I'm not going to lie to you, I just don't have what it takes to be Miss USA.
But wait, let's not start off 2007 on the wrong foot.
Talented? Does baton twirling mean anything to you?
Desire for peace on earth? Kumba-freakin'-yeah!
But Donald Trump could walk into my life today and offer me all kinds of rehab and the head of Rosie O'Donnell, and I still wouldn't pass the first phase of the background check.
I've done things. Questionable things.
It recently became Entertainment Tonightable that Miss USA was nearly discoronated when it went both public and 700 Clubable that the young, pretty, and arguably very successful woman was spotted drinking in bars. Or eating babies. No, I'm pretty sure it was drinking in bars.
After much media hand-wringing and a little Trumping, it appears she'll keep her crown and do a stint in rehab.
She was drinking.
She's Miss USA. That buys its own drinks in any dusty little corner of the country.
I don't want to come off as judgmental of Mr. Trump, the Miss USA Organization, or the perfectly normal and not-at-all creepy beauty pageant circuit. My apologies if she somehow snuck some heroin abuse in there or punched a nun. Or maybe it's a different kind of rehab that they signed her up for. Maybe she tore her ACL.
But this proves definitively that if Miss USA has to twelve step her way back into the good graces of those who get their current events from People and Us, then that's the last nail in my coffin as far as the public eye is concerned.
Oh yeah. Disclaimer. Before I wind up convincing America's Youth to fail their trigonometry quizzes and start listening to speed metal: Jael McHenry is my anti-drug. Stay in school. Drinking is just as cool as the beer commercials make it out to be but you get a nasty headache the next day and maybe a life-partner. Winners don't punch nuns.
There. With that out of the way I can trot out my drunk uncle persona and ask a valid question. Are we out of control or have the forces that conspire to reign us in begun to overreach like some many-headed, self-hating, guilt-spawned Puritan revival plus Nazis and Orwell's 1984?
And is that a loaded question?
At the risk of breaking the heart of your mother and every 10th grade private school English teacher with a heart of gold, the line that divides corporate junior executive who volunteers at church and digs the History channel from ill-hygiened reprobate with a bad temper and a leather jacket is thick, gray, blurry, and it moves.
I don't want to be Miss USA. I want to have a drink every now and then. And I wanted to at 20. And 19. All right, also at 16. And it was never a good idea.
But it isn't like I meant to go out there and do all the stupid, mean, and unfortunate things that a have brought me a lifetime of regret and a modicum of therapy. They sort of just happened on the way to getting where I am.
I'm quite centered, actually. I don't volunteer at church, but I do smile a lot and hold doors open for the elderly.
The point is, when you crack down on the young ones that hard and with such little tolerance, you accidentally start to fuzz up the distinctions between arbitrary rules and why those rules were in place to begin with.
Like the difference between a 0.08 blood alcohol level and a 0.20.
Like the difference between putting off college to pursue a dream and putting off college to pursue a schedule crammed with daytime talk shows and PlayStation.
Like the difference between love and lust.
Like the difference between language used to provoke and language used to hurt.
Like the difference between adequite and adequate. Or human, which was what she meant to say.
Even though she said it twice. On two different occasions.
Did I just defend Lindsey Lohan?
Yeah. I did. And I will again - it's almost a free speech thing if you look at it right. So let Miss USA blow off the inordinate amount of responsibility that comes with being pretty by having a drink or six. Let Paris Hilton strut around the club scene without underwear. Let Johnny Knoxville strap himself to whatever he wants to strap himself to.
P.J. O'Rourke once said "America wasn't founded so that we could all be better. America was founded so we could all be anything we damn well please."
I read that at 20 and fell for it, while drinking in and out of bars and never once attending rehab. Except for that time I blew out my ACL studying for a Thermodynamics final.
In the end, we need to make our own mistakes, so long as we're willing to pay for them. And if they keep taking away every shred of responsibility at the slightest hint of transgression, we'll never truly understand what that means.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
1.3.07 @ 9:17a
Miss USA Tara Conner became the focus of the national media feeding frenzy not only because of underage drinking, but she tested positive for cocaine use. Photos were also flying around the 'net of her passionately kissing Miss Teen USA. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there were other allegations about her sexcapades and very public misconduct – thus, the less-literal tongue-lashing from The Donald.
