Beauty pageants: a social disease

Over at the Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez brings us the latest voting scandal to rock America. Okay, not really. This was, understandably, the first I heard of it some ten days after the event, and, frankly, my first reaction was to wonder, “I’m supposed to care … why?”

But I do care. We’ll get to that in a moment. For now, the scandal:

When Christina Silva of Koreatown was asked on the final day of the Miss California USA beauty pageant 10 days ago in Los Angeles if she was a leader or a follower, she said:

“I’m a leader. I’m on top and in front.”

Silva’s adoring family was in attendance at the Orpheum Theatre, sweating it out as she made the cut to the final 15, the final 10, the final five. And then, the impossible dream:

Silva, a 24-year-old actress, was crowned Miss California.

Her first thought: Miss USA or bust!

Imagine, then, the crushing blow that came just four days later. Silva said she was summoned to the Los Angeles home of pageant director Keith Lewis. She thought she would be signing a contract that would open doors to unlimited opportunity. Instead, she was told the unimaginable.

Due to a so-called error in the tabulation of voting by pageant judges, she was not a winner, after all. Nice try and see you later.

Instead, the crown belonged to Miss Barstow, Raquel Beezley, who had been second runner-up.

“It was the shock of my life,” says Silva, who didn’t understand the explanation that judges’ point totals had been accidentally reversed. If that were the case, why wasn’t the fifth-place finisher the winner? Silva had to wonder whether the pageant simply preferred Beezley’s look, or wanted to reward her for having been on the pageant circuit longer than Silva had.

That’s right, a beauty pageant voting scandal. I’m going to guess, with a presidential cycle set to open next month, we have not yet begun to see what real voting scandals look like.

Well, there was the scandalous affair in 2000, in Florida. And then the questions about Ohio in 2004. But we’re in the United States. What is the average attention span these days? Five seconds?

Part of me does feel badly for Miss Silva. She worked hard for the pageant, paraded herself around like a show poodle for the oohs and aahs of judges and audiences. A piece of meat? If only. This is business, baby, and it’s Donald Trump’s kind of business: ruthless, soulless, superficial. And Miss Silva had succeeded in this sordid business.

Then they took it all away from her.

Just like that.

And then, according to Silva, director Lewis “pressured” Silva to do something unthinkable:

To add insult to injury, Silva says Lewis pushed her to play the role of Miss Congeniality and personally call Miss Barstow to break the news. This would have been like asking Jennifer Aniston to call Angelina Jolie and offer to turn over her wedding ring.

“I’m not going to use the word threatened, but I am going to use the words pressured and manipulated,” says Silva, who has since hired an attorney to argue her case ….

…. But Silva says he told her she could continue to wear “the crown and the sash, but if this leaks out somehow, your career and your integrity will be completely jeopardized. You don’t want to be that kind of girl. You’re a girl of faith, right?”

Silva says she had nothing against Beezley, the new winner. So she placed the call and delivered the news.

Now, Lewis, for his part, denies applying such pressure. He claims to have advised her “to take the high ground“. And of course we believe a beauty pageant director who just happens to be completely innocent in the middle of a completely innocent mistake while attempting to further victimize Miss Silva:

Lewis seems to express surprise that Silva wasn’t playing the good sport.

“It is unfortunate that now, several days later, we have heard reports that Miss Silva feels manipulated although she has not returned our calls or e-mails,” he says in the news release.

Apparently, Mr. Lewis is new to the showbiz culture. Maybe he just doesn’t realize that once someone gets a lawyer in such disputes, you are not going to hear back from them. You will hear from the attorney.

According to that news release, “a mistake was made by the volunteer accountant who tabulated the votes“. And according to Lopez, Mr. Lewis further explained that further examination showed that the point totals had been assigned to the wrong contestants. Lopez asks the obvious:

The more Lewis attempted to explain how it all went wrong, the more confused I got.

How hard can this be?

Hot in Bathing Suit – 5 points.

Frumpy in Bathing Suit – 1 point.

Quick Witted- 5 points.

Barely Verbal – 1 point.

Pencil them in and move on to the next contestant.

Which takes some heat off the infamous Ms. Teen USA South Carolina by reminding us that the contestants are not necessarily the biggest idiots in the room. There are, of course, the volunteer accountants who can’t tabulate numbers properly, and however many morons actually attended the affair. It’s a toss-up.

Now, the reason I care about this at all is because it is time we, as a society, stopped setting our sights so low. We should aspire to far better things than beauty contests. If there seems something perverse about the ambition to be crowned the most vacuous sex symbol in the county/state/nation/world, well, yeah, there is. What is even scarier is that some parents would wish this fate upon their children. Should I point out that this is what JonBenet Ramsey had to look forward to, or would that be excessive and cruel? The truth of the matter is that Miss Silva is not lying dead in a closet somewhere only to be obsessed over for years by sick individuals who would falsely confess to her murder in order to stake a claim to their share of a deviant mythology.  On that count alone, she ought to feel lucky.

So cheer up, babe. Things could be worse.