Miss America Changes (copy)

Contestants wear swimsuits as they compete in the 2016 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. The Miss America Organization is dropping the swimsuit competition from its nationally televised broadcast, saying it will no longer judge contestants in their appearance.

She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.

Thus mellow’d to that tender light which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less, had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress, or softly lightens o’er her face,

Where thoughts serenely sweet express how pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, so soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow, but tell in days the goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below, a heart whose love is innocent!

- George Gordon, Lord Byron

A section front story in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal suggests that a nearly 100-year-old American institution, the Miss America beauty pageant, is in danger of folding due to lack of financial support. It has operated at a net loss for six of the seven years through 2016, and TV viewership, as reported by Nielsen, was 5.4 million for the 2017 airing on ABC, a decline of 70 percent from what it was in 1997.

The television network is in the last year of a three-year contract to broadcast the pageant. Whether it continues to do so after next month’s contest in Atlantic City (Sept. 9) is at best doubtful. There’s not much mere sentiment can do to override ratings.

In the early 1980s, more than 80,000 young women entered the contest whose rewards were the title of Miss America and $50,000 in tuition money. This year, fewer than 4,000 have entered.

There you go, Miss America — assuming no guardian angel arrives to bail you out. And the likelihood of that happening is not very good.

In June, Gretchen Carlson, the 1989 Miss America, former Fox News anchor, and current chairman of the board at the Miss America Organization, announced that the event’s swimsuit contest has been discontinued. It’s been a hallmark feature of the pageant since its inception in 1921 as a newspaper-sponsored beauty contest in Atlantic City.

In its place will be televised interviews with contestants who are expected to discuss their social “goals and achievements.”

This is said to be part of a broader plan to “refocus the pageant away from personal appearance.” Really?

If memory serves (I am one of the millions who tuned out on Miss America years ago), the social consciousness part of the competition was by all odds the weakest and most inane of them all, much more so than the admittedly silly part that had young women strutting down a runway in skimpy bathing suits and high heels.

But do the pageant organizers think that slumber city talk-show fare will spark new life into Miss America?

The unspoken truth of the matter, and this is something that could well get me in trouble, is that beauty contests have blessed little to do with social goals and achievements, and very much to do with sex appeal.

There, I’ve said it.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” — John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

Enjoy it while ye may — with or without a Miss America.

R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.