Stand by your mannequin 

Like Twinkies, Cher and playing in the dirt, pageants are a thing I enjoyed in childhood, and still do. If comely creations are paraded in front of me, be they pageant girls, Martha Stewart desserts or sharks on Animal Planet, I want to see them. But while you have to take Martha and the sharks at face value, pageants call out to be critiqued. You can cut loose with reckless, blood-letting, jack-hammer abandon about pageants and no one can call you mean, bitter or shallow. In judging others, they invite judgment themselves.

But the judgment portion is more fun depending on who is doing the judging. If it's a bunch of other Little Miss Perfects sitting around drinking mineral water and evaluating the capped teeth of the contestants, well, big deal. If, on the other hand, the observers are people who can't get out of shape because they've never been in it, people who, if asked by Bob Barker how they would improve the world, would reply, "Kill everyone I don't want to have sex with " -- if these are the people who are sitting around and turning up their noses at Miss Whatever, as we did during the recent Miss America broadcast, now that's a panel of judges worth hearing from.

Crowning around

But even jaded and tipsy, we knew one thing: This Miss America has got to change or go. Allowing bikinis is like spitting on wildfire. The women, displaying what we suppose was conventional, office-acceptable bland beauty, were distressing, even scary. None had the best-friend sweetness of Alicia Silverstone or the dripping heavenly beauty of Salma Hayak, either of which I would prefer to represent America rather than the shaky PR Frankensteins who swooped around the stage that night. As if that wasn't bad enough, they all took the talent portion way too seriously and went around singing arias and Streisand songs with a sincerity usually saved for the catfight scenes in Spanish soap operas. It was work just watching them.

In the Miss Canada International Pageant, by contrast, the girls have a different idea about what beauty is and beauty does. Two years in a row titleholders have been relieved of their tiaras for un-queenly behavior. Last year's winner, Danielle House, was de-crowned when she got in a bar fight with her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend. This year's winner, Gabriella Petivoky, lost her crown after she took a job at Hooters, a place that pageant organizer Michelle Jacobsen remarked was "degrading to women." Like pageants are affirmative action.

Personally, we think the raw nerve and mettle exhibited by these girls displays much more talent than being able to shriek "Don't Rain on My Parade" as if you're standing on an electrified plate. If they can't bring back the days when girls would do tap dances while twirling fire-batons and burping "America the Beautiful," they should at least have direct competitions, like bar fights, or who can carry the most wings directly over the judge's heads without spilling any grease, or who can "get" their boyfriend's new girlfriend the best.

Yes, the Hooters girls do show off a lot of skin, almost as much as you might see in a pageant's swimsuit competition. And at least the Hooters girls do something useful, like bring you wings and beer along with friendly banter, a greater contribution to world peace than swanning around in one of Barbie's old prom dresses. You could cut an hour off of each pageant by combining swimsuit with talent and just letting all the runner-ups wrestle in jelly.

Save it

And Miss America contestants all are made to adopt those altruistic goals so that they look saintly. Maybe some of them even mean the things they say. But I'll bet my Craftsman Tool Club card that if they weren't entering pageants, they wouldn't be so charitable. So this should change, too. The funniest girl, the one you'd hesitate to take home to mom but would love to take to a party, should score the highest from here on out.

We look to the fallen Canadians as the hope for pageants future, where the women do normal things like work as waitresses and get jealous and act human. As it is now, pageants are an anachronistic joke, a freakish, shallow subculture so stuck in time that people have come to view them as a Barnum sideshow. If you think there's something wrong with working at Hooters, then you've never seen a woman spray her hair into a spiked helmet and bellow out a production number with a terrified grin soldered across her face. Now that's degrading.

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