“Miss America represents the highest ideals. She is a real combination of beauty, grace, and intelligence, artistic and refined. She is a type which the American Girl might well emulate.” (Source: The Miss America website)
No Googling — but can you off the top of your head name Miss America 2008? Miss America 2003? 1995?! 1977?! 1955?! (If you answered all of the preceding correctly, either get a job with the Miss America Pageant already — or get a life!)
I personally couldn’t tell you who was the Miss America of any given year. But I’d be hard-pressed to tell you who won recent Super Bowls or the World Series too. Unless I have a direct connection to it, that sort of stuff just blows right past me.
The point of the preceding is that the Miss America pageant is one of those perennial puff-pieces used to fill time on TV and space in newspapers, not quite news but semi-diverting nonetheless.
I have nothing against it, just as I have nothing against boxing or bodybuilding, which men (now women, too) have also pursued. It’s America, after all, and if any of those be part of your path in the pursuit of happiness, then knock yourself out. (Just don’t expect me to pay for your post-boxing career concussion care.)
I actually think Miss America is a good thing, in its own way. While it’s easy to focus on reasons some might consider this pageant and its ilk as frivolous, superficial, silly, antiquated and sexist, there is no doubt in my mind that the young women chasing a scholarship can represent our society’s most ambitious, brightest, talented and smart. (Did I mention smokin’ hot, too? Yeah!)
The only Miss America the average person can remember by name years after winning is 1984’s Vanessa Williams. Two reasons for that. The main one: She resigned after pre-pageant photos of her in the buff were published in a men’s magazine.
The other reason anyone remembers Miss America 1984 is because Williams was the first Miss America who was black. (Coincidentally, her successor was first runner-up Suzette Charles, who was also African American.)
Williams has also arguably had the most-successful post-pageant career of any Miss America, thanks in part to that sex-tinged scandal, making today’s tabloid queens and reality show stars spurious imitations. Furthermore, as a singer and actress, Williams has actual talent, unlike those whose notoriety came from starring in home porn and having prodigious posteriors.
Decades before that, Bess Myerson broke through in 1945 as the first Miss America who was Jewish. (I predict that within my lifetime there will be another breakthrough: the first male Miss America. Dare to dream.)
That brings us, inevitably, to the latest news, er, announcement, from earlier this week that the just-crowned Miss America is Nina Davuluri, the first Miss America of South Asian (Indian) heritage. (The first Miss America of Asian descent was Angela Perez-Baraquio, a Filipino American from Hawaii, in 2001.)
Too bad rival pageant Miss USA is to Miss America what the Golden Globes are to the Oscars, because that pageant can boast having the first Asian American winner way before this in 1962’s Macel Leilani Wilson of Hawaii. Miss USA also had a Hapa winner in 1984, New Mexico’s Mai Shanley, who is Taiwanese-Irish American. Take that, Miss Slomerica!
As Wall Street Journal blogger Jeff Yang (a.k.a. Tao Jones — say it out loud and you’ll get it) pointed out in a post-pageant post, she beat “two other Asian American finalists to win the tiara — including 4th Runner-Up Rebecca Yeh, Miss Minnesota, who won the talent portion of the scholarship competition with a stirring rendition of Henri Wieniawski’s ‘Scherzo and Tarantella’ on violin, and 1st Runner-Up Miss California Crystal Lee, an intern at Dropbox with two degrees from Stanford, who competed on the platform ‘Women in STEM.’” (STEM, for the psych and sociology majors out there, stands for science, technology, engineering and math.)
Yang also pointed out that this was the most Asian American Miss America pageant since the beginning of time, as this year’s Miss Hawaii is a Hapa Chinese woman, also named Crystal Lee.
1945 and 1984 were pre-Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram or any of that stuff. Back then, you had to actually work to share your racism with the masses. With Miss Davuluri’s ascendance in this era, any fool with a smartphone could instantly tweet their hate and ignorance to their faithful followers.
I almost think — hope is more like it — some of these tweets were manufactured just to pull the collective chains of anyone paying attention. If not, I have to hope that these cretins don’t represent most Americans. Are people smart enough to use a smartphone — which presumes the ability to read and write and type, all skills requiring an actual brain — that ignorant? (Uh, let’s not answer that.)
As reported by Yang (and others), some Twitter users were apparently stunned by this turn of events. How could a Muslim win? An Arab Miss America?! WTF?! This marks the end of America! Oh, the humanity! (Note to the stupid: Davuluri’s faith is Hinduism and she’s not an Arab. Also, I’m willing to bet some folks thought it was the end of America when Myerson won. Same with Williams. But last I checked, America’s still here.)
Also still here is TV talking head Julie Chen. In an eye-opening revelation, she got some much-needed attention (she apparently doesn’t get enough) for confessing on TV that she underwent eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) to look less Asian in order to advance her career.
Chen’s revelation is akin to admitting to stealing a pack of gum to deflect the fact you embezzled $100,000 from your church. Just an eye job?! But regardless of how much work she had or may have had done, there’s no arguing that her career has proven to be a success — and it’s hard to argue with success.
The message, however, is ultimately sad, since it says that in our society, something perfectly fine that one is born with is judged to be akin to a birth defect and a drag to following one’s dreams. How that explains why the procedure is more popular in parts of Asia than here is the real puzzler.
It seems no one is happy with what God — OK, Vishnu — gave us. Some straight-haired people get perms for curls, while some curly-haired types get their hair straightened. Some fair-skinned folk risk cancer and sun damage because they want a tan, while some dark-skinned folks apply chemicals to their skin to lighten it. Then there are chin implants, nose jobs, breast augmentations; the list is long. (Don’t see anyone getting reverse eye jobs to look more Asian, though …)
But if Julie Chen can reveal a secret, so too can I. This column? I didn’t actually write it. I haven’t written any of these columns, except a couple back way back when it was starting out. Who has time for that?! Yes, like much of corporate America, I’ve been outsourcing them to India and China, getting young children to write them. Like being in Menudo, the kids get forced out when they become teens. But it’s not exploitation — they’ve used all the big money paid by The Rafu to move here for college and plastic surgery. I can’t tell you their names — but I can honestly tell you, this is why America is great.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
(George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2013 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.)