I recently served as a judge for our state division of the Miss USA pageant. I was repeatedly told during the process to vote based only on appearance as "it's just a beauty pageant" but I refused to let it go at that. I asked questions during the interview segment like "What's the last book you read?" Girls who gave me a confused, frightened look got lower scores, even if they were smokin' in a swimsuit. I did not want an airhead representing my home state and the young woman we crowned had beauty and brains.
While it was likely another (successful) attempt by Trump to grab attention, I support Miss USA being reprimanded at the very least and sent to rehab. It's clear the Kentucky Barbie was overwhelmed by the glitz and fame and she's not the best representative of the USA.
One correction, Joe. Miss USA Tara Conner is 21. Her birthday was 12/18, right in the midst of the mess last month.
1.3.07 @ 10:20a
"Photos were also flying around the 'net of her passionately kissing Miss Teen USA. Not that there's anything wrong with that..."
My husband, ladies and gentleman.
1.3.07 @ 11:06a
This column, like a lot of what I write, has a nugget of wisdom buried under a keg of bluster -- so it's not to be taken completely seriously, i.e. drugs are bad.
Mr. Kelley, to counter, and not to diminish your experience, but you have to come from the perspective that beauty pageants have an approrpiate level of... worth, no?
I mean, it's a beauty contest. Does it really need to be scrutinzed to the nth?
Furthermore, what's worse? Britney Spears wearing no underwear or the cottage industry of slam media that won't let it go?
Not that either is evil.
1.3.07 @ 11:16a
"She's not the best representative of the USA."
When did we start looking at pageant winners as representatives of anything but beauty? Who gives a shit! Does anyone really take this stuff seriously?
She's hot. She won a pageant because she's hot. That's what the damn pageant is for. Therefore, she is a good representation of the HOTNESS of the USA. Fine with me.
You want a brain, have a valedictorian pageant.
1.3.07 @ 11:40a
I thought Conner was the coke/drink girl and Miss Nevada USA, who actually did get fired, was the underage girl smoocher.
I could be wrong.
I could also not care less.
There was actually a very thoughtful article in the Post yesterday about how Monica Lewinsky is so utterly screwed even though she's a pretty smart girl who would otherwise have a bright future. You want someone who's paying for a mistake, she's your girl.
1.3.07 @ 1:16p
Absolutely, beauty pageants are inconsequential in the big picture. But the dingbat wears a sash that says Miss USA. When she does stupid things, it's a reflection of us in the world's mirror. The one often represents the many.
If a knockout contestant who was also in the top 95% of her class had been chosen, perhaps she would've had the moral stamina not to go trolloping through NYC. That was my point earlier. When I judged the state-level pageant, I chose a winner who had the complete package, not just looks.
There was another attractive contestant who placed in the top three that year who (we found out after the pageant) was featured topless in a Playboy video. I would've been embarrassed to send a woman with those standards to nationals to represent my home state.
Jael – both Miss USA and Miss Nevada USA Katie Rees were doing some same-sex smooching. Miss Nevada took it to an extreme & lost her crown because of it.
1.3.07 @ 1:45p
"I would've been embarrassed to send a women with those standards..." What is so damning about going topless? I don't think there is anything wrong with Playboy. It's not Hustler.
And I don't think America, which already features way too much judgmental, hypocritical condescension and moral superiority, should be all that worried about electing someone who isn't particularly prude in a lot of areas.
Now, I'm not necessarily condoning drunken same-sex make-outs and drug taking - the drug taking is certainly objectionable for an ostensible role model - but more specifically referring to the idea that someone who poses for Playboy is in some way damaged or has inferior morals.
I think it's more embarrassing to condemn someone for frivolous reasons. As Joe almost says in his column, judge not.
1.3.07 @ 3:13p
"What is so damning about going topless..." Let me see if I can explain this. Some people believe that one man and one woman are meant to exist in a life-long monogamous relationship. These people also tend to believe that the body is part of that commitment, and is sacred to their partner. So it is further believed that since honour and respect for their partner's body is due, it is also due for all bodies.
Now, having said that, the difference between pornography and art is that one is realm of the degraded mind and is inexorably linked (if not in subtle and veiled ways) to sexual gratification. The other is a celebration of the wonder of the human form and is void from any desire for a "quick fix".
Therefore, if Miss USA were found to have posed for Playboy (or any other pornographic magazine or concern) then she should be reprimanded, to include loss of the title.
