Miss Michigan didn’t win the Miss America pageant last week but she did win a bigger prize, I figure.
You probably didn’t see the pageant. Relatively few did. The ratings said about four million TVs were tuned in, down about 20 percent from the previous year, which was fewer than the year before that, which was fewer than the year before that, and so on back to the ‘60s, when tens of millions watched and beauty pageants seemed normal.
These days … well, let’s put it this way: When I read about Miss Michigan I was a bit surprised that Miss America was still a thing. Like most, I was vaguely aware that it still existed somewhere out there on deep cable somewhere. I also knew that it – like most pageants – had tried to move away from the perception that it was just about pretty girls in bikinis. This year, for instance, they even eliminated the swimsuit competition.
But mostly I thought, “Wow, why don’t they just kill off this dinosaur already?” The women’s liberation movement was 50 years ago, after all, and we’re now square in the long overdue #MeToo era.
Shouldn’t beauty pageants have the decency to just quietly fade away?
To answer my own question: Yes. But if they don’t, if there is still a place for them in modern America, I hope we at least see more young women like Miss Michigan Emily Sioma, the pride of little Grass Lake, take advantage of the bully pulpit the pageant affords.
In case you missed it, she positively stole the post-pageant headlines by using her 8-10 seconds of self-introduction to say, “From a state with 84 percent of the U.S. fresh water but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan.”
Her comment wasn’t technically accurate. We have plenty of water to drink in Michigan. The problem is a lot of it is somewhere on the scale between suspect and dangerous.
There’s Flint, of course. Years later – years! – many people there still won’t drink the water despite state assurances that it’s safe. Would you? I wouldn’t. Local and state officials failed the people in Flint and were slow to fix the problem. The result: 90 cases of Legionnaire’s disease, 12 deaths, and untold numbers of children potentially poisoned. They say all is now well. But trust will be the last thing to heal in poor Flint. (Trust and, you know, property values. Thanks, government!)
Then there’s Detroit, where drinking water was turned off in all of the school system’s buildings two weeks ago due to concerns over copper and lead levels. There’s also the PFAS issue. Most people – in our media-starved state – aren’t even aware that dangerous polyfluoroalkyl substances have been found in dozens of communities across the state. This could be bad. Real bad. (I encourage you to educate yourself. This article is a good start. And here’s a report from my buddy Ken Kolker, an investigative reporter for WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids about our government’s all-too-typical response.)
So, yes, water is a huge issue in the Great Lakes State. But, of course, we seem to have plenty when it comes to a business that wants to filter it and sell it. That’s a snide reference to Nestle, which, thanks to our incredibly accommodating state government, brought to you by the Grand Old Party, pulls 400 gallons a minute from the ground in Osceola County and sells it back to you through its Ice Mountain brand. Total cost to the company for all this water: $200, which is the cost of a state permit.
Miss Sioma (calling her Miss Michigan suddenly seems too limiting) only had a few seconds, but she used them well by drawing attention to serious issues like these.
And while she didn’t win the pageant, she sure as heck did herself, her community and the state proud.