By a nice (or very nasty) coincidence, I had just decided that the Miss World competition probably wasn't near the top of my list of enemies, when I found a "beauty contest" that was really truly dreadful: Mini-Miss Worldwide.
Last week (as you catch here) I had watched the 2011 Miss World competition -- and though it wasn't exactly my cup of team it didn't actually needle me into rage. It was all a bit staid, and a bit aggressively worthy; not to mention positively -- and slightly unconvincingly -- oozing with high-flying female ambition (all the contestants were wanting to be lawyers, diplomats and the like).
Besides, as I reflected, it was so much less ghastly than the appallingly voyeuristic Britain's Got Talent -- where the exploitation of children and frail adults is never far from the surface (think about the visible agonies of Susan Boyle, and the tears of eleven year old Hollie Steel that were broadcast to an eager nation). Simon Cowell, who must count as the Michael O'Leary of talent competition impresarios, doesn't give an inch. Talking of the Hollie Steel he merely pointed the finger at her Mum -- "Kids aren’t dragged on the show – parents bring them. Kids are always going to be disappointed if they don’t win. Most of the kids I’ve seen during auditions had a blast. If I thought they weren’t enjoying themselves I’d do something about it.".
Well, it's true that parents have something to answer for. But who's putting the show on -- and not for charity after all? With this kind of stuff scooping up the viewers, it seemed hard to get very cross about a group of apparently stable adults parading in bikinis.
What I hadn't realised was that there was something much worse going on, a kind of combination of Miss World and the junior end of BGT: Little Man and Mini Miss Worldwide (according to the Sun, there were 51 finalists aged from 1 to 15).
The winner of this particular title 2011 was an 11 year old called Bethany Jade Fenton, who was interviewed with her Mum on Saturday Live this morning, by the Rev Richard Coles. The Rev Richard was extremely charming, while Mum and daughter talked chillingly about catwalks and the 'glitz pageants' (where you get dolled up in all the adult make-up) and about how Bethany wanted to be a model when she grew up (though "university" did come up). He didn't press them very hard about the nature of these occasions (his queries were more on how much time it took up) and overall the conclusion seemed to me that Bethany had really grown up thanks to this kind of stuff and was now putting her hand up in class (maybe I thought she was just a bit older.
It didn't take much on to undermine the idea that this was all about kids being natural: the pictures you can find of Bethany on Google don't look like your average 11 year old to me. Try this or this. And the idea that we are dealing with real free choice here (any more than with child tennis stars) is entirely implausible.
The Sun's article on the whole show was typically having it all ways. The pushy Mums were the main targets, and there was the Agony Aunt worrying about the loss of the joys of childhood for the contestants. But they gave plenty of space to glamourous pics of these poor kids... and not a mention of the Sun's notorious campaign against "paedophiles".