Bizarro World Ethics is a useful if mind-melting concept. Since Superman Comics’ Bizarro World contains a backwards—literally—civilization in which everything is the opposite of the way it is on Earth, the ethics are necessarily backwards too. What is right, in a culture where the populace not only says hello for good-bye, but also eats the plates while throwing away the food? Can wrong be right in such a weird place? Does right become wrong? Or is the whole idea of ethics impossible in Bizarro World?
Beauty contests today are like Bizarro World. They are inherently anachronistic, embodying the correctly discredited concept that beauty equals virtue. They also are based on the fiction that beauty can be objectively qualified and compared with sufficient precision that a decision holing that gorgeous Contestant D, who is Asian and brunette, is objectively more beautiful than gorgeous black Contestant C, gorgeous Hispanic Contestant B, or gorgeous white Contestant A isn’t arbitrary and completely subjective. Bodybuilding competitions and dog shows have the same problem, as do the Academy Awards. For pure, obvious stupidity and dishonesty, however beauty contests beat them all. This is why the topic has inspired some terrific film satires, like “Smile,” “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” and even “Little Miss Sunshine.”
We all know—don’t we?—that beauty contests are really just excuses to give guys a chance to gawk at scantily dressed pulchritudinous women. This is what makes Miss Teen America the most icky of the breed: the contestants are scantily dressed women who consent to being lust-objects for men the age of the their fathers and grandfathers. What is ethics in such a spectacle? The whole enterprise is constructed of unethical components.
The Miss Teen USA pageant was pronounced ethical, for example, after announcing they would discontinue the swimsuit segment of the competition, replacing it with a parade of the contestants in athletic gear, because the swimsuits made the young women look like sex objects and eye candy. You know…not like this:
Muuuuch better. No dirty old man is going to be salivating at that.
But over the weekend all that good publicity for pretending to be about something other than rewarding lovely teens for being walking pin-ups on national television collapsed when this diverse. multi-color, multi-ethnic group of beauties..
…was narrowed down to these five finalists, the best of the best, the fairest of them all, after all the numerical scores were tallied and checked and double-checked:
This caused some unhappiness among the diversity police, as you might imagine. Tweeted super-model Chrissy Teigen, who looks like this..
“Wow how can we choose from such a diverse bunch”
Though one wonders if she would have had the same reaction if the Final Five looked like this…
Wait…is Chrissy saying the five blondes were not the fairest of them all? If there is a genuine, quantifiable standard for beauty—and how can one judge a beauty contest without one?—wouldn’t we expect all of the finalists to look alike? Is Chrissy implying that the finalists should not represent objective judgment, but should include a “Pick the five most beautiful girls who also represent as many racial and ethnic groups as possible” standard?
A contest with that standard isn’t a beauty contest, though. It’s…it’s..I don’t know what it is. Is Chrissy saying that the choices of the judges represent their biases in favor of women who would be hired by Roger Aisles as Fox anchors? (Hey! Was Roger one of the judges?) Is Chrissy saying that because none of the girls looked like her, then obviously the standard was unfair and wrong?
There’s no way out of this, from an ethics standpoint. If the pageant claims to select the most objectively beautiful teen–a really dumb answer in the interview segment will ding a contestant, though the IQ test didn’t screen out this year’s winner—then unless critics can argue that the finalists weren’t objectively beautiful, they have no case. If the idea is for the finalists to be diverse, then it’s not a beauty contest, but a fake beauty contest. If the finalists are made up of the blonde beauty already chosen as the winner and four multi-colored diverse contestants chosen to make the pageant look politically correct, then the whole thing is rigged, like the Fifties quiz shows.
It’s Bizarro World, Jake.
Diversity and merit cannot coexist unless it is understood that each must yield to the other depending on the circumstances, and when both merit and diversity are assessed according to appearance, such co-existance is impossible. The whole idea of beauty pageants is based on the lie that beauty can be quantified. There is no objective standard for beauty sufficiently precise that one winner, or five, can be chosen from a group of beauties. Since everyone knows that the pretense of objectivity is a sham, the lack of a diverse group of finalists will reasonably be assumed to be the result of bias, and thus will be viewed as an insult to the types of beautiful women not chosen. Requiring the finalist group to represent diversity, however, eliminates any pretense, already incredible, that the beauty contest has integrity.
If this reminds you of the Academy Awards mess, it should.
