Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Miss Inequity 2009

Donald Trump, owner of the Miss USA pageant, announced today that Carrie Prejean will be keeping her title as Miss California, despite recent disclosures of photographic evidence that she has posed nude for photographers and (worse?—hard to call) had a boob job.

I can understand people liking beauty pageants. I don’t like them, but I also don’t like golf, crying babies, or Brussels sprouts—no reason to banish any of them from the face of the earth.

What I can’t understand is why anybody considers beauty pageants important. So it’s a little odd, I guess, that I am now expressing an opinion about a pageant contestant.

From the evidence I’ve looked at, Prejean was, as she and her supporters claim, more sinned against than sinning. Celebrity-drooler Perez Hilton asked her a calculatedly inflammatory question, whether she approved or disapproved of California’s recent vote against same-sex marriage.

The question wasn't exactly unfair, but it perhaps over-estimated the gravitas of the annual event, auspiciously staged this year at the Hard Rock Resort and Spa in Las Vegas, Nevada. Not exactly the United Nations, Perez.

In the YouTube clip I saw, shortly after the event, it is clear that Prejean is momentarily flustered by the unexpected question. It is equally clear that she attempts to make a fair-minded-sounding and inoffensive response, but finds herself also obliged to speak her mind honestly—she favors opposite-sex marriage.

That answer probably cost her the crown to Miss USA—though, to be sure, it’s difficult to judge whether it was the content of the answer or its discombobulated delivery that shot her down.

One can easily imagine that, if a similar brouhaha had occurred in, say, 1959—with a negro judge asking a segregationist contestant from Illinois whether she approved or disapproved of Deerfield citizens blocking the building of interracial housing, for example—, the outcome could have been similar.

Of course, such a thing would not have happened in 1959 for a number of reasons, mostly because it would be over a decade before non-white judges or contestants made a showing at mainstream American beauty pageants. The question would never have been asked.

Anyway, we don’t ordinarily think of beauty contests as forums for political debate—too bad, really, especially when you consider that in ancient myth Paris’s (not Perez’s) judgment of such a contest caused the Trojan War.

There are exceptions. In 1974, when Rebecca King won the Miss America title, viewers complained in large numbers that King had not gushed and cried when crowned—a huge letdown for fans of mawkishness. Instead, she had accepted the prize with matter-of-fact composure, befitting a real queen. Then, after receiving the crown, she publicized her support of legalized abortion. An even bigger shit storm followed that revelation.

It seems likely that Prejean and her supporters are also right to suspect that the leaking of the compromising photographs was politically motivated, planned and carried out by gays and gay-friendly unnamed sources. I have no proof really (and neither do they), but for matters as trite as this, do I need any?

Prejean would have my unqualified sympathy if she were not now making a kind of career out of being a conservative martyr (a “free speech” martyr I could have tolerated … barely—add “martyrs” after “Brussels sprouts” in my list above) and stumping for the National Organization for Marriage (a deliberate misnomer, like “Operation Iraqi Freedom”).

I am always bored by debates in which the participants simply vie for the high moral ground, instead of judiciously inspecting and interpreting the known facts.

And I could even buy a bit more into the media coverage of Prejean if it weren’t that the Miss USA pageant ranks several rungs lower than the much needed reforms of Wall Street, health care, and the government’s policies on torture and unsupervised surveillance, and, let's face it, lower even than the upcoming new seasons of True Blood and Mad Men.

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