Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Miss Utah, I feel your pain

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"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." - Oscar Wilde
Quick, what’s the name of the new Miss America?

I have no idea. I don’t watch beauty pageants. But I do know the name of Marissa Powell.

I know Marissa Powell, aka Miss Utah, because the answer she gave to a question during the 2013 Miss America Pageant went viral. In a bad way. The only reason I watched it was because her bad answer supplanted the one given by poor little Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina in 2007. Anytime my home state can catch a break, I’m all over it.
Photo by Georgina Vaughan

But truly, I feel bad for Marissa Powell. I can’t deny that her answer is a complete wreck. It meanders around in a pointless way like a county fair bumper car driven by a blind person (which I have witnessed, BTW).

But Miss Powell didn’t make it this far in the pageant circuit by being clueless. While some beauty contestants are intellectually brilliant, none of them are as stupid as they are portrayed. As much as I dislike it, the pageant world is highly competitive and you have to know your game pretty well to make it this far.

So what went wrong?

First of all, the first part of the question she is required to answer is itself a train wreck:

“A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

There are at least three or four issues rolled into the first part of that question, and none of them are related or explained appropriately.
·       Why are 40 percent of American families with children supported primarily by women?
·       Are there men in these households who earn less than these women, are men totally missing from these households, or do men earn less in these households?
·       What about the other 60 percent of households with children?
·       What about the households without children?
·       Is the question addressing the overall inequality of pay for women vs men for the same job, or is it suggesting that the pay inequality is just for women with children or women supporting families alone?

These issues, while badly stated, are hotly debated by economic, social and political experts on a daily basis. Did we really expect a beautiful woman in an evening gown to crystallize these issues in an impromptu 30-second verbal thesis during a televised beauty pageant?

Secondly, the last part of the question – “What does this say about society?” – is a complete non sequitur, a device normally reserved for comedic purposes. Sort of like “Nene Leakes is a famous reality star who asks questions on the Miss America Pageant. She must be smart and important.”

Maybe better questions would be, what does the asinine nature of this question say about society? What does the choice of hosts – a man whose last music video equates a bunch of scantily dressed white women shaking their assets in the bleachers with a revival, and a woman who polices fashion and delivers entertainment news in the nude – say about society? What does the existence of this beauty pageant say about society?

Answer me that.

Thirdly, have you ever stood up to answer a question and found that your mind sat down? I have.

I can write about stuff all day long with no problem, because I can refine the text unobserved until it says exactly what I want it to say. I can perform a role on stage in front of thousands of people with no problem, because I’ve rehearsed my lines and my blocking and know how my character moves and thinks.

But when I have to stand up and speak extemporaneously, something goes screwy in my brain. My mouth fills up with cotton, my neck flushes, I develop temporary blindness, and my IQ plummets by about 100 points.

Granted, I don’t have years of pageant training in giving pat answers. There are times when I think that could be useful. But training women to give pat “I would wish for world peace” answers to heavy questions is debilitating. Miss Powell is probably much smarter than her answer would indicate, and was just hobbled by the bright lights, vapid hosts, bad training, and a poorly formed question asked by a woman who is famous for being a former stripper who married wealth and gets to talk loud on a reality show.

Fourthly, look at Marissa Powell. She is gorgeous. Does anyone really think she was up on that stage because of her intellectual prowess?  If she develops a cure for cancer or erases the national debt or solves world hunger, more power to her. But the way her assets stand up, I doubt anyone will fault her if she doesn’t.  Besides, I don’t look like her and I’m no closer to achieving world peace or equal pay than she is.

So Miss Utah, rise above the noise and ride the wave of notoriety. Accept the invitation to appear on Saturday Night Live when it comes. Make the most of your 15 minutes of fame. Because honestly? If I had long brown legs that could crack coconuts and all my assets stood up like yours, I probably wouldn’t care too much when my mind sits down.

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