Miss America pageant: Always a few steps behind

The ludicrous thing about the Miss America pageant, which took place in Atlantic City. N.J., Sunday night, is that anyone treats it as meaningful, rather than a retro institution clinging to the corrosive idea that female accomplishment is most palatable when it is packaged in Botox, bleach and bikinis.

The Indian American community may take pride that one of their own has become Miss America for the first time, after performing a Bollywood-style dance, also a first, in the talent competition.

But the dark skin of Nina Davuluri, 24, an aspiring physician who lost 60 pounds in order to compete, also prompted a predictable Twitter outpouring of good old-fashioned American racism. CNN quoted a few choice tweets:

“If you’re #Miss America you should have to be American.”



“Well they just picked a Muslim for Miss America. That must’ve made Obama happy. Maybe he had a vote.”

(Davuluri is American, and she is not a Muslim.)

For your reading disgust, BuzzFeed produced an instant list: “A lot of people are very upset that an Indian-American won the Miss America pageant.


(Does the unmediated glimpse of the Neanderthal brain afforded by Twitter really shock us? Or do we just pretend to be shocked so we can feel superior to these yahoos? Those would have been good questions for the Miss America Q&A segment.)

This year, yet another contest received a lot of attention for stuff that is normal in the rest of the world but simply shocking in the Miss America pageant.

Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, is believed to be the first soldier to have competed. On Planet Miss America, which is stranded on the space-time continuum closer to Betty Crocker than Sally Ride, Vail’s participation thus became huge news.

Stories about her have focused on her Palinesque skills; she can shoot a gun and skin a deer — and still fill out her fatigues. (Which, to her credit, she wore with combat boots in a parade over the weekend.)


Vail wanted to shoot a bow and arrow for her talent segment but was thwarted by contest rules.

Oh, and she also has tattoos, including the Serenity Prayer, visible on her back during the swimsuit competition. (Just typing “swimsuit competition” makes me want to have a martini, light up a cigarette and turn on Jack Paar.)

Are we really pretending that it’s transgressive for an American woman in her 20s to be tattooed? Or that it’s a remarkable act of courage to show her ink?

On Planet Miss America, the answer is yes.


“There’s a big taboo in the pageant, nobody shows their tattoos for fear of losing,” Vail told Fox411, “but I said, ‘What a hypocrite I would be if I say, “Be all you can be, embrace your individuality, embrace your differences, break barriers,” if I couldn’t even do that myself.’”

Reporter: “You had to change your talent at the last minute.”

Vail: “I wanted to do archery. I wasn’t allowed. I had to pick up singing. I guess the Miss America organization has an insurance clause against projectile objects.”

(Unless they are attached to the front of a woman’s rib cage.)


At least the “personal interview” portion of the contest tried to be current.

Miss California was asked about whether we should bomb Syria, and replied that the U.S. has an “ethical obligation” to do something but should do it with “congressional support” and “refer to the U.N.”

Miss Oklahoma was asked about Miley Cyrus’ performance a couple of weeks ago at the MTV Video Music Awards. “I’m gonna be honest,” she said. “I don’t think her performance was ‘twerking’ for me. Did you get it? Did you get it?”



In a post-pageant news conference, the new Miss America said she was happy the pageant had embraced “diversity.”

This comment, of course, ignores the fact that seven black women and at least one Asian American woman have already worn the crown.

In the retro world of Miss America, everything is shocking, everything is new.

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