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Beyond the Pepsodent smile

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Posted: Friday, May 15, 2009 10:00 pm

When Miss California Carrie Prejean expressed her opposition to gay marriage, did she harm or help the Miss USA business?

(No one needs to be reminded it's business, do they? Mr. Trump?)

We noticed how much more interesting the Miss USA pageant was this year.

It's ironic that Saudi Arabia would choose a "beauty" pageant format to showcase it's Muslim values just as beauty pageants are falling into irrelevance in Western society.

Let's start on that tangent. There are very obvious contrasts between Miss USA and Miss Beautiful Morals in Saudi Arabia.

At American beauty pageants, pretty young women "tastefully" flash Pepsodent smiles and a fair amount of skin. Usually contestants struggle to answer, as inoffensively as possible, a few softball questions with loosely social or political overtones. Admit it - our pageants don't focus much on "inner beauty."

In Saudi Arabia, the young women are covered in public and judged on their devotion to their parents and the Koran. Presumably those devoted to Judaism, Christianity or a wide array of Western thinking would never be accepted as contestants. The Saudi Arabian pageant reflects the closed nature of Islamic society.

What does Miss USA say about us?

Well, we're more tolerant of free expression and immodesty in our young women but only to a point.

The bathing suit competition is a long way from Playboy magazine, but we're sure many Muslims are offended at the skin displayed at Miss USA pageants. Semi-nude photos of Prejean, taken years before the pageant, offended some Americans and may have violated the pageant rules. But they were tame by the standards of the Internet and the smut we allow in this country.

The limits put on implied sexuality are about right for most Americans. But what about the inner woman?

Prejean's intolerance of gay marriage offended gay rights advocates but was refreshing for those who share her point of view.

Americans don't dictate what our pageant contestants say about religion and politics. But apparently we're not completely tolerant either.

Pageant management found itself in the spotlight and didn't like it one bit.

But for the first time in a long time, the pageant made the front page. Americans, perhaps bored with bathing beauties, cared about a contestant's political views and judgment.

We hope Donald Trump, the celebrity real estate mogul who owns the pageant, will think about this. When he let Prejean keep her Miss California title, is it possible Trump asked himself: Why can't we have a Miss USA who has ideas and opinions? Even if some may disagree, isn't that part of what America is? Diverse, opinionated, smart, outspoken?

Heck, Donald, if you can get it right, there might be more money in it. And what's more American than that?

- Lodi News-Sentinel

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