Were the former Miss California's beauty less great, she'd be less typical of this new movement!

Robin Givhan has a typically thoughtful piece in yesterday's Washington Post about notions of beauty: specifically, having out expectations overturned. "As much as people like to pretend that looks don't matter, there are archetypes ingrained in our subconscious about what certain kinds of people are supposed to look like." She brings up the examples of Elizabeth Edwards - steely and pragmatic where we expect maternal warmth - and Wanda Sykes, whose recent charges of "gone too far" outrageousness she contrasts with the pass we'd give a similar 'firebrand' like Bill Maher. And then there's Carrie Prejean.

Writes Givhan,

When Prejean's inquisitor, the blogger known as Perez Hilton, asked about same-sex marriage, no one was really expecting her to say anything beyond some mumbled combination of the words "world peace," "love" and "tolerance." But then she had the nerve to have an opinion — however awkwardly stated. And not only that, it wasn't the point of view the audience expected from a 22-year-old blonde who happily struts her surgically enhanced stuff in a bikini on national television in the sort of competition that has inspired more than a few drag shows. Prejean took a conservative stance. And in the cultural field guide, she is not what a conservative woman who puts her Christianity out there for public consumption is supposed to look like.

See, I read that very differently. Maybe - happily - Givhan and I don't have exposure to the same crop of stereotypes, but I think Prejean conforms pretty exactly to people's idea of such a woman's opinions. Sure, there's the stereotype of the grim conservative. But the bubble-headed conservative sorority girl is every bit as much of a trope. Maybe this is a newer product - that of the Real World generation, which does a brisk trade in glamorous conservatives who need their minds opened by equally token minorities or gay people. A character like ANTM's Clark - a token glamorous conservative - is familiar to any viewer of reality TV. And far from counteracting any liberal stereotype, it reinforces them: what is more satisfying, after all, than being able to class a dissenting view with the retrograde banality of pageant life, the air-head cliches of the beauty contestant? Pageants - like opposition to gay marriage - are not just anathema to the average sophisticate, but wholly inexplicable. Prejean may be a new archetype, but she's an archetype nonetheless: in the Sarah Palin mold. To this roster we can add Palin's daughter, Bristol, now public figure and Living Example, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, from whom we expect adorably shrill incoherence, and Meghan McCain, who's been at pains to balance her image with a dose of topical frivolity. Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, sharp and predatory, have been supplanted by unthreatening young women who see no contradiction between espousing Conservative - even Christian -values and enjoying Spring Break.


To smart conservatives, this can hardly be encouraging: Cheney-style paternalism and these vague ingenues as the pop-cultural face of a movement. For years, the charge of emotion unbacked by facts has been leveled at left-wingers, and now this perception is nothing if not bipartisan. The Carrie Prejean "scandal" has done nothing to challenge anyone's views - conservatives still feel victimized by media, liberals still feel confidently superior, everyone is comforted by Donald Trump's comfortingly consistent absurdity.

Words Mistaken At Face Value [Washington Post]