Anachronism Or Grand Tradition? 'Miss America' Crowns A New Queen

While grazing through the channel lineup Sunday night, I suddenly wondered if my TV set was malfunctioning (yes, for some reason, I still call it a “set”).

Somehow, it had stumbled on the “Miss America Pageant” on ABC and for a moment I thought my cable box was tuning in to 1965. Wait a minute, did they even have cable boxes back then? (Turns out they did, only they were much more primitive.)

When I got over the initial shock -- you know, that moment when you ask yourself incredulously, “They’re still doing this?!” -- I settled in for what remained of the show. 

The highlight, of course, was the crowning of Miss America just a minute or two before 11 p.m. Eastern. The winner was a blonde beauty from Arkansas named Savvy (full name: Savvy Shields). It’s a great name, particularly because to some extent a woman has to be pretty “savvy” to make it to this pinnacle of American pageantry (or so I have long assumed).



Ms. Savvy has the kind of looks that were once referred to as “all-American.” It’s probably not fashionable to think that way nowadays. Who’s to say who is “all-American”? Certainly, all-American-ness can take many forms in a country as diverse as ours.

And yet here we are. A blonde from Arkansas is the new Miss America. When she heard the news that she had won, she cried and smiled, and smiled and cried. Then, to the amazement of all, the famous “There She Comes…” song was played as she strode triumphantly down a runway to greet cheering onlookers. 

It was a recording of the song (rather than a performance from a live singer onsite) that just might have been the original that was sung for so many years (and so long ago) by Bert Parks, who died in 1992. 

The lyrics, heard from the vantage point of the present day, were anachronistic to say the least, if not altogether dumbfounding. Or were they? Perhaps to some, the idea of a “Miss America” -- basically a role model for girls -- doesn’t really get old or go out of style. Otherwise, ABC wouldn’t air this, would it?

Still, the song’s lyrics are so out of date that they might as well have been written in the Dark Ages. Here’s the first verse (of three): 

There she is, Miss America,

There she is, your ideal.

The dream of a million girls who are more than pretty can come true in Atlantic City,

For she may turn out to be the queen of femininity

The “queen of femininity.” It’s just so interesting to hear something like this on TV today. It’s also interesting to come across a live TV event being held in Atlantic City, one of the nation’s most dysfunctional municipalities. And by the way, this is not meant to be read as some sort of screed against the “Miss America Pageant.” My feeling on things like this is: If there’s an audience for it, and it’s inoffensive, ABC is welcome to air it.

There might even be people who are offended by the very idea of a Miss America pageant. But compared to so much else that’s offensive on TV, it seems like wasted energy to complain about a beauty pageant (I just snuck in the term “beauty pageant” to see if anyone notices; I don’t think even the “Miss America” people use that phrase anymore).

For reasons I am not culturally equipped to understand (meaning that I come from a region of the country where pageants are not a part of the lifestyle), pageants are still a thing. As a matter of fact, TLC just brought back “Toddlers & Tiaras.” Can Honey Boo Boo be far behind? 

And as the TV Blog noted a few weeks ago, multiple TV networks are turning their attention this fall to the most famous child-pageant contestant of them all, the tragic JonBenet Ramsey. The terrible story of her murder, however, really has little or nothing to do with this weekend’s “Miss America Pageant” on ABC, other than they both involve pageants.

The timing of this weekend’s “Miss America Pageant” felt all-American too. It fell on 9/11, of all dates. And it was the first Sunday of the NFL season too. What does it all mean? I don’t really know. The more things change, the more things stay the same? Something like that.

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