Last night, all hell broke loose on Jamaican Twitter.
It was the Miss Universe competition in Las Vegas, and as usual I had been skipping over the numerous Jamaican tweets about which of the parading mannequins was the “hottest.” Who had the nicest hair, makeup, gown, eyes, shade of skin (critically important), lips, thighs, ankles? Who should or shouldn’t win? (Oh no, please not Miss America is the usual cry, preferably not a European either). Jamaica’s contestant did not make it to the top, but the interest remained high. My only contribution to the discussion was about the repeated misspelling of the name Colombia in tweets. Then my timeline was suddenly scattered with “OMGs” and the like. The host of the show had just announced the winner incorrectly. Shock, horror!
It was a bit like a scene from that amusing-but-sentimental film “Miss Congeniality” (one of my husband’s favorites – he fell for Sandra Bullock’s girl next door appeal years ago). There was a chorus of squeals from the audience when the host announced he had made a mistake in announcing Miss Colombia (note spelling) as winner. The “real” Miss Universe – Miss Philippines – put one hand daintily over her mouth (perhaps hiding an expletive?) – a classic beauty queen gesture. Miss Colombia (note spelling) had already started to bask in her “universal” glory. She had covered her face completely with both hands (also de rigueur for beauty queens) when she was announced the winner, and had wiped her smudged mascara from under each eye with a ladylike finger. Then the next minute the crown, which had just nicely settled on her smooth and glossy coiffure, was gently lifted off again by a woman with a stiff semi-smile on her face, while the bouncy eighties-style disco music ploughed relentlessly on in the background. Miss Philippines, the crown’s rightful owner stood nearby, her face frozen in a rictus of shock, waiting to receive it on her head. By the way, why do those crowns look as though they are made of plastic? Oh, they are? That explains it.
Poor things. And it was all live.
The upside for me was that at last something interesting happened at a Miss Whatever contest! I watched the thoroughly embarrassing video. Miss America, who would have come third anyway, played a bit part, exuding empathy and also doing the required hand-over-the-mouth thing. The last two had already done that nervous holding hands act just before the announcement, simpering and gazing earnestly into each other’s eyes while a crescendo of screams rose from the audience. As for the host, he could not look the cameraman in the eye. But hey! #MissUniverse2015 was the top trending hashtag of the night!
My Jamaican friends would not let this go without a thorough dissection of every minute of the riveting melodrama. It went on until bedtime, and is no doubt continuing today. Jamaicans have an abiding passion for beauty contests. I confess I find it incomprehensible that such importance is attached to them. When I suggest its similarity to a cattle market (which is what my father always called it) I am told that no, “the girls” work very hard for it (why are they always called “girls”? Haven’t they grown up yet?) Yes, I am sure they work hard at the waxing, the perfection of fingernails and toenails, the gym workouts. Yes. I am also told most sincerely that it’s not just about looks, but also intelligence. If that’s the case, why do viewers spend so much time analyzing the thickness of their thighs, the size of their buttocks, the way they walk and how they look in a bikini? They are certainly not discussing what books “the girls” last read! Let’s be honest about it.
But I get it. “The girls” are ambitious. They see their good looks as a way to get ahead; that kind of thing has been going on for centuries, in different ways. But describing it as “empowerment” for the women is always a stretch for me. What will happen to the supporting cast of contestants, trailing back home with their bags filled with skin creams and high-heeled shoes? Hopefully, they will simply get on with their lives and forget about the whole thing.
Of course, the reactions on social media – not only from Jamaicans – were simply hilarious (although those who take these shows really seriously were not amused). Someone wondered how the late Pablo Escobar would have reacted to the precipitous dethronement of Miss Colombia (yes, Colombians are still stereotyped as drug dealers). There were overly cruel jokes and sadly racist comments too, with many airing their prejudices against particular nationalities, skin colors etc. The meme creators got to work, with the host Steve Harvey (a not very funny comedian) the target of most of the ridicule. He had already made matters worse with his initial tweet, in which he misspelled both Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines’ names. Good Lord.
Sadly, while the pageant plodded along to its unusual conclusion, a real-life drama was playing itself out just outside the building. Another far less privileged woman had a truly disastrous night. Lakeisha Holloway, an apparently homeless woman with a small child in the car, drove onto the sidewalk and crashed into a crowd near the venue, killing one and injuring 26 people. The police say Ms. Holloway did this intentionally, and she will be charged with murder. Perhaps if you just scrape the surface of a city like Las Vegas, it’s not so neon-pretty, after all.
Back inside Planet Hollywood, the oblivious participants in the Miss Universe contest were still happily in fantasy land (another planet, perhaps). Well, it’s an escape from that reality outside, on the gritty streets of the city. An escape into a confection of glitter, glass, satin, cosmetics and hair spray (and I always suspect some geopolitics lurks behind the scenes). There’s no harm in it, I am told. I am not sure.
Rather sweetly, one man tweeted that if there was a Miss Universe contest, why wasn’t his wife in it? She means the universe to him. Reading this, I felt at last genuinely heart-warmed. All those smiles, hugs and fluttery waves of the hand could not bring me that “mushy” feeling.
I will now quote the pop princess Taylor Swift, who once proclaimed: “Unique and different is the next generation of beautiful.”
I would love to believe this is true.