By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
UNCASVILLE, Connecticut (AP) – As Miss America turns 100, a major question remains unanswered: is it still relevant?
The glitzy pageant grew out of an Atlantic City beauty pageant in 1921, just a year after women won the vote, and maintains a complicated presence in an American culture that has since suffered multiple waves of feminism. . Attendance and viewership has fallen since its heyday in the 1960s – when the next Miss America is crowned on Thursday, her coronation will only be available to stream through NBC’s Peacock service, hijacked from its broadcast throne during hours of night. great listening.
Faithful organizers and Miss America enthusiasts contend the annual ritual is here to stay and will continue to change over time. And while they may not have actually come up with a plan for world peace, many attendees claim that the organization – touted as one of the largest providers of scholarship aid for young women – changed their lives, opening doors for them professionally and personally. And they think other people should have the same opportunities.
âI think people have a bad idea of ââwhat Miss America is because it’s not just about dressing up and being fancy and proper and looking perfect on stage,â Miss said. America 2004 Ericka Dunlap, Debt Free College Graduate. , founded a public relations firm and became a television personality.
Miss America fans often cheer on their state’s candidate as they would a local sports team. However, some have expressed their disappointment at some of the competition’s attempts to adapt to contemporary mores and evolve from its regressive beginnings.
“It’s kind of a dead end because as he tries to progress he not only loses his original identity but becomes less entertaining for people who like to watch him,” said Margot. Mifflin, author of “Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s A 100 Year Quest to Define Femininity.” Fans, she said, are divided on the trajectory of competition – and no longer âreenactmentâ. Some want it to be âbeauty and fitness,â while others embrace the tendency to focus on leadership, talent and communication skills, she said.
Meanwhile, the competition is still engulfed by calls for more diversity.
In the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, minority women were excluded by “rule number seven”, which stipulated that applicants must be “in good health and white.”
1968 saw a Miss Black America pageant, organized to revolt against the lack of diversity, as well as a protest of several hundred women organized by the feminist group New York Radical Women, which called Miss America “an image that oppresses women. women in all areas of the world that he claims to represent us.
It wasn’t until 1984 that first Black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was crowned – and she relinquished her title over a nude photo scandal, only receiving an apology from the organization. in 2015. At least 11 minority women won the title in all.
Miss America CEO Shantel Krebs, a former secretary of state for South Dakota who does not earn a salary, says the Miss America organization is “committed to diversity, equity and inclusion “. She said the event had also been “at the center of social issues” for the past 100 years, noting that the winners had faced serious modern issues during their reign, from HIV / AIDS awareness to the scourge of opioid abuse. But Mifflin notes that the modernization of competition has happened “well behind the larger culture in terms of women’s advancement.”
It wasn’t until 2018 that the judgment on physical appearance was ruled out, with the help of former Miss America Gretchen Carlson, who eventually stepped down as chairman of the board. Carlson was part of an all-female management team that took over following an email scandal in which male executives insulted former Miss Americas, disparaging their looks, intelligence and even their sex lives. . While some hailed the changes as a way to make the event more relevant, many state organizations rebelled against the new leadership team.
âI say in the book that he’s always been in dialogue with feminism, but behind feminism,â Mifflin said of the Miss America pageant. “So it always seems like he’s trying to catch up.”
Dunlap, the seventh Black Miss America, believes the competition – which she has no problem calling a contest – needs to diversify to remain relevant. She noted, for example, that there were no Hispanic winners.
She said more needed to be done to help young women of color get involved at the local level, for example by helping them cover the high costs of their participation – including developing their talents and purchasing dresses – so they can pursue the same life-changing opportunities.
This year, the nonprofit – led by a staunch group of volunteers at the national, state and local levels – announced that the top scholarship awarded in the Dec. 16 finals would double to $ 100,000. The change was made possible by a donation from 1996 Miss America Shawntel Smith Wuerch and her husband Ryan Wuerch. According to the organization, a total of $ 435,500 in scholarships will be distributed through this year’s competition, while more than $ 5 million is awarded annually through national, state and local programs.
Dunlap hopes that instead of looking for what she calls an “it girl” who can attract hits on social media, the Miss America organization in the years to come will focus on promoting the “longevity of the girl”. organization”. Krebs says organizers are doing just that, noting that the number of annual attendees has increased from around 5,000 to 6,500 after the 2018 changes.
âI just feel like there are mixed messages about whether or not you can be beautiful and attractive and still be smart. And I just think that’s silly to me,â said Dunlap. “It’s like women can only do one thing, so pick a side. And that’s not true.
It’s unclear whether the decision to move the contest online says more about the fate of broadcast television than Miss America. NBCUniversal Media was optimistic about its streaming service, and Krebs insisted that the switch to streaming was the organization’s decision and that it had nothing to do with the number of viewers.
The 2019 Miss America finale on NBC drew an all-time high 3.6 million viewers. In contrast, the 1954 competition drew 27 million viewers when there was much less competition for eyeballs.
âIf you say you want to be in the next 100 years, we absolutely had a desire to be broadcast because that’s where our future is,â Krebs said, noting how younger people are – and keep in mind that Miss America contestants must be between the ages of 17-25 – are less likely to have access to broadcast television.
Some fear that going online could spell the downfall of what is often dubbed âthe first reality TV show,â which began airing live in 1954.
âWe have seen the demise of a historic event that helped shape the lives of Americans,â a fan said on Facebook. Another agreed with Krebs, predicting that “the audience we can reach is bigger than ever!” “
Yet another fan, still upset that the event is no longer in Atlantic City – he moved to a Connecticut casino in 2019 – wrote: âSadly after 100 years it seems to have run its course.
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