Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Carrie Prejean Chronicles

I have to admit. I gave into temptation when I saw an item on "more Carrie Prejean sex tapes" and clicked onto a Joy Behar segment on Prejean.

What a mistake!

All the reasons for not watching television were on full view. Joining Joy Behar in the discussion were the kind of vapidly handsome figures typical of the "entertainment news" media--Spencer Pratt, Heidi Montague, and gossip-monger Perez Hilton. I have some suspicion that the whole setup was designed to make Joy Behar look weighty. Where her guests looked like they'd just been stamped out by a plastic factory, Behar looked like a real person. Likewise, Behar's may not be a news heavyweight, but she looked like a combination of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow in comparison to her guests.

Not that the discussion was very interesting. The panel talked in vaguely "racy" ways about the possibility of seven Carrie Prejean sex tapes emerging into the public domain, Prejean making a sex tape all by herself, and whether or not Prejean is a "hypocrite" for identifying with the Christian right at the same time she was engaged in topless modeling, making sex tapes, and the like.

But I think that's the wrong way to think of Prejean.

What's interesting about Prejean is her audacious effort to leverage her Miss USA notoriety for rejecting gay marriage into an enduring status as a celebrity of the Christian right.

With the emergence of her sex tapes, it's clear that Prejean's gambit isn't going to work. But that doesn't mean that it's not interesting. Did Prejean view her post-pageant conservative proslytizing as simply pursuing a business opportunity? Or was it something she found appealing for other reasons? When I think about Prejean's manuevers, I wonder about just how desperate women in the netherworld of fairly low-level modeling, acting, and beauty pageants might be to make something out of their life-long commitment. As Prejean's breast implants, topless modeling, and sex-tape(s) indicate, it can all be extremely degrading. Maybe Prejean's eager grasp at Christian conservative celebrity was an attempt to remain in the celebrity world of vapid beauty while being somehow more substantial. As Prejean's case indicates, the celebrity media views opposition to gay marriage as "politically incorrect" or bigoted, but beauty pageants and modeling are still highly conservative cultural institutions that promote traditional images of female beauty and sexuality. And as the Southern fascination for beauty pageants indicates, cultural conservatives are especially drawn to the ideas of "innocent sexiness" that are embodied in beauty pageants.

One additional point. Critical commentary on flawed Christian conservatives like Carrie Prejean is usually totally lacking in any kind of human sympathy. But I'm beginning to think that it's an important point for progressive politics to wish people well, even our most determined opponents. Certainly, I'd like to see Carrie Prejean out something viable.

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