Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Raj, Mendoza, and the Politics of Beauty Pageants

It is quite interesting that this year's roster of Ms. Universe winners are not exactly the "usual" winners. Not one of the top 5 candidates come from countries that have a major relationship with the United States in recent months. The winning of Ms. Mexico as this year's Ms. Universe is a bit interesting. Is this a sign that the Latinos of the United States are finally making themselves heard? In many recent surveys, the Hispanics in the US (and many of these come from Mexico), are slowly topping the list better and improved non-white Americans. In fact, in a recent survey of computer/internet users/owners, the Hispanics outnumbered the African-Americans.

Venus Raj's fifth place in the final tally was probably due to her not so amazing answer, but it may also be very much due to what recently happened to the bungled resolution to the Mendoza hostage-taking crisis. Some observers (and conspiracy theorists) have stated that the hostage taking of Chinese nationals by S/Insp. Mendoza actually helped Venus Raj's quest for the most prestigious beauty title. It guaranteed that the judges would really pay special attention to her during the prelims, and indeed she breezed through the top 15 and top 10 rounds. However, having her place hear the crown would have also sent a wrong signal, especially to the Chinese who are probably still seething at what happened to their countrymen. There is a small chance that Raj placed only as 4th runner-up because of the hostage taking incident the day before the pageant. As always, observers like myself would say that, once more, politics got in the way of crowing beauty titleholders.

The Philippines probably holds the distinction of having the most number of local beauty pageants held annually, with most barrios from Appari to Jolo culminating their fiestas with a beauty search. Moreover, it gives us great pride and honor to send representatives to tilts like Miss International, Miss World and Miss Universe would at least make it to the 10 semi-finalists.

Since Margie Moran won the Miss Universe title in 1972, it took 21 years before the country saw Miss Philippines grace the stage as a finalist. Sharmaine "Ruffa" Guttierez won Miss World 2nd runner-up in 1993. It was a welcome end to the drought of beauty titles that our country had been experiencing.

But let's talk about how politics got in the way. The owner of Miss World Organization (MWO) is British Eric Morley. Needless to say, Miss World is a British-run and British-owned pageant. That same year, a few months before the pageant, the South African and British governments formally agreed to end the policy of apartheid in South Africa.

So, what better way to start this wonderful new relationship than to crown a black woman with African roots as the year's Ms. World? Almost every year in the 1990's, Miss South Africa always made it to the top three spots. India also seemed to be favored lately by both Miss World and Universe Pageants, having placed in the magic three or won the title since 1994. Why? Both the UK and US have been courting India to stop developing its nuclear weapons program for fear of a war with neighbor Pakistan. Also, South Africa and India have been so favored by the MWO is because both were former British colonies.

For the Miss Universe Organization, which is American-based, the Philippine bets rarely made it to the top 10 from the 70s to 80s. When it was our turn to host the pageant in 1994, Charlene Gonzales had to be at least in the top 10, of course. In 1995-1998, Miss Philippines was only seen during the Parade of Nations with dismally low scores flashed onscreen. But in 1999, a five-year no beauty-title-spell was almost broken by Miriam Quiambao, when she placed 1st runner-up to Miss Botswana.

Yes, she did deserve the title and admiration when she stood up after a fall in the evening gown preliminary contest. But, if you remember, days before the coronation night, the approval of the Visiting Forces Agreement was a hot issue in the country as many people fought against it. Obviously, it was America's own way of lobbying the Filipinos' support for the approval of the VFA and, lo and behold, our bet placed 1st runner-up on the same day of the VFA's signing.

It may very well be possible because a year later, many were surprised when favorite Nina Ricci Alagao failed to secure a spot in the semi-finals. An anchorwoman of the pageant was even caught saying, "I'm surprised Miss Philippines didn't make it! I think she's great!" What happened to our country that year?

We didn't have a good reputable image to speak of because a political crisis arose from the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and at the same time, a Filipino impaired millions of computers worldwide, including those of the Pentagon's with the virus that he spread through the internet.

Last May 1, 2001, a mob filled the streets of Mediola as Erap supporters tried to grab power from Arroyo. The news of the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings was also still fresh. Two weeks later, just as expected, Zorayda Ruth Andam didn't make it to the select 10 delegates in the 2001 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant.

Also, many people were surprised when Ms. Russia, Oxana Fedorova, won the Miss Universe crown in 2002. Many observers raised their eyebrows at two of the least expected candidates to have gotten in the top ten: Russia and China. There was more to the pageant than just beauty. We knew that China was concluding its entry in the World Trade Organization during that time, and that Russia and the US were also ironing out their nuclear arms reduction treaty. And so, as an early treat for both, they got in the select 10 for the first time. China even had a much better deal.

Usually, the Chinese delegates bear the sash "Taiwan" or "Taiwan, PROC." Surprisingly, that year, the Chinese delegate bore the title of "China," as though telling everybody once and for all that the independent Taiwan issue was really dead. People's conviction that politics was involved in the Miss Universe pageant (after all, it's American owned) was further bolstered late that year when Oxana Fedorova was stripped of her title in September.

Accordingly, her inability to fulfill her duties as Miss U was the reason for the removal of her crown. But, if you were reading the papers that time, you'd realize that the US was busy convincing every member of the UN Security Council to vote for its resolution to wage war against Iraq. As Russia is a member of the UN Security Council, it was vehemently opposed to any attack against Iraq. Could her government's opposition to America's plans have precipitated the removal of Miss Russia's crown?

Then, in 2002 the Miss World pageant (which is British owned) was held at the Alexander Palace in London. Initially, the pageant was to be held in Nigeria, but after a newspaper article there suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have approved of the Miss World pageant, Muslim fundamentalists of Nigeria went on a rampage and at least 220 people were killed. And, to make amends for the brouhaha in Nigeria, two concessions to Moslem contestants were given: Nigeria and Turkey, who won that year's Miss World crown.

These theories may for fetched, but remember that the primary goal of a state is the protection and preservation of its national interests. K.J. Hotsti, one of the leading experts in international relations, said that international competitions like the Olympics, Nobel Prize, and beauty pageants like the Miss Universe and Miss World, are avenues for nations to promote national interests.

It is therefore not surprising that Miss Universe Inc. and Miss World Inc., owned by US and UK respectively, would use the effect of "soft" power to promote their interests and reward and/or punish erring nations. As it is, in a beauty pageant, judges are compelled to judge not the lady, but the country from where they come from. The prejudice on the economic and political status of the represented country now steps in.

(Reprinted from my old website http://the.hesperos.googlepages.com/)

1 comment:

Laura said...

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