In most ways, the Miss America pageant seems like an anachronism—a leftover from a bygone era where women were showcased on a stage in a variety of costumes and explicitly judged on their beauty. Sure, they’ve worked to emphasize the talent portion of the contest, the contestants’ community service, the Miss America Organization’s role as a major scholarship provider, and included women in the judging panel. But it still exclusively features beautiful, heavily made-up, thin, twenty-something women on a runway donning evening wear and swimsuits. There’s no getting around the event’s beauty pageant core.
Yet the modern Miss America pageant is also very much a sign of the times. The interview portion is no longer just clichéd puff questions, inviting feel good wishes for “world peace” a la Miss Congeniality. This year’s interview portion took a page from cable news, encouraging the beauty contestants to take on the role of political talking head. And, inevitably, the politically-charged questions were rooted in a liberal world view.
Take the evening’s big winner, Cara Mund, from South Dakota, who was asked about climate change and the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord. Mund was careful in her response not to dismiss outright those who are skeptical of climate change—I’m sure her coaches were very pleased—but came down in the safe zone of embracing the liberal-leaning conventional wisdom: “I do believe it’s a bad decision…Once we reject that, we take ourselves out of the negotiation table and that’s something that we really need to keep in mind.”
The other four finalists were asked about the allegations of Trump’s involvement with Russia in meddling in the 2016 election, the Trump Administration’s response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, about whether we ought to keep confederate statues on display, and about whether football should be banned from high schools. In other words, the question spanned from pure politics to the culture war, but each question was asked from a decidedly liberal perspective.
Perhaps the judges feel that it’s important that Miss America, who is supposed to be a representative of our country to the rest of the world, is generally aware of political issues and can comment cogently on current events. And the contestants all proved they were up to the challenge, avoiding saying anything too strident, diplomatically giving nods to people on both sides of the issues, but generally embracing the politically-correct position the judges were hoping for.
But the judges likely weren’t just testing the contestants’ ability to handle tricky, politically-charged issues. Rather, they saw the pageant as a convenient way to press their own political agendas on the American public. Just as awards shows like the Emmys and Grammys are increasingly becoming platforms for a series of liberal political speeches, the pageant judges just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try to score political points for their cause in front of a big audience.
The Miss America Pageant watchers—a dwindling group, who presumably are more likely to hail from red states than urban, liberal enclaves—are undoubtedly used to having subtle political lectures and lessons foisted on them whenever they turn on what’s supposed to be entertainment. That’s what they’ve come to expect from everything from NFL football games to major TV dramas to late night comedy shows. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t rather tedious.
Americans are tired of our increasingly acrimonious political theater and don’t want to have every aspect of life boiled down to a referendum on Donald Trump.
Now that Miss America has won her crown and is free from the judges’ prodding, I hope that she avoids getting political and focuses on working to inspire and motivate young women. After all, our culture can certainly use a little more beauty and a lot less political haranguing.
Image: By LyndsySimon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons