It was a welcome distraction from the political sparring of recent days. Practically all of Monday, Filipinos nationwide were riveted to an inadvertent telenovela that had pulchritude, pathos, and a pulse-racing twist that erupted into pandemonium marked by a victory whoop or a glass-shattering squeal, depending on one's degree of obsession with beauty contests.
It was Las Vegas glitz and glamour gone terribly wrong: Miss Universe 2015 host Steve Harvey inexplicably misread his cue card, gave the title to Miss Colombia, and then apologised and announced that, in fact, it was Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach who should be crowned and officially named the most beautiful woman in the universe.
Predictably, social media exploded with memes walloping Harvey for his inability to read and to spell (he later tweeted an apology to "Miss Philippians" and "Miss Columbia," leaving out, netizens groused, Miss Corinthians, the Ephesians and the Ecclesiastes). Meanwhile, Instagram and Facebook shared photos and videos of Wurtzbach looking stunned after the corrected verdict, the gaggle of mean girls shooing her away when she tried to comfort Miss Colombia, Miss Germany mouthing off, Miss Australia defending Wurtzbach, and so on. P-Noy also gained much attention, having briefly dated the half-German beauty queen.
Indeed, the brouhaha unreeled like a soap opera, training the spotlight on the never-say-die Wurtzbach whose colorful history (family breadwinner at 11, TV star, junior chef, writer and guest stylist of this paper's Lifestyle section) and disciplined focus on winning the Miss U crown got her the gold, as it were. And oh, how everyone, or most everyone, loved it, relishing the clinching of a crown that had eluded the Philippines for these past 42 years-a virtual drought after Gloria Diaz in 1969 and Margie Moran in 1973. (Remember how, in July 1969, when the world witnessed the first man setting foot on the moon, Filipinos crowed that while the United States may have conquered the moon, this country ruled the universe!)
In a country where many mothers secretly hope to raise a future "Miss Pilipins," good looks are considered a gift from above, unmistakable permission to go forth, vivify and beautify-that one might ace beauty contests and uplift the family's lot. Given such a subtext, it's no wonder that this country is crazy about beauty queens, with community events culminating in a parade of beauties from toddlers to crones, with sashed contestants seriously sashaying onstage like they see it done on noontime shows and the yearly surfeit of international beauty pageants.
Many Filipinos proudly point to the genetic mix that the Spanish and American colonial eras and, lately, the intermarriage of overseas Filipino workers with foreigners, have produced-the deep-set eyes, the fair skin, the aquiline nose, the height, and the exotic, often difficult to spell, surnames of their progeny. And they like to keep score, giddy over the harvest of international beauty titles-at least four this year alone: Miss Globe Ann Lorraine Colis, Miss Earth Angelia Gabrena Ong, Miss Intercontinental (first runner-up) and Continental Queen of Asia and the Pacific Christi Lynn McGarry, and Miss Universe Wurtzbach.
As a Miss U executive gleefully explained after the Colombia-Philippines spectacle: "There's nothing bigger and crazier in pageantry than Colombian and Filipino fans. They are the most outspoken and craziest fans ever, so this is great press."
While in the United States, beauty pageants are "kind of like fun," and in other countries, a cattle show best relegated to the Dark Ages, in yet other countries such as Colombia and the Philippines, they are "huge" and "massive." And life-changing, too, even just to viewers who think of every Filipino beauty queen's triumph as their own.
It's entertainment, it's pageantry, it's a distraction from perennial problems. It's also national pride and personal honour, a veritable part of Filipino identity, and, as Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David writes, "a chance to celebrate the best of who we are, even if they be impossibly tall, lithe, polished specimens of a standard of beauty far beyond the reach of the majority."
Now, if only we were as focused, as single-minded, as emotionally and physically invested in confronting the burning issues afflicting our country-plunder, corruption, neocolonialism, poverty, people getting away with murder.