On Tuesday morning (May 12), Donald Trump, president of the Miss USA Pageant, decided that the controversial Carrie Prejean, Miss California, can keep her crown. “We’ve really studied these photos,” he said, according to E! Online. “We’ve made a determination that everything we’ve seen to date that she’s done—some were very beautiful, some were risqué—the pictures taken were acceptable, were fine, and in some cases were lovely pictures. … We are in the 21st century.” Fine. But after the events of recent weeks, the “crown” is perhaps a small detail in this ever-growing saga.
First it was the photos, then the breast implant detail, and neither of those two controversies seemed to legally seal Miss California winner Carrie Prejean’s fate. As a gay woman, I’m certainly disgusted by her anti-same sex marriage stance, but as an American, I believe in free speech, and am more disturbed by the concept that that sort of litmus test could be used to determine the winner of a national pageant. As much as it irks me to say so, I don’t think Perez Hilton’s question about same-sex marriage was fair. Did we really expect Miss California to come up with the articulate and diplomatic answer of “Well, Perez, I really believe that the question of marriage should be left up to the states not the federal government?” I don’t think so. She spoke her opinion, and while I don’t agree with or applaud that opinion, I applaud her for expressing it. Sadly, so did the audience.
Both Shanna Moakler and Keith Lewis, co-executive directors of Miss California USA, seemed angered by Miss California’s anti-gay-rights comment, and said that while the state would not criticize Ms. Prejean’s beliefs, she must represent everyone in the state (despite the fact that no one in the state will ever agree on any particular issue). To his point, though, it certainly doesn’t sit well that a representative of a state would exhibit prejudice towards a minority. Again, though, while the gay rights question is absolutely the most controversial and compelling, there is much more to the story.
What could have potentially forced her to drop that sash was a little dishonesty, a little more breast, and a few semi-nude photos that she failed to release to Miss California USA before entering the contest. After her anti-same sex marriage comments and subsequent scandal, Miss California poised herself as a spokesperson for the Christian right and various traditional anti-same sex marriage organizations. Unsurprisingly, her standing with those groups is now in question, as shortly thereafter topless photographs of her emerged.
Precedent would suggest that Miss California should give up her crown. In 1984, Vanessa Williams (who won the Miss America pageant) was relinquished of her crown due to erotic photos taken years before that were published in Penthouse magazine. Since the scandal, however, Vanessa has enjoyed a successful singing, modeling, and acting career, and has as of recent landed herself a spot on the cultishly popular “Ugly Betty.” Who cares about a crown when a press-obsessed story lands you three more careers?
Perhaps the moral of the story is: Carrie Prejean may have gained herself some enemies in the gay community, and perhaps her new photos will lose her the respect of the Christian and traditional right, but the press (including Mr. Hilton) have given Ms. Prejean a remarkable amount of fame that will open the door to dozens of opportunities and at least a few lucrative careers. I’m not sure how much those crowns go for these days, but I’m pretty sure even if she had lost it, she’d be just fine.