Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This is disgusting

My friend Sokari the author of Blacklooks alerted me to this galling endeavor. Apparently someone thinks it's time to hold the world's first Miss Landmine pageant.

The idea in their own words);
the MISS LANDMINE project puts the global landmine problem and its survivors in the spotlight in a new, celebratory and life-affirming way.
Angolan culture has a relaxed and open attitude to physicality and sensuality. Furthermore, beauty pageants are a huge cultural phenomenon and a firm tradition in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, not least in Angola. A startling contrast to the politicized, often highly controversial atmosphere that surrounds such events in Europe and USA, African beauty contests are most often an uncomplicated celebration of cultural identity, not unlike Brazil’s carnival tradition (which is also celebrated in Angola)
To say this undertaking is exploitative, patronizing and highly offensive would be an understatement. It is unconscionable that anyone would come up with such a grotesque idea and think they are doing more good than harm. To illustrate the lunacy of this project, let me start off with this proposition: I'm going to change a few variables in the purpose statement put forward by the organizers of Miss Landmine. Can you imagine what kind of reaction this project would elicit if it had the following mission statement:
the MISS HOLOCAUST project puts the global anti-semitism problem and its survivors in the spotlight in a new, celebratory and life-affirming way.

I have no problem with spotlighting the plight of landmine victims. What I cannot mouth is inappropriateness of the vehicle chosen to do that. Yes, beauty pageants are "cultural phenomena" in much of Sub-Saharan Africa (including Zimbabwe), but the organizers could not have picked a more inappropriate way of honoring the survivors if that is truly their goal.

I have attended many a beauty pageant. In fact, the first time I attended a beauty pageant I was only 10 it was held in conjunction with a talent show of sorts. The event was held to celebrate and honor the talents of my scho0lmates. In essence, it was a celebration of the diversity of my primary school.

Every single time since then that I've attendend either a Miss Schools, Miss Harare, Miss Zimbabwe etc. the mantra of those events has been to honor and celebrate the culture of the particular locale from which the women come hence the names "Miss Zimbabwe" etc. Without the schools, the cities, and nation from which these participants emerge, these women are stripped of the unique place, institution, and people they represent. Of course, we still could hold beauty pageants; they just wouldn't representative of the culture and therefore could not correctly assume such universal titles as "Miss Zimbabwe." It's about the culture, and people not just the beauty of three women.

Conversely, when one is chosen winner at these pageants, they are automatically conferred with the honor and responsibility of representing the locale of their origin.

This raises an unavoidable problem for the Miss Landmines pageants. What locale do the contestants represent? What culture are they showcasing? Going by convention, if Miss Zimbabwe represents Zimbabwean people and culture, is Miss Landmines meant to represent landmine people and their culture? I don't need to expound on the absurdity of that proposition.

There is absolutely nothing fashionable, celebratory or life-affirming in the aftermath of landmines (or the holocaust). To try to infuse or deduce some kind of positivity out of the predicament of survivors such human rights abuses is nothing but a not so subtle affirmation of the destruction wrought by landmines. There are many other things people can do to stop the horror of landmines; see this and this for ideas.

DO SOMETHING: Email the director the Miss Landmine project here: morten@miss-landmine.org

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