It should not surprise any regular reader of this blog that I don't pay much attention to beauty pageants. I don't watch them, I don't read about them. At an earlier point in my career I was fascinated by the fact of a (male) lawyer acquaintance's longterm association with the Miss North Carolina pageant, because I just didn't get that at all.
I do think that beauty pageants served a purpose at one point. They were part of the big shift in American society's perception of women in the early 20th century; think about how radical they must have seemed in 1920, when we were only ten years away from fashions that didn't allow skirts above the ankle. Beauty pageants made it okay for young women to show themselves off in a way that was liberating.
But we've had that liberation for a long time. The other, more modern argument for pageants is that they are "scholarship" pageants that reward qualities beyond beauty: performing talent, community service, poise, etc., etc. To that argument, I say that the money given away in most pageants doesn't make a meaningful dent in college tuition -- if the girls are actually going to college, which they often aren't -- and the money spent on pageant appearances probably sucks up most girls' winnings, if they win anything at all. Furthermore, I would guess most of that spending is on clothes, shoes, hair and makeup, rather than on violin lessons or elocution classes.
This is not to propose any kind of restriction or ban on beauty pageants -- if girls and their mothers want to spend time, money and emotional energy on them, that's fine -- but merely to wonder why Miss California-USA's early, feeble efforts at a modeling career are the subject of any national attention, much less a lead headline on the morning news.
The Pentagon's just removed the top military commander in Afghanistan; the Pope's in Jerusalem; the civil war in Sri Lanka has erupted again in an especially ugly way; and hey, remember swine flu? It's still infecting people, and it just got to China. So why are newscasters spending any time on something that is completely artificial? Why does anyone care about Carrie Prejean?