If however she were found to have posed nude for an art class in college, I'm sure some eyebrows might raise by those who were brought up to believe that skin=naughtiness, but otherwise there should be no concern.
I hope this helps. Although I have followed your career here off and on, and am almost certain it will not.
1.3.07 @ 3:31p
Who exactly decides whose mind is degraded and whose is not?
Let me ask you this: Is it the form or the function that determines the difference between art and pornography? When a straight woman looks at Playboy and is not using it for sexual gratification, is it art? When a gay man looks at Michelangelo's David and chooses to gratify himself to it, does that make the statue pornography?
Why is Playboy pornographic and a nude sculpture or painting done in class art? What if a girl poses nude for an art class and then the resulting photos/sketches are published in Playboy? How do you decide what defines pornography?
Wait, let me guess: you know it when you see it.
I have not followed your career, but judging from the condescending and superior tone of your comments, you seem to be practicing the exact kind of behavior I was referring to in my previous post.
1.3.07 @ 6:31p
In his first comment Mike asked Does anyone really take this stuff seriously?
Patsy Ramsey took it seriously. She was a former beauty queen and was grooming her daughter JonBenet to follow in her footsteps, painting her like a whore or kewpie doll, depending on how you viewed a 5 year-old child dressed like a 1800s saloon singer, and forcing her to parade around in order to win contests. There is money in those contests as they get older. And fame and a doorway to what some perceive to be a better/easier life.
There was a reality show either last year or the year before about stage parents, showing the lengths to which people will go to make their child a star. That was more frightening then actually seeing the no-talent kids trying to "work it" on stage to please their parents.
And for the record, I do condone drunken same-sex make-out sessions.
And Joe, switch to baggy trunks. The hammock is out this year, and for guys over a certain age.
1.4.07 @ 12:19p
The whole gist of my post was meant to be simply about respect for women.
I am aware than many believe that anything involving consenting adults is allowable. I personally believe in a right and a wrong, consenting adults or not. And not because gawd is gonna send me to hell... (although, that is a distinct possibility) but just because there's an order to things. So who decides what's right and wrong? I have to decide (through various means) what I believe is right and what I believe is wrong. I then have to choose to either keep it to myself, or try to influence society. About this I'm certain we would agree.
But like I said, it's about respect for women in my book. Regarding your hypothetical musing, yes, I'm sure you could get your jollies with a greased up beer bottle, but that was not in the mind of the one who created it. Apply this to Michelangelo's intentions vs. Hugh Heffner's. That is, people will do degraded things, they don't really need any help.
1.4.07 @ 12:32p
By those standards, doesn't the entire beauty pageant construct already violate any such code of respect for women, regardless of whether a contestant has a Playboy past or not? The whole thing, no matter what Matt pretends when inquiring about reading lists, is intended to evaluate women on the basis of their bodies and their looks.
There is little difference between a Miss USA and a Playboy playmate, no matter how much "class" and "tradition" is afforded to one or the other. I don't have a particular problem with the existence of either of these things, but I do think it's absurd to hold someone that is good-looking up to role model standards for anything other than being good-looking. If a contestant's drug use makes her employers/representatives uncomfortable, they have every right to revoke her sash or crown or implants or whatever, but why should Americans worry about how other countries perceive our beauty pageant contestants?
michelle von euw
1.4.07 @ 12:35p
My theory is the worse that the Britney, Lindsey, Paris types act, the more puritan the rest of America gets with their standards. I regrettably caught about five minutes of this Tara Conner crap, and it was focused entirely on what Joe talks about, followed by total self-righteousness from our apparent king of all moral standards, Donald Trump. (While I trust that Matt is more informed on this matter, but the problem is, the mainstream media certainly isn't.)
We cannot punish Ms. Lohan -- maybe because we're too busy obsessing over her ill-conceived attempts at communication -- so we punish every other woman who dares to have fun. On one hand, sex is shoved down young girls' throats (ew, I know) pre-puberty. On the other hand, women are called sluts if they need more than one hand to count their sex partners.
And Robert, if Little Miss Sunshine taught us anything, it's that child beauty pageants are freakshows.
1.4.07 @ 2:17p
Here's your small-town, Friday Night Lights LiLo Mean Girls right here.
On the other hand, women are called sluts if they need more than one hand to count their sex partners.
