Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If Asked, Don't Tell

Love them or hate them, beauty pageants are a staple of Americana. From the local festival queens to the High School parades of Homecoming Royalty and beyond, pageants have a way of grabbing our undivided attention if but for a moment and are usually quickly forgotten. This is even true for the Mothers of all U.S. Pageants, Miss America and Miss USA. For a brief and shining moment 50+ ambitious young women demonstrate their fitness, talents and wit to an audience of millions who gaze in wonder at the spectacle, only to forget it all ever happened by the next week - unless, that is, something out of the ordinary happens. It's hard to ignore headlines that uncover a sordid secret that undermines a beauty queen's seeming purity. "She did WHAT? And she seemed so nice. What a shame" We exclaim. As hard as it is to ignore scandalous photos of a beauty queen, it can be even harder to ignore some of the things they say. Remember this infamous exchange during the interview portion of the Miss Teen USA Pageant a short while ago?

Q: 'Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?'

A: 'I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, um, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future.'

Confusing to read and painful to watch, this exchange has certainly stuck to my memory and will remain there for years to come. Nevertheless, after a mortifyingly embarrassing moment captured for the entertainment of a worldwide audience, no one would deny this contestant the basic right of freedom of expression regardless of how unintelligible and difficult to absorb her remarks may have been. Perhaps this is the key to making acceptable public statements. As one axiom of public speaking teaches, "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, BAFFLE 'em with 'baloney'!"

Perhaps this rule of thumb would have rescued a contestant at this year's Miss USA Pageant from an obscene post-pageant tirade from a famous judge that seems nothing less than outrageous in a nation that purports to defend the freedom of speech. All was well and totally predictable during this weekend;s contest as stunningly beautiful women, gracefully glided, smiled and posed, pursuing an opportunity for national recognition, scholarships and prizes that could later prove to be a launch pad for a career characterized by fame and fortune even for the losers. (Don't believe me? You may not remember Miss USA 1986 Christy Fichtner of Texas but you've undoubtedly heard of the first runner-up that year, Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry.) Nevertheless, the pageant can prove to be a tremendous opportunity that allows the contestants to showcase their public poise and the platform to freely express their thoughts whether coherent or not or whether anyone agrees with those thoughts or not - at least until now.

This weekend, The Donald Trump sponsored Miss USA Pageant was indistinguishable to any pageant that had preceded it until the final question. The question was issued by pageant judge and world renowned blogger/gossip columnist Perez Hilton and addressed to Carrie Prejean, Miss California. The exchange went like this:

The question(Hilton): “Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?”

Prejean’s response:“We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.”

A straightforward question. A straightforward answer. In evaluating the response for judging purposes, one might say that Ms. Prejean didn't really address the first part of the question, but undeniably took on the second part sharing her opinion honestly and respectfully. This is particularly commendable when one considers who asked the question and the reputation the questioner has for trashing those who disagree with him. Surprise, surprise, after the pageant had been decided and the winner chosen, Mr. Hilton could not allow himself to respect Ms. Prejean's opinion, but inferred that her response was the reason for her loss and further denigrated her in obscene and verbally abusive terms. My question is this: If Mr. Hilton didn't want an honest, non-scripted answer, why did he ask the question? This is a free country, after all , with the freedom of expression at the pinnacle of our personal liberties, isn't it? If Mr. Hilton's reaction is an indicator, perhaps not!

The elevation of political correctness at the expense of the freedom of personal expression is a disturbing trend in our national ethos that demands our immediate attention. Throughout our nation's history, the ability to express one's thoughts has lifted us to be the best we can be by exposing us at the worst we can be. The freedom of ideas and the expression of those ideas presupposes that in a free society filled with rational people, ideas can be exchanged unhampered so that those same rational individuals can see the unredacted facts in their essence and decide for themselves how they desire to act upon those ideas. Even when a philosophy has prevailed over another by way of the ballot box, the opposing side continues to enjoy the freedom of expressing their opinion - a freedom that demands protection by the prevailing opinion in order that the blessings of liberty can continue unimpeded by tyranny. It is my love of liberty that calls me as an American to defend the freedom of expression for a Racial Supremacist who believes that interracial marriage is an abomination, though as a man who is inter racially married I oppose that opinion with all my being. I further believe that a knowledge of the facts and a opening of the mind and heart can enlighten someone who espouses what I consider an errant belief and perhaps lead them to change their way of thinking.

Mr. Hilton's on-going tirade and his attempt to shut down Ms. Prejean's ability to express her opinion is troubling and is yet another reminder of the sad veracity of an old Italian proverb - "A man once dared to tell the truth. They killed him." Establishing "group-think" in the pursuit of so-called social harmony promotes a singular value - If asked for the truth, don't tell it! In the wake of increasing pressure to remain silent in the expression of less than popular opinions, I challenge you to be bold, be brave and be persistent in lovingly, respectfully and unflinchingly sharing the truth as long as God gives you breath. In John chapter 8Jesus promised freedom for all those who follow Him in truth according to His Word:
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

I love freedom. Jesus says to truly be free I must seek to know truth. I want others to be free as well, so I will continue to share the truth as I am able to see it generously seasoned with God's grace and love with the goal of enabling as many people as possible to enjoy God's freedom for themselves. For this reason, in the name of freedom, let me warn you now; if you don't want me to tell you my opinion in truth...Don't ask.

Until next time...

1 comment:

wilma said...

Amen brother, Amen!