JWR Schticks and groans

Jewish World Review August 31, 2001 / 12 Elul, 5761

Miss America 'gets real'

By Jill R. Jacobs

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHAT do you get when you combine "Regis," "Richard Hatch" and a bevy of bathing beauties competing for a chance to wear the coveted tiara?

No, it's not a reality television nightmare. It's the "new and improved" Miss America Pageant, which will be telecast live on September 22, 2001.

In an effort to boost sagging ratings, organizers of this year's pageant are considering a make-over for the 81-year-old beauty competition.

In a society where more people can name the winner of the "Survivor" show than The Secretary of State, it's not surprising that pageant organizers have elected to incorporate elements of reality television programming in the hopes of attracting a wider viewing audience.

Robert Renneisen, president of the Miss America Organization, says that "the Miss America telecast has been providing viewers with high-stakes reality television since its broadcast debut in 1954. Instead of some contrived contest, the pageant culminates with one previously unknown woman becoming a celebrity overnight." And that, he added, is reality TV.

Come on. The Miss America Pageant is about as real as Madonna's British accent, Pamela Anderson's implants and Twinkies.

Ric Ferentz, moderator for the Miss America Website is confused by the public's negative perception of the pageant. "For the longest time, The Miss America Organization has been misunderstood, and we really couldn't understand why people didn't realize that she's not just a bathing beauty."

Perhaps the misunderstanding arose at the inception of the pageant in 1921, when only young, attractive women were invited to compete in a contest that historically has judged women on the merits of their physical beauty.

The continued objectification of the female through the introduction of the swimsuit competition, has further contributed to the stereotypical ideal of the beauty queen as an intellectually vapid, vacuous, shallow, female, forever flashing a frozen smile, while offering the classic half-cupped wave.

But that's just a guess on my part. I could be wrong.

Originally, in the 1920s, the pageant began as an attempt to extend the summer season into autumn and to attract crowds and increase revenue in Atlantic City.

The birth of the feminist movement in the '60s combined with the recent growth in cable TV, where viewers can always find women parading around in less than a bathing suit, have contributed to the decline of the once popular show.

While this year's contestants will not be forced to eat cow brains to win, pageant producers have borrowed elements of ""Survivor,'' ""Big Brother,'' and ""Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.'' It also has renamed some of the competitive segments. Some of the proposed changes include:

Some cynics have speculated (OK, some have hoped) that allowing contestants to take part in voting for their favorite beauty queen upon their own elimination may result in some cat-fighting.

But Renneisen disagrees. "What you're more likely to see is something like a sorority house...a lot of teamwork and support. There's not a lot of catty stuff.''

Great, this is beginning to sound a lot like last year's show. If you want my unsolicited two cents, how about forgetting the sorority house bit and including some conflict, some angst?

Trust me, a couple of good cat fights could raise the ratings through the roof. But that's just a guess on my part.

I could be wrong.

Jill Rachel Jacobs is a Manhattan-based writer and singer. Send your comments by clicking here.


07/17/01 It's In The Mail
07/11/01 The Name Game
05/18/01 Hold the pickle
04/27/01: Forever a "Rules Girl"?

©2001, Jill Rachel Jacobs