Beauty Is as Beauty Does

While most of the 96 million residents of the Philippines seem to be tearing their hair out over the flubbed answer to a Miss Universe judge's question by Miss Philippines, the spectacularly endowed Maria Venus Raj, Indonesia has evaded the spotlight for a seemingly even more flubbed answer by its contestant, Qory Sandioriva, during a preliminary round.

A Facebook video, which has drawn tens of thousands of comments, has Sandioriva answering a question about what the best advice was that she could give to a man:

"I think when you down the women can make you up, and I think the women can be said that ‘I have advice for you' if you way up, you have to be nice with people, include women, so when you down, women can be nice with you," she answered nervously.

Allowing for the fact that she speaks very little English, Sandioriva's answer makes a certain amount of sense – put simply, that men should recognize that if you occupy a lofty position, you'd better be nice because when you sink, you will need people's help. We are reminded of the American songwriter Allen Toussaint's lyric: “The same people you misuse on your way up/ You might meet up, On your way down."

Compare and contrast that with Raj's answer to the question from actor William Baldwin about whether she had ever done anything wrong in her life:

"You know what, sir, in my 22 years of existence, I can say that there's nothing major, major, I mean, problem that I've done in my life because I'm very confident with my family, with the love that they are giving to me. So, thank you so much that I'm here. Thank you, thank you so much!"

But what Venus should have said. in our opinion, is "Listen, I grew up in the middle of a bloody rice paddy in the back of beyond under circumstances that you have no way of even thinking about. I was born out of wedlock and had no father in a traditional Catholic country. I got myself to college and worked myself to death to graduate with honors. I used the pageants and my looks to become a celebrity and i stuck to my family and bought my mother rice lands with the money instead of buying a #$%$^&ing Swarovsky necklace like other idiot beauty queens. And right now I am here, thank you so much that I'm here, Thank you, thank you so much. And no, I can't think of anything I did wrong."

Chat rooms in the Philippines and beyond are buzzing over the answer, which supposedly cost Raj the title in a country where beauty pageants have an almost religious hold over people.

The flap in both countries has been astonishing. In the Philippines, the response to Raj's answer has ranged from accusations of idiocy to pride in her self-confidence. The answer was widely regarded as having dropped Venus to fourth runner-up, thus depriving the country of what many felt was its best shot at winning the title since Margie Moran become the second Filipino Miss Universe in 1973.

In both countries, Filipinos and Indonesians laid the flubs to the difficulty of speaking in English, a second language for both beauties. But Lauren Caitlin Upton, a contestant for Miss South Carolina Teen 2007 in the US, who presumably learned to speak English from birth, topped either Venus or Qory when she was asked why a fifth of Americans are so uneducated that they can't find the United States on a map.

"I personally believe that Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps," the 17-year-old answered. “I believe we should be like, um, South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like that, and I believe that they should, over here, education, over here in the US should help the US, should help South Africa, help Iraq."

Upton's humiliation turned up on Facebook and has drawn more than 45 million viewers, eventually earning her a minor career going around to talk shows making fun of herself. In fact, perhaps the only thing more inane than the answers delivered by beauty contestants is the inanity of the questions asked of beauty contestants. They have spawned a wide range of Internet films including “The All Time Dumb Answers in Beauty Contests" which can be found here.

So neither Venus nor Qory need to be ashamed of her performance – Qory especially, since she hails nominally from the mullah-ridden Aceh province whose imams were chasing around trying to get her into a snood rather than a swimsuit.

There was a time when the lingua franca of much of the civilized world was French. It isn't difficult to imagine what would have become of Lauren Caitlin Upton if she had been asked that question in French, let alone in Indonesian or Tagalog. Sometimes English-speakers, especially Americans, need a bit of humility. Venus especially has a right to that most American – and ungrammatical – of phrases: We wuz robbed.