Hey, I counted on one hand as my sex partner for years.
1.4.07 @ 2:32p
Amen to that, 'Chelle.
"I think it's more embarrassing to condemn someone for frivolous reasons. As Joe almost says in his column, judge not."
"I have not followed your career, but judging from the condescending and superior tone of your comments, you seem to be practicing the exact kind of behavior I was referring to in my previous post."
I believe Joe also said in his column "why everyone needs to lighten up."
John raises a good point in that if women expect others to respect them, they need to first show respect for themselves. Having also been a judge at a beauty pageant (yes, shameless promotion, finally).
On a personal level, there's nothing wrong with what Tara did, if that's the way she lives her life, except that she did it on the backs of every sponsor and every other person who wanted to be a part of the pageant machine. If some people use their good looks to get scholarship money and a new car, then that's what they choose. If they feel like taking their personal actions to the "Girls Gone Wild" level on someone's else's dime, they can't expect everyone to just accept that.
But the bigger problem in society is that there is a huge Jerry Springer syndrome: the nastiest, sluttiest, mouthiest, most demoralizing individual gets attention. Why the tabloids and even major media consider any of these actions to be "news" is beyond me. Are drugs illegal? Yes. Do you think Carnation Instant Breakfast wants to see their sponsored Miss USA flashing her boobs in a bar? No.
But does it really matter? No, not really.
However, if the chick wanted the crown, she has to understand the responsibilities of obtaining it and maintaining an image. But in this country, we've lost all matter of responsibility. And crazed psycho-wacko reality stars get their own TV shows, instead of, oh, I don't know, the little 11-year-old-girl in NE Iowa raising thousands of dollars for charity, all by herself. That's not "exciting" or "debatable", thus, unworthy of mass media news coverage.
A chick in a bar flashing her boobs or gyrating her tush against the crotch of every guy she meets is not promoting the sexual revolution of women, or, adversely, promoting pornography. She's just looking to get laid. Or overcompensating for deeper insecurities. Both personal decisions, but hardly newsworthy.
1.4.07 @ 2:36p
Someone in that article says "Gang members have nothing on these girls." Yeah, maybe ease up a bit? Not defending these girls, but underage boozing, talking back to teachers and posting racy pictures on MySpace does not a violent criminal make.
1.4.07 @ 2:39p
Could be. I'll have to wiki Miss USA and learn more about the genesis of the pageant.
As to whether or not we should be concerned about how the world views us and the things we do, um, well, I think few would agree with your rhetorical answer. Especially in this day and age. I know I don't.
Indifference to such matters leads only to further moral decay. While there's not a demon behind every bush, I still will continue to choose the high-road--the road less travelled.
1.4.07 @ 3:38p
Indifference and tolerance are two different things.
As Joe nearly says in his column, let's worry about things that matter and stop vilifying people for things that don't. Let them learn there own lessons without creating national scandals over them.
And besides, as long as we refrain from worshipping Allah and continue to lie, attack and intimidate, I don't think we're likely to change the world's opinion of us no matter who wins our beauty pageants.
1.4.07 @ 5:01p
Regarding how other countries view Miss USA, certainly the Miss Universe contestants are every bit as primped, glossed, and vapid as our own contestants, so I would hope that they don't think we're all like Miss USA any more than we think they're all like Miss Japan or Miss Ukraine.
Didn't a Miss Russia get dethroned for being trashy within the past couple of years?
1.4.07 @ 8:21p
Tracey, did you know chocolate malted Carnation Instant Breakfast with a shot of Bailey's tastes really good.
Sorry, just trying to lighten it up, like Joe suggested. I wonder if Tara tried that? The Baileys, not lightening things up.
Michelle, I haven't seen Little Miss Sunshine yet. It's on my uberlist of things to do this year.
Back to poor Tara. She really comes across as Trump's victim when you think about it. She's only 20 or 21, and here's this really rich, really famous guy footing her bills, sort of, and telling her what to do, how to live, and if she doesn't he's going to toss her back to the trailer park where she came from, metaphorically speaking. I don't really know if she lived in a trailer, nor do I care. I'm headed for trailer park city eventually, so I'm not picking on trailers.
Anyway, she just seems young and impressionable, and easily manipulated, sort of like all of Donald's wives when they start out. Some of them learn more quickly than others.
