Is it possible for Miss USA to be a forward-thinking broadcast in a year when cries of "Me Too" have incited a powerful movement against assault?
Short answer: Nope. At least not this year.
That's not for lack of trying. This year's show, hosted Monday night on Fox by married couple Nick and Vanessa Lachey, tried to touch on all of the relevant buzzwords of the day (Me Too, Black Lives Matter and Time's Up were all mentioned) while still keeping to the traditional beauty pageant formula. It's as if producers thought that the inclusion of questions about marches and sexual violence would translate into an empowering affair.
Instead, it made for a cringeworthy contest that went, no joke, straight from a heels-and-bikini competition into a montage of contestants talking about when they've experienced assault. Later, there was a video of contestants reciting Maya Angelou's inspirational Phenomenal Woman poem, all while appearing to pose for a glossy photo shoot, barefoot in a pond.
The whole thing had a tone-deaf structure, and the contestants' often-awkward answers to interview questions made it even worse.
Question: What can be done to protect women on college campuses against sexual assault?
Miss Florida Génesis Dávila's answer immediately puts the onus on women to act: "College campuses should have different groups and activities where women can self-defend themselves."
Question: Why did one-third of women neglect the right to vote in the presidential election?
Miss South Dakota Madison Nipe's response made it sound as if she were arguing for the right to vote: "Women are perfectly capable of expressing how you feel," she said. "We need to get out there as women and show the world."
Question: What do you say about one-in-four children growing up in single-parent homes?
Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers, who would go on to win the whole contest, said, "I'm so grateful to have grown up in a home with two parents, so I can't personally relate to this," before adding this non sequitur: "I do work in a children's hospital as a certified child life specialist where ... I've seen single mothers at the bedside working remotely on their computers to stay by their children and support them, and I think that it just shows that children — no matter if it's a boy or a girl — that they can do that."
Other interview answers sent Twitter memes flying.
Better luck next year?