What’s the solution? One would be to start having lots of homogeneous beauty contests—best blonde, best mixed race (Asian-European division, etc.), best Anglo redhead, best African-American, etc—just like dog shows begin with breed contests—then have a second round of competitions in broader categories, maybe hair color or shades of skin, and then have the big prize go to the winners of each of those categories. Best in Show. this would still be absurd and degrading, but it would solve the diversity/ beauty problem. There’s never a final five at the Westminster Dog show with all terriers or all hounds.
Another solution, one that gets my vote, is to just stop the damn things. I’m embarrassed to be in a society that thinks parading women around on TV and picking “the best” according to their figure, hair and face is anything but barbaric.
13 thoughts on “Beauty Contest Ethics, Diversity Ethics, Bizarro Word Ethics: The Miss Teen America Pageant”
I had two misapprehensions when I saw this post. One, I thought the picture at the top was five photos of the winner. Two, I thought you were going to discuss her racial slurs on twitter and her “apology.”
Yes, the solution is beauty contests should just stop, but they’re big business. And besides, our next president may be the owner of one of the major pageants. Won’t that be great. Will he have to put it in a blind trust?
Come to think of it, if Trump’s making all the money he claims he is, how will he be able to afford to take the pay cut involved in being President?
I linked to the other controversy. She used “nigger” to describe herself in a series of old tweets, so the issue wasn’t slurs, but the cultural appropriation of “nigger” by blonde white girls. Anyway, I decided that issue was too silly for even me to think about.
Yes, I too really did think it was five pictures of the same person. It reminds me of the meme in years past of the top 20 winners of the Korean beauty pageant, who all looked like the same girl modeling slightly different hairstyles.
2. Nothing about the racial slurs on Twitter, the only reason the Miss Teen USA winner this year is a story at all?
If you don’t click on the links, it’s not my fault….
Being part Norse, my reactions are almost always “Wonder what I could have gotten for her at Hedeby?” Hedeby had a thriving thrall market, but usually for Laplanders.
I agree with your second solution. These pageants, and frankly every other awards show, should become quaint memories of the past: “Ah . . . don’t you remember when ___________ won the award for the best _____?” Just think of the TV time that could be saved by shutting down Miss America, Miss Universe, Miss Teen America, the Grammies, the Oscars, the People’s Choice (though that one has some merit because it actually has input from the marketplace), Ms/Mr. Best Foreign Language Speaker, etc. Who watches these things anyway? There really can’t be an objective idea of beauty. For instance, driving back from a Rush concert in Austin last year, I commented on a pasture with an old barn, remarking that the scene was beautiful. My friend said it looked abandoned and not maintained, which was a shame because the animals likely living in it were not taken care of. See? Two perspectives on the same scene and each equally valid.
Likewise, I recall discussing the Olympics 4 years ago with my wife. Even though she loves the gymnastics events (truly admires their power, grace, training, stamina, and talents), she thought that the whole idea of rating performance on subjective criteria was ridiculous. In other events, a swimmer wins by out-touching the others; a runner wins by breaking the tape first; and a team wins by scoring the most goals. To her, introducing personal preferences or biases necessarily leads to uneven results in scoring, ultimately leading to the circular reasoning you stated above.
My uncle’s attitude about beauty pageants is pretty succinct. While watching one such show, my dad stately that a particular lass was pretty. My uncle thought she could use a good meal.
I have long maintained…that if aliens landed publicly, in the middle of a NFL game…we would have a great deal more explaining to do about the cheerleaders…than we would about the game. Just a principle, mind you…
No way. Any species that procreated frequently enough to survive long enough to make it to the spacefaring stage would understand sex and sex appeal. They might use cloning and in vitro solutions to build a more perfect beast but that sexual urge is not going to be bred away in a long, long time. (Yes, I know I am assuming that only sexually-reproducing species would make it to the spacefaring stage. But really… what else would drive the civilization until that knowledge thing became cool in and of itself?)
Yes but Tom…would that same Inter-Galactic tribe …grasp the significance of a seemingly aimless an impersonal display of carnal wares….before a teeming and roaring multitude..?
More interestingly, would that tribe have the same definition of ‘carnal’?
This is what makes Miss Teen America the most icky of the breed: the contestants are scantily dressed women who consent to being lust-objects for men the age of the their fathers and grandfathers.
Disagree. (and I know you do too) Because this is the Ickiest of the Icky, paving the way for the ruin of Miss Teen, Miss America, and Miss (and now Miss-ter) Anything: the winners of the Missing Ethics contests: