Reality Truck: Miss America, My Ass

Optional intro quote: "The pageant is permitting two piece bathing suits. How 'with it.' What's next -- hair that moves?" --Jim MullenLast year's Miss America pageant suffered the most dismal ratings ever. Clearly, this called for another media event. My suggestion would've been to strap Miss Congeniality to a rotating wheel and allow blindfolded semifinalists to throw knives at her. (Now, THAT's what I call A TALENT!) But no, the pageant organizers are simply resurrecting a new version of the swimsuit debate--to the dismay of feminists everywhere. Why, it's almost as if PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS had something to do with the pageant's outcome?! Say it ain't so! They can call it a scholarship contest all they want -- that don't make it rocket science. In 1995, viewers got to vote on whether or not to keep the swimsuit competition -- this year, they'll get to watch the gals parade around in bikinis (or "two-piece suits," according to the PC judges). As if there's anyone left who cares. "Accidentally leaving the pricetag on your breasts," was one of Dave Letterman's top ten ways to get disqualified from the Miss America pageant. Another was "when asked about hobbies, reply 'rich, elderly men.'" As usual, Dave has the right idea here -- which is not to take any of this too seriously. The pageant is, after all, an evaluation of physical, feminine beauty -- which is, as we know, only skin deep, so why not evaluate as much surface area as possible? I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying there's a market for it. The participants involved volunteer, they aren't drafted. And unlike more obvious forms of prostitution, it's all perfectly legal. So I ask you, just how coy is this nation going to get? What's next? An outcry from the prize 4-H heifers at the county fair about weight requirements? Now I can hardly hear myself think over all the meowing and hissing in the background, so let me go ahead and make a confession right now (before someone from my hometown beats me to it): I was actually in a high school beauty pageant. That's another column entirely, but I don't think it will surprise anyone who knows me that I didn't get any votes for Miss Congeniality. Nor did I win the talent competition. The things I was good at weren't necessarily anything I could show off for the judges. Although my then-boyfriend helpfully suggested that I ought to have tried sword swallowing. If they'd had a category for irony, I might have had a shot at some points, but they didn't, so I went home with some lovely parting gifts instead. I've since managed to piece together the crumbled shards of my ego and get on with my life -- but feel free to judge my ranting as mere sour grapes. I didn't realize just how badly the pageantry circuit had deteriorated until we tuned into the 1995 spectacle in anticipation of the big swimsuit vote (cast, appropriately enough, by phoning a 900 number). Apparently, the only acceptable "talent" (and I use the term loosely) is singing and/or playing piano. We longed for the days of baton twirlers, trampoline tumblers, or even a really cheesy "dramatic monologue." If they'd had a phone-in for that, my boyfriend, Hoss, was going to cast his vote for the "interrogation scene from Basic Instinct." Mostly we entertained ourselves (while waiting for the swimsuit votes to be calculated) by proposing alternative talents for the candidates -- ones we'd actually like to see. Perhaps a thematic approach where Miss Louisiana could come out and shuck oysters, or Miss Kentucky could strip tobacco. I think for me, the most excruciating portion of the evening was Regis's interviews with the contestants in which they announce their "platforms." That's where, in anticipation of a year of important speaking engagements (at state dinners, mall openings, and the like) the show ponies get to expound on issues of importance to them-such as split ends, exfoliation, and silicone. No, just kidding...that would've been great though, wouldn't it? In reality, the issues du jour included snoozers like sexual abstinence (for) and juvenile crime (against). Why can't they just ask them something relevant, like how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? As much as I kid the show, it really was good cheap entertainment (which probably isn't the first time that's been said about some of those contestants). And there's just nothing more romantic than a man who turns to you at the end of an evening of Miss America watching and says, "Honey, I know your platform would have been much better than those girls'" -- romance that is in no way diminished by the fact that he's just trying to get you to dust off your old sword swallowing act.

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