August 26, 2007

I woudn't laugh at this woman if I were you.

I mean, it's really easy to make fun of Lauren Caitlin Upton, South Carolina's entrant in the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant, as she tackles a question about geography.

Upton's obviously been taught a bunch of stock phrases to use to buy time when she's trying to answer a pageant question. And it's painfully obvious that she's using use stock phrases to try—try to the point of incoherence—to cover up the fact that she hasn't a clue about how to answer the question she was asked.

But—and be honest now—how many people in the US who aren't beauty pageant contestants are just as clueless, and would give answers that were just as pathetic the one Upton gives in this YouTube clip?

She's not the only one who wouldn't be able to answer the question.

While it's easy to laugh at Upton, I'd submit that she's practicing the same craft that's used by US business leaders and politicians every day: that of saying a whole bunch of meaningless stuff to try to hide the fact that a statement is wrong, incoherent, or nonexistent. And that the only reason that we're laughing at Upton is because she doesn't have the years of practice that her (mostly male) elders use to hide their ignorance and dishonesty.

It's just easier for us to laugh at Upton's answer because she's young, attractive, and female.

Via Suburban Guerilla.

Posted by Magpie at August 26, 2007 08:00 PM | Women | Technorati links |

S'alright for her, though. If she wins, once her tenure is up she'll land a pretty sweet modeling gig. If not, she'll be hired on a someone's spokesperson or be given someother meaningless job where she can make a living off of her looks and inability to think constructively.

Posted by: Thomas at August 26, 2007 08:33 PM

When I read what you wrote, Magpie, I thought the question was going do be something about finding France, say, and she'd be looking in the Pacific Ocean. For that, I'd have laughed at someone who looks like her and someone who looks like me[1] equally. Actually, I wouldn't have laughed; I would have shaken my head and sighed.

But the question isn't about that at all; answering the question doesn't require any knowledge of geography. It isn't really "a question about geography," but a question about the education system in the US, and our collective attitude toward the world.

"Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?" Yes, I dare say that a good many people wouldn't know how to answer that question. But I wouldn't laugh at them for failing it, and I don't laugh at her for it. Her answer's lame, and, yes, she's babbling in order to give herself time to think. But, you know, she might actually have an answer in mind, like, "Because we're a self-centered isolationist nation with a crappy education system, and we think we're the center of the universe and nothing else matters," but she knows that she won't win points with that.


[1] I am decidedly not young, attractive, nor female....

Posted by: Barry Leiba at August 27, 2007 04:54 AM

She didn't even answer the question!

Posted by: brian at August 27, 2007 09:49 AM

Wow, you're one of those people who put your own racist/sexist/political spin into everything. She's dumb - deal with it. White, black, asain, pretty or ugly, male or female has nothing to do with it - she's just dumb. Entering into a contest that exposes her just makes her dumber.

Posted by: Pretty Girl at August 27, 2007 01:35 PM

PG - You're really reaching here to find anything racist or sexist, seemingly for the joy of being able to accuse someone of it. And she didn't sign up as a contestant for Jeopardy. Her parents have probably been shopping her around on the pageant circuit since she was a tiny, little thing, I'd be shocked if she'd ever been asked particularly challenging questions in that context before.

And that sentence structure, particularly the last one ... I'd put a tarp over that thing, if I were you.

Posted by: natasha at August 27, 2007 02:19 PM

I was searching the web for an Upton aplogist and I've finally found one.

Alas, we really should laugh at Ms. Upton. Yes, she is bs'ing, just as politicians do on TV everyday, but she is doing it so poorly that she invites ridicule. Dodging questions or giving non-answers is a craft, one that Ms. Upton is unfortunately not versed in.

I agree that it easier to laugh at her, but not simply because she is young, attractive, and female, but because she has entered a contest in which she dares go on stage and field questions to prove (or not prove) that she's more than just a pretty face and hot body.

Posted by: DC resident at August 27, 2007 02:26 PM

Does anyone dare to take a stab at what the real answer could have been? She clearly did not even understand the question.

Posted by: reader1 at August 27, 2007 06:11 PM

DCR - "In which she dares ..."! Ha. Yeah, that's the real purpose of beauty pageants. Right.

