by WALT BRASCH
Miss Arizona says she wants to be a TV anchor. And so does Miss Florida. Miss California and Miss Vermont both say they want to be lawyers--and TV anchors. Miss Alabama says she wants to be a corporate spokesperson--"specializing in broadcast journalism." None of the future TV anchors will use their "talent" to do investigative documentaries about the problems of the homeless of Atlantic City and the duplicity of local government that allows poverty to co-exist a block away from the casinos. None of the TV anchor-wannabes are prepared to express themselves against the thousands of instances of suppression of free speech and free press rights or violations of the right-to-know and sunshine laws that occur every year.
To get those grants and become "Scholar of the Year," the contestants immerse themselves into "Express Yourself," this year's theme. To make us believe that swimsuits and evening wear are merely afterthoughts on the path to more than a thousand speaking engagements a year, the organizers have directed the judges to evaluate contestants on "such subjects as world affairs, state and local politics, and personal interest."
Groomed by voice coaches and image consultants who have bathed them with the lessons of "interpersonal communications," the contestants can cover any possible question with variations of the same prepared answer. Because this is a pageant, not a beauty contest, Miss America contestants must present their "platforms."
Miss Texas, who has a degree in Puboic relations, says she wants to be a "college professor and a motivational speaker." She'll probably take an anchor job if it's offered. Ten of the 51 contestants in Saturday's 79th annual Miss America Pageant, televised for three hours by ABC-TV, want to be anchors. It shouldn't be all that difficult for them to reach their life ambition. After all, TV journalism has become more fluff than substance, with hair-do's and smiles more important than reporting and writing.
The Miss America mandate encourages "young women to explore the relevant social issues of their times and to excel in arts, science, communications or any area of inquiry that inspires their interest and devotion." The social issues that 36 of the contestants say they're interested and devoted to platforming are relatively-safe issues of health care, education, or children.
After all, how can anyone speak against the platforms of the five contestants who want more cancer awareness, or the four contestants who think the nation should be more literate? Miss Georgia and Miss Vermont are both trumpeting "character education." Miss New York and Miss Washington are telling us about "America's Promise," whatever the heck that is.
Miss Hawaii's platform is "Adversity Builds Character." We'll know how serious she is when she's eliminated in the first round. Miss Wisconsin and Miss Wyoming, possibly because they're at the end of the list and didn't get to choose any of the "way cool diseases," chose to promote sexual abstinence, hopefully only until marriage.
None of the candidates have platforms that deal with pro-choice or pro-life issues. None will express themselves about corporations that exploit their work force, or which have laid off most of their labor, and outsourced most of their product in order to gain a higher profit margin for investors and overpaid executives.None will advocate animal rights, campaign finance reform, the preservation of the environment over the lumber and building industries, or even take a stand for or against gun control. Although several contestants will speak against drug addiction, none plan to discuss gambling addiction, a particularly sensitive subject in Atlantic City.
Vanessa Williams won the 1983 Miss America title and its $30,000 scholarship. The controversy over a nude Penthouse appearance forced her out of the title.
None of the future TV anchors will use their "talent" to do investigative documentaries about the problems of the homeless of Atlantic City and the duplicity of local government that allows poverty to co-exist a block away from the casinos. None of the TV anchor-wannabes are prepared to express themselves against the thousands of instances of suppression of free speech and free press rights or violations of the right-to-know and sunshine laws that occur every year.
The only woman who has come closest to a true social issue is Miss Kentucky whose platform is advocacy for homeless veterans. But don't look for her to attack government and public apathy or mistreatment as roots of the problem. Miss America's squeaky-clean image is of the "girl next door," not the crusading activist--the spiritual descendants of Mother Jones, Emma Goldman, and Rachel Carson need not apply.
For one year, Miss America is a paid employee of a corporation. She is continually watched over by a chaperon who may be a "mother confidante," event planner, and trouble-shooter, but whose job description requires her to continually monitor and report to headquarters Miss America's performance, including what she looks like and what she says to the public. If Miss America has ambitions to be a broadcast journalist, she already has a long history of selling her body and soul to a corporation, and should have no trouble spewing happy talk.
-Brasch, an award-winning former newspaper reporter and editor, is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University.He plans to contribute editorial viewpoints occasionally to USAfricaonline.com