The Miss America pageant used to be a great place to see incredibly conventionally attractive women answer questions about world peace and then march around in bathing suits. It's still a great place for that, but it's also a great place to get a peek into a sort of crystal ball of American politics, a showcase for women who may use their beauty queen crown as a launching pad to actual, non Disney Princess-style clout in the not-so-distant future, a preview of future female powerhouses. There she is. Madame President. Hail to the chiffon.
Slate's Hilary Levey Friedman wonders if the Miss Whatever-cum-politician is a reflection of a marked increase in intelligence of Miss America pageant contestants, or if it's just another moment in America's decades-long swirl around the toilet of irredeemable stupidity. She points out that while Sarah Palin may be the most famous beauty queen politico, she's not going to be the last, and in fact, she may have been the first in a future dynasty of naturally slender alpha-humans with hair capable of achieving enormous helmetty proportions. And that's something we should have seen coming from a mile away, because the Miss America pageant basically grooms young women for futures in politics, says Friedman.
In recent years, the Miss America pageant has emphasized being hot less and being smart more; it had to in order to survive social evolution of women from silent decorative knick knacks to decorative knick knacks that occasionally worked outside of the home. And sometimes Miss America was actually ahead of the curve — long before it was de rigueur to send young women to college, for example, Miss America was awarding scholarships to its contestants. And in the 1990's, the pageant introduced the concept of "platforms" to the contest, requiring aspirant Miss Americas to choose an important social issue and devote their year of crowned service to their cause. (Sort of like what we make First Ladies do, hopefully minus the whole "kiss the President for TV cameras" thing.)
While Friedman argues that it makes perfect sense that a vigorous schedule of public speaking, smiling, hand shaking, and waving perfectly train Miss America contestants for a life in the public eye, she goes a little easy on both the state of the pageant and the state of American politics. More beauty pageant contestants aren't running for office because America's stupid — I refuse to buy into this fucking terrible idea that beautiful women don't count because they must be dumb and unattractive women don't count because they're ugly; there is no correlation between attractiveness and actual intelligence. Rather, pageant contestants are successfully segueing into politics because circa 2012 politicians are little more than opinionated news anchors. And not only to Miss America contestants have the drive to succeed, they also look the part.
Are Miss America contestants intelligent and ambitious? Absolutely. But maybe they're just exploiting an obvious opportunity afforded them by the evolving nature of what politicians actually do — they're not the serious frownyface stateswomen who spend their days writing their own speeches and studying history and the Constitution and stuff and who, fashionwise, are incapable of pulling off basic blue jeans without making them look dorky. They're figureheads and window dressing, essentially elected pundits who operate as the official spokespeople for enormous grinding machines fueled by corporate money and power. Sure, they vote on stuff, but they don't write the laws the introduce anymore; think tanks and special interest groups funded by billionaires do. To advance in the modern political system requires the same sort of savvy/hotness combination that it takes to advance in any career that requires appearing on TV a lot and successfully repeating strategically designed talking points.