Wednesday, June 6, 2012

America's Got Talent

If you live in the United States and tune into nighttime NBC programming you've probably seen the show America's Got Talent. If you're not here in the land of reality TV, then let me give you a brief rundown of what this show is. There are three judges consisting of Howie Mandell, Howard Stern, and Sharon Osbourne. They sit behind a table that has giant buzzers with huge red "X" signs that they push when they don't like the performers. The talented, and sometimes horrifyingly awful, contestants get about 90 seconds to showcase whatever act they believe is worthy of one million dollars if they win the show. There are singers, dancers, escape artists, animal acts, and some other things that are both bizarre and wildly wonderful. You get the idea.

Watching this show has made me think of the way we, as a modern culture, define talent. All of the acts on the show must be preformed in a 90 second time frame, which limits the kind of talents that can be showcased on the program. It seems in the sense of modern culture, talent and entertainment have become synonymous. If one cannot entertain others with their skill, then is isn't seen as talent by many. Now, there are many talented performers in the world who are both entertainers and talented. This post is not meant to downplay the talents of others, but rather to look at why some talents don't seem to get their share of the limelight. There are also many people who entertain whose talent is questionable at best. (I'm looking at you Miley Cyrus.)

I would argue that sewing is a talent. Sewing is a craft that takes time, patience, and practice to master. It cannot be rushed and even the fastest seamstress cannot make something in 90 seconds or less. Sewing requires you to mix together critical thinking skills, comprehension skills, and math skills and actually create a physical, 3D object. That is a talent. You're never going to see someone on stage chugging away making a coat on a reality TV talent show. Sewing, while it can be entertaining to the seamstress, doesn't really entertain others. Sure, a runaway bobbin unwinding on the floor may entertain your cat for a few minutes, but no one would describe that as entertainment. Setting in a non-wonky sleeve is a talent. Sewing a perfect fitting pair of pants is a talent. Learning how to thread a serger is a talent. Installing a fly-front zipper is a talent. Making a finished, wearable garment is a talent! A talent should not be defined by it's ability to make one a star or to entertain others.

We, as a society, need to redefine what constitutes a talent. Time consuming, laborious tasks such as sewing and woodworking are talents, and those who master these crafts are talented. We need to respect dying arts and restore them to their rightful place as talents. We need to redraw the line between talent and entertainment and realize, once again, that someone can be very talented without also being an entertainer.

What are your thoughts dear readers? Are talents such as sewing being overshadowed by more entertaining talents? Chime in! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

* I think the mass importation of cheaply made, both in quality and price, clothing has also downplayed the role of sewing as a talent, but we'll save that for another post.


  1. The only thing I can think of at the moment of entertainment which included anything sewing related is the Miss America pageant for 1961. The winner, Nancy Fleming----yes, the one from sewing programs on TV---had no talent to offer for that part of the pageant.

    Aha! It came to her: she did a strip tease in reverse, using, I believe, only items which she had sewn.

    In my way of thinking sewing is a combo of talent, art, math, science, and fun, to varying degrees.

  2. Very interesting. I agree with the sentiment that people are only impressed with talent if it can lead to fame and fortune. I would say Project Runway is an interesting example of this - contestants who can showcase the broadest range of skills in design, creativity, and execution usually come out on top (not always, and not as much in more recent seasons) but in general the most talented designers make it to the top, and they do it with lots of hard work. Yes, the reality tv format often leads to sloppy execution, but that makes the skills of those who can work quickly and precisely even more amazing. Of course, the people who are chosen for the show often need to have some level of entertainment value as well. So here it seems like they are taking a talent and turning it into entertainment. With, of course, the end goal being fame and fortune.

  3. I am with you. Talents do not necessarily have to be performable. Sewing, cooking, even diplomacy—there are lots of talents. I enjoy looking for hidden talents in people. Everyone is talented at something, no matter how vehemently they deny it.