Explain to me again why none of the Very Serious People in Washington DC could find an argument like that with two hands and a flashlight when it came time to pontificate on the meaning of Dubya's repeated manglings of the English language, and periodic retreats into gibberish, when he was running for president in 2000 and 2004. I mean, is it so much more important for a beauty contestant to prove that she's more than pretty, than it is for a presidential hopeful to prove that he can think seriously, off the cuff, about matters of state?

Ms. Upton may not be especially bright, or perhaps she's merely very ignorant. But no lives depend on her. She didn't fail to plan for a war in a country that's now descended to civil war like all serious observers predicted it would if careful steps weren't taken after the initial fighting. She didn't lose an entire American city to a storm. She didn't appoint faith healers to oversee the practice of gynecology in the US. She didn't appoint a compulsive liar and political hack to the highest law enforcement position in the country. She didn't appropriate the GSA bureaucracy as a campaign tool for a political party. She didn't nominate Supreme Court justices who've made ruinous decisions wrt women's health, consumer protection, workplace discrimination, and corporate power.

Because it would seem to me that maybe, just maybe, a country with George W Bush sitting in the office of the president, with Sen. Ted 'The Intertubes' Stevens and Rep. Tom 'I am the federal government' Delay under investigation for corruption, that we are focused on screening the wrong people for intelligence and discernment, while giving a pass to those who make important decisions that affect us on a daily basis.

Posted by: natasha at August 28, 2007 04:58 AM

I feel bad for the kid. You could see her buying for time right off the bat, then I think she got lost, maybe she was ready for a different test question, I'll bet you that if she were asked that question in a less on the spotlight situation she might have come up with something more coherent.

Laugh at it, well, it's pretty bad, there's no denyin it. But what's with the mean spirited assaults on her? She's a teenager, fer chrissakes, they're all pretty dumb! Been to the mall lately and look at the kids hanging out there?

Beauty Pageants, that first word tells you the intent, and she's a beauty, but so what, does that make her more or less worthy of scorn and ridicule? Does that make her less of a human being? Or does that make her guaranteed a ride down easy street because she's a pretty blond?

Who knows, she might learn from the experience, I mean, she has to know she blew it, imagine how you would feel in that situation.

Posted by: Duckman GR at August 28, 2007 10:40 AM

Reader1: I took a stab at a real answer in my earlier comment. Do you disagree with it?

Posted by: Barry Leiba at August 28, 2007 11:22 AM

The answer:

Between a conservative regime's desire to gut public education, and a cultural wasteland that deifies celebrity and ignorance, while denigrating education, we're going to continue to reap what we sow...

Americans are that stupid because we've been taught since childhood that 'smart kids' are outcasts to be bullied, beaten and mocked.

We're that stupid because our educational system now consists of preparing for standardized tests to the exclusion of everything else.

We're that stupid because our culture rewards mindless consumers over all.

"Idiocracy", sadly, isn't fiction...and this has NOTHING to do with sexism.

If she can't answer a simple straightforward question like 'Why are Americans so geographically illiterate?" with "Because we think that being pretty is more important than being smart. After all I'm not here because of my brains or SAT score!"

I don't deny that beauty contestants can be smart, or smart people can't be beautiful, it's that we've got a screwed up set of cultural values.

Posted by: BruceJ at August 28, 2007 01:10 PM

"It's just easier for us to laugh at Upton's answer because she's young, attractive, and female."

No, it's easier to laugh at her because she flubbed a softball question on national TV. The question is: Why was she on national TV? Because she is young and attractive and she chose to enter a beauty contest. She reached for the brass ring and fell flat on her face. That's funny. I don't care who you are.

Have you ever seen the Tonight show with Jay Leno? There are lots of very average, even dumpy-looking people answering easy questions very poorly, both male and female. They are on TV to laugh at. We have a collective Schadenfreude when it comes to others making an ass of oneself in public. I think that knows no national boundaries.

I think you're seeing sexism where none exists. The only sexism that I see is that even though this young woman clearly is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, she will very likely have a nice PR job or sales and marketing position in her future. She is NOT a victim!

Posted by: Graham at August 30, 2007 03:21 PM