Apr 29, 2021

Pageant Demeans City, Heritage

Letter to the Editor

Oxford, Mississippi
image via Ken Lund on Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Dear Editor:

I feel compelled, driven, tormented, and inflamed to write this letter. Although I am loath to bring any more attention to the blight that has been visited upon our lovely city, I cannot remain quiet and acquiesce while a plague of dim-witted, shrill-voiced, and teased-hair harpies sully the good name of Oxford.

Of course, I am referring to the Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival Beauty Pageant.

Many here in our town are opposed to this parade of women, much like the procession of cattle into the stockyard ring where they are turned and prodded and primped, for reasons of gender equality and sexual discrimination.

Although I share their opinions that "beauty pageants" are demeaning carnivals of skin and legs, I do not wish to cast my lot with the feminists from campus because, unlike them, I must accept the fact that the girls who compete in these pageants are not unwilling participants in their humiliation. Guns are not placed at their heads. Drugs are not slipped in their drinks. They willingly go forward into the spotlight with layers of make-up so much like our own southern red clay of their own free will.

So I will not debate whether this pageant degrades its contestants.

However, I will stand up and fight and scream and claw and punch and screech and bellow that this so-called beauty pageant demeans and degrades Oxford and its wonderful literary heritage!

To hell with the young girls who want to be Temple Drake and their desires for beauty queen status. Corncobs and bootleggers await them, and they will be indemnified for their poor choices in life. But spare the rest of us of this charade. Spare this wonderful postage stamp of soil from this silly tragic comedy.

William Faulkner wrote literature that stands up to the ages. He changed the world and the perception of so many in it. His legacy is the greatest novels ever written in the English language. Joyce and Melville critics may disagree with me on that point, but I am prepared to debate Faulkner's merits with anyone.

This base and cheap exhibition does not pay proper honor to Faulkner or any of his Oxford literary descendants. Instead of raising awareness and educating people around the world about the value of Oxford literature, we are drawing attention for a silly and trivial spectacle. In this sense, we are, to paraphrase Faulkner, working not of the heart but of the glands. Surely the tremendous artists of Oxford deserve better.

I am aware that my opinions will be viewed by many as cold-hearted and old-fashioned. I will be told that I am not hip, that I am not current, and that I am not in step with today's attitudes. I will not dispute those charges. Rather, I will freely accept them. On this subject, I will gladly be Rosa and hate with all the venom and bile she summoned forth.

We do not need to be fashionable to make a difference in this world.

Let me remind everyone that, although Mr. Faulkner was driven by dire financial need to work in the world of Hollywood, he never felt at home there, he never fit in there, he never succeeded there. It was here in Oxford, at his beloved Rowan Oak, where he wrote books that were not bestsellers, were not movies, and were not hip. Instead, they were simply timeless.

Let us all stand together and tell the organizers of this beauty pageant that we deserve more than just cheap commercialism and free skin shows. I, for one, will not stand for this embarrassment of our town!

Lucille Ruffin-Moore
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Beauty pageant biz is alive and well

And in Yoknapatawpha County

By Courtney Woodford [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival Pageant, happening this week, reminds us that the beauty pageant business is alive, well, and thriving.

Fostered by the Miss America Organization, the beauty pageant as an institution and as an event has come a long way since their first pageant in 1921 was held in Atlantic City.

Originally established as a way to entice people to extend their Labor Day stay in the beach-side city, the Miss America organization now offers $42 million in scholarships, the single largest scholarship organization for women in the world.

The organization franchises 1,200 contests nationwide at local and state levels with over 10,000 young women competing in pageants they hope will win them a crown and transform their lives. Some enter just to appear on TV. Others dream of being discovered by modeling agencies, Broadway shows, TV or movies. And many really do hope for a scholarship to further their education.

The Miss America pageant — whose eligibility rules specify that only single women between 17 and 24 years old who have never been a parent or posed in the nude may enter — may be the largest, but it is by no means the only beauty pageant looking for share of the multi-billion dollar business.

Since Catalina Swimwear began their own Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions in 1951, there has been a proliferation of other pageants looking for a slice of the lucrative pageant pie. Pageants for women and girls of all ages — from birth to near-death — are held worldwide every year.

These pageants may vary in their qualifications for entry, but most have one thing in common — they're operated by a for-profit organization that solicits primarily girls and young women to compete for recognition and prizes from a promoter. The key words here are "for-profit."

The entrant usually pays a registration fee and a sponsorship fee — and a business sponsor, friends, or family members may pay those fees in full or in part. Fees generally cover the cost of the pageant, including salaries for company personnel and company profits.

The contestant must pay for their own clothing, costumes, makeup, travel, food, and sometimes lodging for themselves and a chaperone. Often a talent competition costs extra.

One of the Baby Beauty contests charges $1,000 just to enter. Even the little children's clothes and costumes may cost thousands of dollars, in addition to the usual pageant expenses. We all remember the videos of JonBenĂ©t Ramsey prancing and posing in her expensive costumes — and looking much too grown up for a six-year-old.

There are contests for babies, children, pre-teens, junior-teens, teens, Miss, Mrs., Miss Plump, Ms. Over 50 — you name it.

One year, an organization held their entire pageant on a cruise of the Western Caribbean with contests for pre-teen, teen, Miss, Ms., and Mrs. "complete with crowns and sashes." Of course, "the entire family" was invited — at the family's own expense. Who do you suppose profited from that one?

The name of the game is competition and winning — competition between contestants, competition between sponsors, competition to coach a winner.

Competition, winning — and money.

Every one wants to be a winner, sponsor a winner, coach a winner. There is no fame or profit in being or backing a runner-up. Who remembers the runners-up? It's winning that counts and pays off.

Is it any wonder that a contestant might make eleven tries over seven years of eligibility in two states as Miss America 1981, Debbye Turner, did? Isn't it a wonder, with all that's at stake, that anyone wins Miss Congeniality?

How can the two runners-up smile and look excited when someone else is announced as the winner? They must feel like looking — or throwing — daggers at the winner after all the months or years they prepared and the thousands of dollars they invested in themselves.

Oh well, if you're 17 and graduated from high school by June 30 or aren't older than 24, there's always next year.
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