Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Quaint Custom of Beauty Pageants, Part 2

     In the first part of this three-part series, I examined four features that most national and international beauty pageants have in common.  In each area, the beauty pageant, or scholarship pageant, or whatever the promoters call it, fails to deliver what the promoters promise.  In this second part of the series, I examine the "beauty" and "talent" competitions, which all but doom the chances of winning for most beautiful or talented contestants.
     Seriously. Think about the famous women who are said to be world-class beauties. With few exceptions, most of them have some facial feature that a minority of people would call ugly. To most other observers, though, each of these features is the woman's most appealing feature.     
     Think of Anne Hathaway’s wide-set eyes, Elle MacPherson’s impenetrably dark eyes, Karen Mok’s large teeth, Angelina Jolie’s full lips, or Julia Roberts’s wide mouth. People who don’t find those features appealing might say that Anne Hathaway’s eyes were practically on the sides of her head; that Elle MacPherson’s eyes were spooky, like an android’s; that Karen Mok could eat an ear of corn through a picket fence; that Angelina Jolie’s lips look like two slabs of raw liver; or that Julia Roberts’s mouth reminds you of a crocodile.
     A woman whose face had all those features would look like a monster. With just one of these features, she can be a world-class beauty. Given a panel of, say, seven judges, probably one of them would give any one of these aforementioned beauties low enough marks to cause a blandly attractive woman to win that part of the competition.
     Let me give you an example of two former beauty contestants versus a beautiful young woman who wouldn’t stand a chance in a beauty contest.
     In Taiwan, there’s a female singing and acting group called S.H.E. The name stands for Selina, Hebe, and Ella. Selina and Hebe were teenage beauty contestants, and they have the generic prettiness of beauty contestants. Ella was never in a beauty contest, and she’s noted for a tomboyish appearance; yet she was always the most popular member of the group, and many people consider her the most attractive of the three. Now that Hebe is 28 and the others are 30, Selina and Hebe are still generically pretty, but Ella is a radiantly beautiful woman. She still probably wouldn’t stand a chance in a beauty contest because her face is rounder than most judges prefer.
     Now let’s come to requirement #6 of what it takes to win a (ahem!) “scholarship” contest.
     Once the leg and cleavage part of the competition is over, the contestants have to compete on the basis of something else that has nothing to do with scholarship. With tongue-in-cheek, it’s called the talent competition. All the contestants display some degree of training or practice at what they do, but it’s quite a stretch to call it talent. Rarely is it even entertaining, unless you happen to have a perverse sense of humor—like the people who deliberately watch terribly made movies for the express purpose of laughing at how bad they are. The trouble is, these performances are not bad enough to be risible, but they don't show enough talent to be interesting. Let’s face it: technical proficiency is not the same thing as talent.
     Among a panel of judges, true talent would be doomed to failure, and for the same reason that a world-class beauty would have no chance in a beauty contest. Talent involves creativity. True creativity will please some people but offend others. Low marks from just one judge out of seven would doom a contestant’s chances of winning. Only the least objectionable material—that is, the lowest common denominator—has a chance of winning.
     If you think I’m kidding, compare the two videos below. In the first, a national beauty contestant with a piano is displaying the high degree of technical proficiency that passes for talent at these events.  

     Chances are, you didn't watch all of it.  In the second video clip, Chico and Harpo Marx are displaying their talents on a piano.  Chances are, you will watch all of it.
     A beauty contestant playing with talent like Chico's and Harpo's would not have a chance of winning the talent competition. A low mark from even one of the judges would kill a talented contestant’s chances of winning.
     In the third and final article in this series, I’ll treat the “personality” portion of beauty contests. The kind of personality that’s rewarded is not the kind of personality that most men would want to marry.  I don't blame the contestants; I blame the judges.  Their questions and expectations are unfair.
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