While I’ve lately been talking about my off-screen endeavors, the reality of research is to gain understanding. To get that understanding, I’ve been chin deep in Google Scholar searches, databases, and off-the-wall essays. What I want to talk about is a particular article I recently came across. Written by Sarah Banet-Weiser and Laura Portwood-Stacer, I Just Want To Be Me Again: Beauty pageants, reality television and post-feminism is an exploration of the Miss America Pageant’s recent television struggles and what that means about femininity in America. (And lots of other stuff, it’s a long, brilliant piece with tons of cool points, but I’m focusing in on just a part of it.)
Basically, the Miss America Pageant had a record low viewer count in 2004 (9.8 million) and as such, the ABC Network “dropped the event as a ratings loser.” Wow, harsh. I assume this led to widespread panic within the Miss America team, and as such, there was talk of totally revamping the way the pageant was aired.
They (the all powerful “they”) decided to look at what kinds of shows were attracting the viewers. What they found was American Idol, Survivor, and other reality shows were the ones raking in the numbers. I don’t know about you, but trying to coincide Survivor and the Miss America Pageant just doesn’t work in my brain.
Instead of dropping the beauty contestants on a deserted stage to live off fruits of the concession stands, the directors pulled bits and pieces from all sorts of reality trash TV. When answering the questions on stage, the announcer would ask if that was the contestant’s “final answer,” and there was talk of following each contestant in the weeks leading up to the event. That way, the viewers would be more emotionally invested in the women as individuals and would see if their favorite won the crown. Actually, that doesn’t sound like a half-bad idea. Part of the problem I’ve been running into with my research is that there is no way of knowing the contestants until one of them wins, and even then it’s difficult to get any sort of timely info without being physically present at the event.
So maybe Toddlers and Tiaras isn’t showtime gold, but it could offer a peak into how the broadcast of big time pageants could be changed. Personally, I think it would be a service to the pageant world to get the big shows like Miss America (where the women are intelligent, skilled, and ARE good role models) were given the time and attention they deserve.