Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Miss America criticism is wrong: A response and critique

*NOTE: This is a direct criticism and response to an article featured in an Indiana newspaper. Please first read the original article here.

Recently, I was direct-inboxed an article entitled “Miss America ready to retire?” Obvious panic set in, but being a journalist I soon wondered what the article would actually be referencing – perhaps Miss America was already budgeting savings designated for retirement, or perhaps she was simply making a joke referring to her busy schedule as the new titleholder. What I found, however, was an expose that was nothing more than, quite frankly, wrong.

The author, Ms. Ariel Ropp, begins her piece referencing the “iconic” images of Miss America, including white teeth, “copious glitter,” and a bejeweled crown. Stating that she was only initially interested in the pageant to see how Miss Indiana, a local resident, would perform, she goes on to explain that Miss America is insignificant in a world where “‘hot’ women [are] elsewhere on television,” that the pageant plays on sexism in that such a contest “would not happen to men,” and – the main motivation behind her piece – that Miss America in 2012 is irrelevant.

If being relevant means being raunchy, then sure, Miss America is certainly irrelevant. But perhaps this is our problem – that to garner credit or worth in 2012, we must act out or sell the incredulous or tasteless. If Miss America as a spokeswoman for the brand of “scholarship, success, style, and service” is no longer relevant, why aren’t we concerned? If Miss America as a modestly-dressed, appropriately-glamorous, well-spoken, goal-oriented and service-minded woman (I know, I know, lots of hyphens!) is no longer “relevant,” what type of woman is? You’re right, Ms. Ropp, audiences can get their fix of “hot” women elsewhere on television, but they can’t find a Miss America. To compare the two is to compare apples and oranges; comparing a scholarship pageant featuring classy, educated, and worldly women to the “hot” women of reality TV and their wonderfully-inspiring bar excursions, tanning salon trips, articulate language and worldwide endeavors…well, it just doesn’t work.

Ropp is quick to state, however, that “unlike Miss America contestants…female reality show stars at least have the chance to show off their personalities and build a following.” She also explains that the shift towards being recognized as a “scholarship pageant” is inaccurate because 35 percent of a state competitor’s score is “based solely on their appearance in bikinis and evening gowns.” Yes, because a) in shape women never wear bikinis to show off what they’ve worked for, b) a woman’s confidence level, poise, or grace while in an evening gown never detracts from the garment, c) 65 percent of the score is not based on interview, talent, and on-stage question, and none of these require a showing of personality. 68,000+ Facebook and 14,000 Twitter followers does also not enable a “following,” nor do the countless number of subscribers to Fourpoints Magazine or ridiculous amount of volunteers, coaches, directors, and subcategories of business that the Miss America Organization has spawned.

Maybe it’s a fa├žade and Miss America truly is relevant in the modern day (and she is, but that elaboration makes for a different post!). After all, the Miss America system wouldn’t attract thousands of young competitors each year without having left some significant, positive impression. But I can’t read opinion pieces and editorials like these and feel as though the problem is also that these authors just aren’t paying attention (and obviously, seeing as she can’t remember Laura Kaeppeler’s name, Ms. Ropp is not). In fact, pieces such as these are the exact reason as to why the scholarly, glamorous, dedicated woman that is Miss America is even being doubted in the realm of relevancy. Ms. Ropp’s biting cynicism is exactly why women who, by her own admission, “have been successful in school, campaigned for various charitable causes and generally served as positive role models in their communities and states” are being exchanged for the female reality show stars of Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of Such-and-Such. “Generally served as positive role models”? What does that mean? Because what it’s implying is that these women are not positive role models, or at least not all of them, or that their ability to be a role model is somehow diminished by the fact that they are confident enough to carry themselves in interview, wear a bikini, perform a talent, and answer a hard-hitting question impromptu...onstage in front of thousands of people…and televised to 8 million more.

Quite honestly, it looks to me as though the argument against the relevancy of Miss America is the only thing that should retire.