, as Adorno put it, ‘the glorification of the splendid underdogs is nothing other than the glorification of the splendid system that makes them so’.


1 Response to “The Midas Voice”

  1. 1 John Green January 7, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    See, that’s why I read this blog. His voice put you in mind of Blake. It made me think whether I’d taken the DVDs back.

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