The beauty pageant contestant who gave a stammering, dopey answer to a policy question was widely derided as a dumb bunny, but Linda Holmes says all she revealed in that pageant moment was that she is no good at generating b.s. on command. Holmes:
This isn’t the kind of question that actually tests what you know; it’s basically a test of your ability to generate cow patties on command. Have you ever seen the part of Miss Congeniality where they all say “world peace” and receive polite applause? The entire reason it’s funny when Sandra Bullock says, “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan,” is that she’s not supposed to say anything substantive based on her experience. She’s supposed to say “world peace.”
These dumb questions aren’t intended to actually see whether you’re smart or not. Miss Utah USA might be smart and she might not be, but the last thing I’d use to guess at whether she’s smart is whether she can answer this kind of question “correctly.” Because “correctly” here just means smoothly, expertly, without hesitation or stammering. Had she said, “What it says is that we live in the greatest country in the world, and every day I get up and thank my lucky stars that I live in the United States of America,” she would not be in the news, despite having given just as irrelevant a non-answer. Had she said, “What it says is that family is the most important thing in the world, and we need to figure out how to help all families be happy families because it’s the most important thing in the world,” she would not be in the news.
And none of this has to do with whether beautiful women or pageant contestants can be smart or are smart. Some are! Some are not! Welcome to the broad sweep of humanity.
Verily. How would you have answered the question put to Miss Utah, if you were standing on stage in front of a live audience, and a large TV audience? You wouldn’t have done much better than she did, probably. I know I wouldn’t have.
I’m not a fan of beauty pageants, but the idea that beauty queens have to show that they’re smart and sensitive is absurd. They tell us nothing about whether or not a woman is beautiful, which is what these pageants are for. They are measures undertaken by pageant organizers to assuage the guilt they feel, and pageant enthusiasts feel, over watching a program in which women are paraded around like objects and judged on the basis of their aesthetic perfection. If we can all pretend that there’s more to it, that we’re really judging also on the basis of their intelligence and conscience, then we can quit feeling bad about it. If I had been a judge, seeing Miss Utah retain her poise after flubbing an answer to a policy question that has stumped experts for decades, I would have given her extra points. She’s not there to be smart; she’s there to look good. Why do we have to pretend otherwise?