Plus, if she's doing cocaine, then that is a problem. Booze and coke are not a good mix. And isn't the drinking age 21? So she was underage drinking? Now she's crossing lines. I'll bet Trump wanted to spank her as well, but he's learned from his past mistakes, and won't choose the next wife until he dumps the current.
Sorry, still trying to keep it light.
1.4.07 @ 9:58p
"Tracey, did you know chocolate malted Carnation Instant Breakfast with a shot of Bailey's tastes really good."
Heh. I would brush my teeth with Bailey's if I could.
Gads. I can't imagine the shallowness of someone judging an entire country based on celebrity behavior. Almost as bad as a country deciding all Americans are bad because of some mistakes made by a President.
1.5.07 @ 11:00a
Very well then. "Tolerance" of such matters leads only to further moral decay.
And I think "what matters" is the subject of our debate.
To get specific, you feel that Miss USA having posed topless in Playboy is of no concern, anymore than it would be that she enjoy honey in her tea vice sugar. More generally, do you feel that it would similarly not matter for anyone? A high ranking official in your company, your mother, your wife, your daughter? Do you draw the line somewhere? See, I can ask distracting hypothetical questions with the best of them.
As far as someone judging our country based on celebrity behaviour, you may imagine it shallow, but it nonetheless is very real.
That is, our perception of the truth does not make it any less true.
1.5.07 @ 11:38a
One person's moral decay is another person's social enlightenment.
1.5.07 @ 12:45p
Which I have already addressed in the form of the final sentence of my previous post.
1.5.07 @ 12:48p
1.5.07 @ 12:53p
1.5.07 @ 1:02p
1.5.07 @ 4:58p
Beauty pageants embarrass the hell out of me. Always have, always will. I hate them. I won one once, back before the earth's crust had completely cooled, and what I felt during the bathing suit prance turned me into a feminazi for good. Women of the world unite! You have only your exploitation to lose. What I feel about beauty pageants has nothing to do with what I feel about the expression and enjoyment of sexuality. I was, after all, one of the generals on the ramparts of the sexual revolution forty years ago. I do, however, also feel that women should be able to do whatever they want to do, and if that includes pageants, fine. I simply feel no need to watch them or encourage them, or say anything nice about them.
1.5.07 @ 5:49p
Hey, Matt... looks like I was right.
btw, I did wiki Miss USA and discovered that it broke off from Miss America some decades ago because Catalina Swimwear (one of the sponsors) thought more emphasis should be placed on the ladies bods (and thus their swimwear, or something like that). Miss America, which is among many other things a scholarship programme, still places a great deal of weight on the woman's mind. And, Miss USA, as had been purported here, is merely a beauty contest.
Colour me informed. But of course, all of you already knew all of that, didn't you...
1.6.07 @ 11:39p
My turn. First of all, I applaud Matt and Tracey for giving a darn and making an effort as pageant judges to make sure the winner was worthy of representing the state. There are enough bubble-headed bleached blondes (sorry, Don Henley) unofficially representing American women in the press as it is without one wearing the Miss USA sash.
Second: Someone above, I forget who, made a point about sponsors. Let's take that a little further. To wit, the tie-in of Miss Teen USA with MADD. This august group of women severed their ties with Miss Teen USA once the underage drinking foolishness came to light, and rightfully so. You can't go out and get sloshed and have your face plastered all over the tabloids and mainstream media outlets, then expect any of your fellow teenagers to respect you when you promote alcoholic abstinence.
Similarly, it is understandable that the sponsor groups who would be associated with Miss USA's duties would be any more excited about having her shenanigans front and center in the headlines. It's hard to take anyone seriously when she's trying to garner attention to important subjects like literacy or battered women's shelters or whatever her platform supposedly is this year if you've seen pictures of her in her own Girls Gone Wild moment.
Personally, I don't see much difference between a beauty pageant and a dairy judging contest. The only difference between the two is that when the judge at the dairy show is checking out the udders on the heifers, he's looking to see if they've got milking potential. That, and no self-respecting dairy cow would be caught dead wearing high heels with a bikini.
1.6.07 @ 11:47p
Something came to mind. Don't these beauty queens have chaperones? You know, to sort of keep them from drunken same-sex make out sessions, and underage drinking.
1.30.07 @ 10:32p
If only trump had fired her.....
Then we'd get to see her in playboy that much sooner!!!