Thymos Weekend: Anti-Pageant

Man, what a wild and fun weekend!  On Saturday, we had the Miss Asian Oregon Pageant.  Yesterday, we had the anti-Pageant.  Both events were lots of fun.

I wanted to put a post for each event.  Even though the Pageant came first, I thought it best to post the anti-Pageant first, because while the anti-Pageant is over, the pageant has just begun–hopefully we will have opportunities for the new Royal Court to use their crowns to inspire and raise awareness of their platforms over the next year.  Also, since the anti-Pageant was a bit more negative than the Pageant (in my opinion anyway), I thought it best for the positive voices to get the last word.  So this is my anti-Pageant post.

I appreciated the input that the pageant protesters gave us.  The biggest issue was the idea of pageants and the baggage that they bring with them.  I don’t dispute any of what they say about some pageants.  The pageant that Curtis filmed in 1974 definitely looked like it may have practiced some objectification, but ours is different.  We have no swimsuit competition and no fluffy dances, and the vast majority of points accrued by contestants comes from the verbal presentations, which also comprise most of the stage time.  I don’t even think there are any questions about beauty on the score card–most of the “physical” criteria addresses poise, confidence, and the like.

Out of twenty people or so, there were only three or four supporters of pageants at the anti-Pageant event, and Michelle and I got more speaking time than any other individuals, yet there were some points that we didn’t get to address.  It was clear that we had different views of many different issues at a fundamental level.  I’m not saying the other side is wrong; I’m just saying that we see things differently. So let me summarize some of the protester points along with my answers.

Protester: Why can’t you focus on internal beauty instead of external beauty?

Byron: We focus on both.  Internal beauty comes from the content of their speeches; external beauty comes from how they present themselves.

Protester: External beauty is a fake concept.  There is no such thing.

Byron: I beg to differ.  First, we’re not really judging beauty; we’re judging poise, confidence, and the ability to present ideas.  The contestants are judged on the first impression they make, much of which has to do with the way their presence.  I suppose beauty figures into that on some level, but doesn’t it figure into everything?

Protester: People who spend time on how they look are shallow and superficial.  Why can’t you spend time on something meaningful, like artistic expression or political involvement?

Byron: This opinion is elitist, and in my opinion, it’s wrong.  Hey, I used to spend most of my own money on books–before the kids, of course–and sometimes I will still talk smack to the less bookish, but I would never condescend to say that people who spend time and money on fashion are superficial.  In fact, I think people who know how to dress, look good, and draw attention to themselves are like artists–it’s just a different way in which people express themselves.

And let’s be clear–most politicians dress well.  Most performance artists dress well too–well, according to their audience anyway.  Dressing well is an art form.

I could start rattling off stuff about Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss about dress and the significance of clothing and accouterments, but it’s been years since I’ve been in school.

Protester: These women spend lots of money on their dresses and makeup.  What about poorer people who can’t afford to participate in these pageants?  You’re leaving out a large number of people who simply can’t be a part of your organization because of the costs.

Byron: That’s absolutely true.  We also charge $25 a plate for lunch, so there are people who can’t afford to even watch, let alone enter.

So there are two issues here:

1. We want to make it nice. If someone thinks they can have a Miss Asian Whatever with people wearing sweats and T-shirts, more power to them.  I see this pageant as a celebration, much like a wedding, a prom night, a bar mitzvah, or a quinceanera.  At such occasions, you dress the part.  I remember reading a book about Jewish parenting, and it was clear–God commands us to celebrate.  And celebrations look nice.

2. Stuff costs money.  The meals came from fine ingredients and great preparation, and when you see the venue, you’ll see that the place is beautiful.  I’d love to make the food and rent free, but that’s not how the system works.  This doesn’t even take into account the non-food/venue related costs.

Protester: You keep saying “look nice.”  What do you mean by that?  Your definition of “look nice” probably has something to do with mainstream values.

Byron: How do people define look nice?  It’s different for everyone.  I just think there comes a time when you have to stop second guessing yourself and have faith in your own ability to judge what you think is right or aesthetically pleasing.

