And this is why we’re doomed

This is a fifteen-minute video in which the 51 contestants in the 2011 Miss USA pageant tell us if and why evolution should be taught in schools. Yep, you heard right. Evolution, taught in schools… yes or no? As the people at BoingBoing, where you might have already seen this video, rightly pointed out: why aren’t they asking whether creationism should be taught in schools?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: why am I expecting any kind of reasonable, sane answer from the participants of a beauty pageant? There’s several reasons, actually.

First of all: these pageants, Miss America more so than Miss USA, claim that they are judging their contestants not only by how hot they look in a tiny bikini, but also by their general knowledge. Okay, I admit, Miss USA is rapidly devolving in that department. The big interview was discontinued in 2001 and replaced by a single current events question, but still…

Also: this is 2011, might I hope for a little bit of thought and knowledge from children of the internet generation? I haven’t got the strength to watch this sad testament to the state of the human race yet again, but I think none of these girls are older than 24. TV, internet, radio, there are plenty of effortless ways to get information these days (note I didn’t say libraries, I wouldn’t expect anyone to actually pick up a book, certainly not Miss New Mexico).

Thirdly: Jesus, I know a lot of these girls have been put through the pageant-grind by their overambitious parents since they were three, but does that seriously mean that they all have to be the intellectual equivalent of a small, grey pebble? I know the stereotype of the starved model whining that she’s not automatically stupid just because she’s absolutely stunning and never has more than 500 kcal a day, but has anyone ever considered that she might be right?

Apparently that is too optimistic. Yes, of the 51 contestants only four actually say that evolution shouldn’t be taught in schools, but a whopping 21 add to their more or less hesitant yes that creationism should be taught as well. Or creationitism, as Miss Hawaii would say (3:30 into the video).

Ten of the contestants say that they don’t believe in evolution and I would like to add another four or five to the tally where the careful avoidance of the “do I believe” question sounds a lot like a heartfelt “suck on this, Darwin.” For comparison, only three of the girls admit to believing in evolution. It gives me hope, though, that the eventual winner was Miss “I am a science geek” California, although that could also just be put down to the fact that she’s a hot, skinny redhead.

But seriously, these girls get judged by how well-spoken and knowledgeable they appear. Note that I say knowledgeable and not knowledged. You hear that, Miss Georgia?

As it is, I hear Miss Kentucky (5:06) say “[I] honestly don’t think you can have too much knowledge about any one subject […], but I do feel evolution shouldn’t be taught in school, just because there’s so many different views on it. So many different definitions, how do you teach a child about evolution when so many different sciences won’t agree [incoherent bit]. It’s just not a subject that I feel everyone will agree on.” Ya think?

Or Miss Mississippi (7:41), who believes that ” evolution should be taught as what it is, a theory, but it shouldn’t be taught as fact.” Miss Washington (13:35) helps clear up any confusion on this count: “[…] I think science is great and that when it comes to teaching facts should be stated and we should know that facts as to how the world evolves, because it does, but as far as it comes to, y’ know, little theories and what not, I’d probably want to stay away from those […] I think facts, not theories should be taught.” Aha, thanks, I see. I think. No, wait… I’m confused.

Miss Virginia, who does look very bouncy and cheerful, very pageanty, favours a safe approach. Better not overload their little heads with too much thought, but little bits of evolution, that’s okay. I guess. What’cha call them fancy houses where them kids get that learning stuff?

And Miss Nevada doesn’t get it at all. Which would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. “I think there’s different ways to view evolution, but as everyone can probably agree upon, everything evolves. We evolve as communities that build themselves from scratch [promotes Nevada for a bit here], so I think evolution can be taught in many different ways and doesn’t necessarily have to be about people and how people have evolved, but it can also be about communities.” Aha, mhm, very interesting, but what about that Darwin fella?

Yes, well. Even if I assume that a lot of these girls were just playing it safe in order not to get into trouble with the religious parts of both audience and jury, I still think that this video shows a disconcerting trend. Many of these girls treat evolution as a theory at best and as a bat-shit-crazy idea that is to be indulged by the truly tolerant at worst. The idea that evolution should be taught in schools is often smiled at, more often met with carefully-controlled incredulity. That is scary. I would have hoped that young women (and, incidentally, men) of this day and age would be a little more tolerant and a little more knowledged knowledgeable, but apparently they aren’t. I wish I could say that I fear for America, but I mostly fear that the rest of the world isn’t very far behind.