Adjudicating A Controversy

I don’t normally get involved in beauty pageant controversies until the last stage of the competition–either Miss World or Miss Universe. It’s the international flavor that I enjoy more than anything. But occasionally a controversy erupts at a preliminary stage about which readers and commentators want to know our opinion. That happened last night when Miss Michigan, Rima Fakih, a quasi-Muslim from Dearborn, was crowned Miss USA. The first stories were predictably positive, like this one in the Detroit Free Press:

With two U.S. flags in front of the stage inside a Dearborn restaurant, Arab Americans cheered, danced, and sang into the night Sunday for Rima Fakih of Dearborn — crowned Miss USA in Las Vegas.
Fakih, of Lebanese descent, went into the pageant as Miss Michigan. She is thought to be the first Arab American and Muslim to become Miss USA.

The Free Press printed this nice photo of Miss Fakih:
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This picture convinces me that Miss Fakih was a worthy winner of the Miss USA crown:
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She’s a little scrawny, perhaps, but highly attractive by any normal standard.
A bit of controversy arose from the fact that Fakih tripped briefly over her evening gown. At least she didn’t fall to the canvas, as a couple of Miss USAs have in recent international competition, and the momentary stumble didn’t hurt her much.
But then the real controversy emerged. Someone had videos of Miss Fakih dancing with a stripper pole–pretty well clothed, however. It took about 15 minutes for the videos, from which this image is taken, to be sold to TMZ:
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Unfortunately, the controversy doesn’t stop there. Some complain that the runner-up, Miss Oklahoma, was discriminated against because she had to field the inevitable question about Arizona’s immigration law. She actually handled it quite well:

Miss Oklahoma, however, wasn’t the only one who had to navigate a mine field to answer the judge’s question. The winner, Miss Fakih, got one too:

The winner, Miss Michigan Rima Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant who calls herself both Muslim and Christian and went to Catholic school, was asked if health insurance should cover birth control. Yes, she said, because it’s so expensive. According to AP, she replied:

I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it’s a controlled substance.

So is this another case where the contestant who gave the liberal answer won? It could be. It is unrealistic to expect judges to put aside their own prejudices and judge beauty contestants on the quality of their answers to politically-loaded questions, regardless of the side on which the contestant comes down. If we can’t expect that–and we clearly can’t; these are celebrities, not Supreme Court Justices–then the only fair course is to forgo political questions altogether. At the same time, I would argue that Fakih’s occasional use of a pole, while more or less fully clothed, is immaterial. Maybe someday we will have a Miss USA who has not, up until that point, realized that her physique was desirable and tried to gain some benefit from it, but I wouldn’t suggest waiting for such a paragon to appear.
So, to sum up: Rima Fakih is a worthy winner of the Miss USA title. I, personally, would have selected her over the runner-up on pulchritude alone. So no serious injustice was done this year, in my view. Going forward, pageants should stop asking contestants–especially selected contestants only, while others get “world peace” questions–questions to which the answers are needlessly controversial and likely to play to the judges’ own prejudices. No one who attends a beauty pageant has the slightest interest in the judges’ political leanings.
As for Miss Fakih, we would be happy to suppose that she represents the “moderate Islam” for which the world has been waiting for some years now. Perhaps so. But, by her own account, she is part Christian, too–maybe that’s the moderate half. So we can only hope that she has ample bodyguards when she shows up for the Miss Universe pageant.

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