Protester: There you go again with aesthetics!

Byron: Aesthetics and visuals play a very important part in life.  You wouldn’t go to a corporate job interview in a T-shirt, nor would you dress sloppily for a first date.

Protester: This Miss Asian Oregon is an institution.  We’re tired of institutions dictating to us what is right and wrong!

Byron: That’s the beauty of it.  It’s an institution.  An institution that fights for what is right, an institution that helps Asian women become visible and audible, an institution that caters only to the part of the Asian American community that desires empowerment.  Would you rather fight mainstream values by yourself, or through an institution?  It’s a lot easier to create change when you have friends partnering with you.

These women have causes that they strongly believe in.  Each would normally be just an individual trying to make change as ordinary individuals.  But with a title and a strong institution standing behind her, we can all stand behind and amplify her voice.  It’s all about being heard.

For bigWOWO readers: I’ll be posting some footage of the event soon, and then you can judge for yourself whether I’m telling the truth or just spouting off rhetoric…

4 thoughts on “Thymos Weekend: Anti-Pageant

  1. That’s a very interesting choice of images above. Is there some kind of implicit symbolism in it? :)

    It seems that Miss Asian Oregon is caught between being two different things: It’s a beauty pageant that isn’t quite a (traditional) beauty pageant, because it didn’t have a swimsuit competition.

    I wasn’t at the anti-pageant discussion unfortunately, but it appears that the questioners there were skeptical that MAO is that much different from a mainstream pageant.

    “That’s the beauty of it. It’s an institution. An institution that fights for what is right, an institution that helps Asian women become visible and audible, an institution that caters only to the part of the Asian American community that desires empowerment. Would you rather fight mainstream values by yourself, or through an institution?”

    That’s an interesting question that gets to important broader issues:

    -What’s the definition of Asian American empowerment?

    For many activists, it means challenging mainstream institutions–instead of just imitating or adopting them.

    -And does using a mainstream institution like beauty pageants really promote empowerment or fight mainstream values?

    As Audre Lorde would ask: Can the Master’s tools be used to dismantle the Master’s House?

  2. I think what I don’t understand is the value placed on one institution over another. With the exception of Curtis, who has been amazingly consistent throughout his life’s work–just about everyone who decries institutions is part of an institution (and lest I misrep’, not everyone at the protest event decried institutions). Just about everyone derives some kind of power from institutions, which are, in many of the cases of those who decried institutions, run or financed by the government. Why are their institutions better while everyone else’s institutions somehow evil?

    Here we have an institution that is separate from all this, financed by private money, and independent of any mainstream control. Maybe the institutions are the master’s tool, but in virtually every post-tribal society, Western or non-Western, they exist.

    Haha…I didn’t get the chance to ask this at the protest meeting.

  3. You guys claim to be redefining Asian American beauty. How? How is your institution going to change anything? You send your top pick to another beauty pageant. Does she speak out against existing notions of beauty? Are you saying that the other contestants for Miss Asian America do not exhibit poise and intelligence? Are all Asian beauty contestants versions of Tila Tequila? No. So, how are you changing anything? How is your representative any different from the others?

  4. “You guys claim to be redefining Asian American beauty. How? How is your institution going to change anything? ”

    These women are articulate and passionate about causes. We could say that our institution is changing things, but more importantly, these women are changing things, by speaking and being heard.

    “You send your top pick to another beauty pageant. Does she speak out against existing notions of beauty?”

    Yes! Without a doubt! All the members of our court do!

    “Are you saying that the other contestants for Miss Asian America do not exhibit poise and intelligence? Are all Asian beauty contestants versions of Tila Tequila? No. So, how are you changing anything? How is your representative any different from the others?”

    I’m not saying anything about Miss Asian America–Michelle was in Miss Asian America and had a very positive experience. From what I understand, their goals are similar to ours.

    Where are you from, RTR? If you live in an area where Asian American pageant winners often speak for causes, then I’m probably not doing anything different. If, on the other hand, you live in an area where Asian women often don’t have the opportunity to make their voice heard, then our organization is different because we’re changing it up.

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