Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why the apology to Miss America is a bit disheartening

Vanessa Williams returned to the Miss America stage for the first time in 32 years this past Sunday night and received an apology from the organization for how she was "ousted" as the pageant winner after Penthouse published nude photos of Vanessa taken prior to her victory.

A couple things don't set right with me on this. I remember watching the Miss America pageant that year in 1983. Her being the first black American to win the Miss America crown was not what stood out to me. What stood out to me about her as a contestant was how beautiful, talented and graceful I thought she was. I was thrilled when she won because, in my simple teenaged mind, I just liked her the best. She was someone I could look up to and try to emulate.

When the nude photo scandal broke out shortly after her Miss America victory, I was admittedly disappointed in her. Call me a relic (call me what you will...) but I believe in and appreciate dignified, moral behavior. Posing nude for any public outlet like Penthouse doesn't live up to my image of what a role model should exemplify.

But for what it's worth, Vanessa Williams did something that redeemed her image in my mind: Rather than dragging the Miss America organization through the scandal and hysterically hurling claims of racism or intolerance, or her right to "be who I want to be", she agreed to resign without much further ado. 

We all make mistakes, and we all fall short of moral perfection at times. But the dishonor is not just in making the mistake so much as it is in trying to make excuses for the mistake and not owning up to it. Maybe Williams had little choice in leaving, but she could've chosen to make it a lot uglier than she did, and to me that just seemed to show a respect - for the Miss America Pageant and for the rest of us - that I appreciated. 

But in these past 32 years, our culture has changed drastically. While obviously everything wasn't picture perfect and pristine back then, there was a decency about the fact that debauchery wasn't publicly embraced, celebrated, and now, even apologized for -- not by the one committing the debauchery, but by those who condemn it.

That's why the apology from the Miss America Pageant doesn't sit right with me. Though I'm sure the intentions were good, the underlying meaning is disconcerting. It seems to have officially confirmed that indecent behavior isn't wrong, but society is wrong for disapproving of it. 

But it begs the question: At any point are we ever allowed to expect certain standards of behavior in people? 

For me, knowing that boundaries exist between acceptable and non-acceptable behavior is reassuring. But no matter how far away our culture moves from standards of decency and integrity, it doesn't mean we all have to follow suit. I still believe that we perform best and for the best when there are certain expectations made of us, when we acknowledge our wrong-doings and then act accordingly. But when we allow anything to go, then we get just that: anything goes. What's so great about that?

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