The Fantasyland of Miss Universe Meets Current Events – The New York Times
Can a beauty pageant become a seminar on global politics and commerce?
Out of all beauty pageants, Miss World, which began in 1952, makes the boldest claim: that it can single out one person to represent an idealized vision of womanhood suitable for the entire world (or more grandly, the particular “universe”). On Saturday, R’Bonney Gabriel, Miss USA, was crowned the 71st Skip Universe, beating out 82 rivals in a three-hour Mardi Gras-themed extravaganza within New Orleans.
By today’s standards, looking for a single ideal of beauty feels antiquated and unenlightened. This year, Miss Galaxy felt troubling for reasons beyond the particular objections one might have to scantily clad young women being assessed by so-called experts before a good audience associated with millions. This year, no amount of glitter could distract us from the darker issues just beneath the surface, including climate destruction, human rights abuse, the 2022 suicide of Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019 (and a Miss Universe finalist that year), and, especially, Russia’s war against Ukraine.
One of the stranger moments associated with the show happened when Viktoriia Apanasenko, Miss Ukraine, received the “Spirit of Carnival Award, ” presented by Carnival Cruise Lines to the contestant who embodies “fun, friendship, diversity plus inclusion. ” Christine Duffy, the president of Carnival, lauded Ms. Apanasenko’s “mission to remind us that will the war is ongoing. ” A resort company was rewarding Miss Ukraine for fun, friendship and for reminding the globe of war’s devastations.
Stranger still was the “National Costume Show, ” held three days before the main contest. For this, contestants modeled comically outlandish outfits that hovered somewhere between Surrealism, ethnic stereotyping and Hollywood set design.
Miss Belize honored her nation’s rain forest plus jaguar reserve by bedecking herself with trailing jungle vegetation, the spotted cat-print leotard and what looked like a miniature jaguar’s head affixed in order to her lower abdomen. Skip Indonesia was a ship at sea, Miss Netherlands a jaunty Stroopwafel. Miss Guatemala turned into an entire pyramid temple; and Miss UNITED STATES portrayed the particular 1969 NASA moon launch, in a 30-pound costume including a metallic spacesuit-style leotard, illuminated headdress and a 3-D replica associated with the moon hanging above her mind.
But all this campy extravagance could not hold off the specter of war. Anna Linnikova, Skip Russia, defiantly wore the costume entitled “The Crown of the Russian Empire, ” consisting of a pearl- and jewel-embossed satin minidress topped along with a sweeping red velvet cape along with a crown — an unabashed advertisement for Russian imperial aggression. (Reports from Russia say that will the Hermitage, rumored to have lent the crown, was not really involved. )
In counterpoint, Ms. Apanasenko channeled the particular archangel Michael, considered the defender saint of Kyiv, the capital associated with Ukraine. Dressed as a “Warrior of Light, ” she was resplendent in a gold unitard plus halo, floating white overdress, brandishing a sword, and framed simply by astonishing 16-foot feathered wings in the blue and yellow of the girl country’s flag.
It has been hard to know how in order to respond. Were we meant to delight in the Stroopwafel and then lament the particular spoils of empire plus the ravages of battle? And did putting 3 days between the national costume show on Wednesday and the main event on Saturday succeed in helping us overlook all the unease that had been stirred up? (Neither Miss Ukraine nor Skip Russia made the finals. )
In fact, the discordant nature of Miss Universe 2023 was just a heightened version of the particular tension that routinely pervades any elegance pageant. Such competitions strive for gravitas, interviewing women about planet peace or domestic policies. But it’s hard to turn a pageant in to a seminar on worldwide politics. And it’s also hard in order to turn ladies into abstract symbols associated with nationhood.
All beauty pageants turn females into places to some extent. Those sashes they wear announce the names of regions or even cities, never their names. But in the case associated with Miss Universe, each woman becomes a whole country — a tricky task. It’s true of course that nations have long been called “she” and imagined themselves as feminine figures: France uses “Marianne” to symbolize its lofty republican ideals. The United States has Lady Liberty.
But beauty pageants complicate the particular woman-as-country motif. Contestants, however accomplished or philanthropic they may be, are not there in order to represent noble virtues, help remind us of suffering or even incarnate the nation’s character. They’re there to be sexy eye candy, to create watchable programming that will sells products (mineral water, skin care and upcoming Roku series were among the commodities hawked onstage during the pageant).
And despite the insistence on internationalism, this pageant, like almost all pageants, is really a festival associated with uniformity. Virtually every participant is a tall, slim, young lady with long legs, lengthy hair, long (false) eyelashes, perfect(ed) white teeth and precision-sculpted features — all poured into skintight, extremely revealing sequined dresses, atop vertiginous stilettos. The effect is more Rockettes than United Nations.
Yet Skip Universe 2023 leaned heavily into the cultural plus ethnic variety, seeming to offer it because evidence of a new, progressive agenda. Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip, a Thai billionaire, away trans female and C. E. O. of JKN Global Media, is Miss Universe’s new — and first female — owner.
In her onstage speech Saturday, Microsoft. Jakrajutatip (who at 43 looked like a contestant herself) made the pageant sound like an updated Lilith Fair, proclaiming it would, from now on, be “run by women, owned by a trans woman, with regard to all women around the particular world to celebrate the power of feminism! ” (JKN bought the pageant last fall through IMG, which bought it from Donald Trump within 2015. )
In a news release at the time of the sale, Ms. Jakrajutatip said: “The global reach of the particular Organization, its relationships with global partners and brands, and its wealth of content, licensing, plus merchandising opportunities make this the strong, strategic addition in order to our portfolio. ”
Acquiring Skip Universe is about commerce. And this, in the end, explains the curious tone of the pageant. Beyond its claims of feminist solidarity, uplift and national heritage, this is a giant branding opportunity regarding an ambitious, global media platform, a commercial empire. And such as all empires, it needs the royal figurehead, an empress or queen.
The nostalgic royalism associated with a beauty pageant, with the jeweled crown that rewards the winner, provides a perfect vehicle for this 21st-century form of monarchy. That the contestants struggle to embody nationhood or signal selfless virtue while parading half-naked in heels does not matter. They are perfect embodiments, wittingly or not really, from the ideals of their sponsors. They are less citizens of specific, individual countries than they are associated with the marketplace writ large, with the standardized attractiveness conventions and practices — our brand new (and furthermore our old) universe.