Miss America contestants now slam home states for cheap laughs

CULTURE SCHLOCK — By Darren Garnick
“Miss NH struts home from pageant with dignity intact”

The Telegraph — February 7, 2007
Here’s my journalism conference fantasy (please substitute your own professional development conference here so you can play along):

I’m sitting in a hotel ballroom with folding chairs and we’re going around the room giving personal introductions to our colleagues.

I put my hands on my hips and in a sassy, sing-songy tone, I say: “From the home state of Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman, Carlton Fisk and Story Land, I’m Darren Garnick, the pop culture guy for The Telegraph!”

The auditorium goes nuts with applause.

OK, I wake up to my TiVo, which has serendipitously recorded the 2008 Miss America pageant. I’m curious to see how Miss New Hampshire, Rachel Barker, will fare, especially since she’s from the Greater Nashua area. How can I not root for her?

Soon, instead of thinking about the “Live Free or Die” State’s chances, I’m wondering how badly this pageant has been impacted by the writer’s strike.

Miss Maine is strutting in her tight jeans up to the spotlight. She’s giggling and having a blast. “Coming from the home state of McDreamy,” she chirps, “I am Tara Allain, Miss Maine!”

Wow. No traditional references to lobster or the rocky seacoast. Her celebration of actor Patrick Dempsey is almost Dennis Miller-esque. Is Dempsey’s “McDreamy” nickname from “Grey’s Anatomy” really that universally known?

But these Miss America contestant introductions get even more baffling. Many take a page straight out of the Mitt Romney playbook and belittle the beauty queen’s home state for a cheap laugh from the audience. For those of you with TiVos not tuned into your secret viewing pleasures, I have done you the favor of transcribing a few classic lines.

“From the state where the wind comes sweeping down the plain, I am Makenna Smith, Miss Oklahoma!”

Is that all you got, Makenna? Don’t you feel like the Miss America scriptwriter wanted to just get the Oklahoma intro over with?

“Home of the country’s highest birthrate — as long as the Osmonds don’t move — I’m Jill Stevens, Miss Utah!”

Yikes. Aside from mocking Mormon reproduction rates, what are Osmond references doing in a so-called young and hip pageant makeover? Does anyone under 30 even know about Donnie and Marie?

“From the state where you can have a Southern accent and a college degree… Hey y’all, I’m Leah Massie, Miss Georgia!”

“From the state that moved up its primary, but nobody cared, I’m proud to be Miss Wyoming, Jenn McCafferty!”

By far, I feel most sorry for Massie and McCafferty. Both of them delivered their lines with their heads held high, but managed to inadvertently reinforce massive inferiority complexes. Did a Miss America pageant contestant really chipperly say that Southern people are stupid? Did Miss Wyoming really call her home turf the most insignificant, worthless place on earth?

“Home to the First-in-the-Nation Primary, where the hot air blows as fast as the wind atop Mt. Washington, I’m Rachel Barker, Miss New Hampshire!”

Well, at least New Hampshire viewers didn’t reach for their remote controls.

Beyond the opening ceremony, there were plenty of other bizarre Miss America moments.

Semi-finalist Massee, the Georgian who taught us you can still get accepted into college if you have a Southern accent, kicked things up a notch. In a pre-recorded interview, she declared it is possible to be an ‘It Girl” even if you are wearing flip-flops or gym shoes. And that no matter what you wear on your feet, you can still “live a respectful, honest, responsible lifestyle.”

Asked to name a role model, Miss Texas Molly Hazlett called talk show host Kelly Ripa a “great mother” and a “phenomenal woman.” She didn’t indicate if her parenting assessment was based on first-hand observation or from reading Entertainment Weekly.

But those moments paled in comparison to the degrading comments several women were forced to make about their own states. Network executives may never learn that there are millions of people, millions of happy people, who live outside New York and California.

Personally, I’m thrilled for our hometown contestant, Rachel Barker. Miss New Hampshire may not have cracked the top 16 candidates for the shimmery tiara. But she came home to Amherst with her dignity intact.

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs Thursdays in Encore. For an extra helping of “Schlock,” including original films and assorted subversive writings, visit www.cultureschlock.com.

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