Tag Archives: opinion

Beauty Contests

Published in October 2010 in Tharunka Magazine

One should call a spade a spade. In a 21st century time crammed with shovel wannabes, this mantra has become vaguely unsatisfactory. The professional toilet-cleaner now calls himself a Sanitation Consultant, the housewife has morphed into a Domestic Technician, and the short have become the vertically challenged.

The world is becoming increasingly filled with things we can’t say. We’ve all by now heard of the ongoing over-zealous UK local government attempts to have Christmas trees renamed as “holiday trees” so as not to offend the good folk of other religions, or the plan to have manholes repositioned as “personal access units” to avoid the wrath of women.  Without ever actually agreeing to it we know that we can no longer make jokes in an airport about having a bomb in our luggage, and understand that humour is not at home talking to US immigration officials. While freedom of speech and thought only continue to develop, they come with the contrasting liberty of the right to not be insulted.

Last month Gold Coast teenager Jesinta Campbell was placed as second runner up in the Miss Universe Competition in Las Vegas. Beauty contests have long been a curiously confusing sort of competition. For those not similar with the current standard Miss Universe style format, I’ll elaborate. The contestants, chosen through complicated procedures in their home countries, are usually required to jump through various metaphorical hoops that involve many changes in attire and a lot of standing and parading around, before being whittled down to a select group of favourites. These crown hopefuls then get the honour of further competing in both the swimsuit and evening gown competitions, before having their numbers cut down again to a handful of finalists. This is where it gets interesting.

The final five competitors are placed in front of an audience and made to answer questions designed to reveal their views or to encourage them to cultivate opinions on topics like sun damage awareness, the death penalty, full body scanners at airports and the effects of unsupervised internet on the youth. Though these areas are undeniably interesting, an air of farcicality can often be perceived when the expressed ideas are coming from someone who has already stepped out in heels and a bikini in the high hope of securing a crown, and where the aim of the game is to be as inoffensive and generally pleasing as possible.

Why include this extra stress on our beauties’ otherwise perfectly smooth foreheads? Why should the pretty be forced to care about the less fortunate, when those with  natural business talent can use it to impoverish their inferiors, and those who are academically gifted can use their innate smarts to educate themselves into a better paying job? Considering Miss World began its life in 1951 as the Festival Bikini Contest, one questions when exactly global issues have ever found their launching pad on a beach (excepting of course oil spillages and mass shark attacks, but that’s for another article).

A sideline focus on what any festival partaker wants from the world is detracting from the aim of beauty competitions, which is essentially to find a lot of hot people and compare them to each other. If all participants are willing, shouldn’t good genes and good maintenance be rewarded in the same way they are for any athletic competition? Tiger Woods may no longer be quite the fine morally sound gentleman he was once considered, but he is still allowed compete within his area of expertise, regardless of personal actions, views or behaviour.

On top of this, do we really want world peace to become the stuff of cheap laughs for a disbelieving audience? Shouldn’t passion for an end to global hunger be taken seriously? One suspects there is a reason why Julia Gillard wears a suit and not a bikini when discussing upcoming policy changes and statute reform, foxy though she is.

In the end the refusal to have a beauty contest that centres on just looks and nothing else is not so much a case of “PC gone mad” and more one of a broader sense of communal self-regard. We don’t want to admit that we make judgements based on looks. We’d rather not openly declare that we occasionally measure others purely on physical attractiveness without needing to hear one word out of their mouths. In a world where one can compete in something as specific as “extreme ironing”, and where academically and intellectually based competitions take place without apology on a regular basis, we feel the need to excuse our penchant for measuring beauty with the excusatory idea that it’s also what’s inside that counts, and don’t you forget it.

Are these competitions empowering in the 21st century Destiny’s Child Independent Woman sense of the word? Probably not. But let’s just label this spade a spade so the crown-hungry can avoid unnecessary mental confusion over what kind of a game they’re entering themselves into in the first place.

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Don’t Mention the War

Published on the 13th April 2010 by the University Observer

The recent exit of George Lee from Dáil Eireann sparked huge amounts of commentary from irate politicians about his lack of stamina, apparent arrogance and inflated sense of self-worth. It also ought to have raised additional debate, however, on the role our politicians play, why we elect them and their duty to us as their constituents.

Lee’s departure has begged the question of what personal qualities one needs to be a politician. Must one have a natural popularity, charisma and baby-kissing charm? Is it an ability to smile and answer hazily in the face of thorny questions? Or is it the association with a political party which identifies itself by its original side in the Civil War? The skills that cause one to be elected are not necessarily the skills that are vital to run a country effectively, and therein lies some of the issues that Ireland currently being forced to recognise, given the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Before we ridicule the cries to position Michael O’Leary as Taoiseach, and revitalise the Irish economy to the extent that bathrooms nationwide have a PAYG (pay-as-you-go) tax on their usage, we must admit that there is an argument to be made for leadership experience, independent of the political party or the Oireachtas. A recent Eurobarometer poll showed that the Irish have the fifth-lowest level of public trust in their political institutions of the 27 European countries surveyed. Currently Cowen and company are spending €1m per hour more than is being earned through taxes. The Irish citizens’ new attainment of a depraved bank and two building societies – along with further stakes and  €81 billion of property loans through Nama – is costing four times what the UN estimates to be the total cost of rebuilding Haiti

Looking at a government where ministerial positions can be awarded to candidates without background or interest in their appointed departments, it is easy to see how areas like health and education are suffering. Observing a situation where the government’s head honcho earns the fourth highest salary in the world for a government leader – all while preaching frugality and cutbacks – we see a palpable demonstration of a clear disconnection from the voters and citizens of Ireland. We have suffered from the deficit of democracy: that what wins elections is not what runs a country.

To install a minimum requirement of workplace experience – say, ten years – would mean that ideally politics would become less about a lucrative power-wielding career path, and more about a desire to change the world one lives in. To pay ten years of taxes would be to understand the wish that your tax actually gets used for something constructive. In the judiciary, one must have ten years of legal practice behind them to qualify for a post – merely to facilitate an ability to be fair and rational and make good, connected decisions. To run a country, where judgements are being issued to govern all aspects of life, surely this connection is all the more important. Surely ambassadors with experience of all facets of living are vital, rather than just the expertise of politics.

But is a lack of experience the only concern? There is a blatant shortfall when elected TDs like George Lee fail to have their expertise and knowledge harnessed by a government in crisis, and instead are criticised for failing to play the political game – a game which seems to involve sitting pretty while waiting your turn. The Dáil has long been an assembly point for certain professions; barristers, teachers, and at one stage an auctioneer.

When catastrophe calls, it’s up to the people in a democracy to make a change. It’s the citizens’ job to demand experience from politicians, and it would be in the citizens’ power to call a constitutional referendum to limit the salaries of TDs, so as to attract candidates with an interest in the issues at play rather than the money to play for. Those who can make a difference should be encouraged to try, and the government should be inviting ideas from not only their followers, but the opposition, who by their very nature are supposed to object to what is going on.

The Irish political system is failing, and it is failing because our two main parties have essentially identical aims and goals. Instead of the standard split on outlook of issues (normally left and right-wing), they’re split only because of a disagreement that happened ninety years ago. The Irish people need to start judging by experience and results, and remembering that political promises are empty, and regardless of party, all we can be sure of is what has already individually been achieved.