Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Toddlers & Tiaras Again

I'm watching Toddlers and Tiaras, which is sandwiched between the repeat and new episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I am by no means an expert on all all things relating to kiddie pageants, and there are aspects of the pageant world that confound me. I understand that  pageants not of the  "glitz" variety exist that, while still not anything my own parents would ever have allowed me to do even had I been so inclined,  aren't nearly as expensive and are decidedly lower-key than are their glitz-variety counterparts. A pertinent sports analogy would be that non-glitz pageants are to glitz pageants as taking a ninety-minute gymnastics class twice each week is to being part of a pre-elite gymnastics program that features some private instruction and team workouts that take  twenty hours per week at the very least. Cost-wise, even at over a thousand bucks a month, the pre-elite gymnastics program would be a bargain compared to what it costs to clothe for, transport to, and enter a child in a glitz pageant once or twice a month. Still, the metaphor applies.

The very thing that baffles me most about glitz pageant participation is what goes into the decision-making processes of  parents who decide that money spent on the various goods and services essential for serious glitz pageant participation is money well-spent in the cases of their respective children. While I approach the whole scene with fairly extreme anti-pageant bias, I can see, as can  anyone with vision that can be corrected to a minimum of 20/400, that some of the children involved in the pageant circuits possess looks that are sub-average at best. What motivates these children's parents, some of whom are strapped for cash even without the added financial burden of pageantry, to squander the family's grocery budget on a new glitz dress? While I wonder why any parent would spend money so foolishly, the concept is even more bizarre and puzzling in the instances of those children whom most of us would agree are less burdened with facial beauty than is the average child. I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, while there is no scriptural account of His ever recommending that any parent blow the rent money on spray tans,  manicures, and.pedicures,  Jesus reportedly thought all children were beautiful; I suppose I could do worse than having a  Christ-like outlook in this regard.

Still, if we extend the gymnastics metaphor a bit further, basically anyone can enroll a child in a once- or twice-weekly gymnastics program. The facility or organization offering the class is usually more than happy to accept a parent's money. When one gets to higher-level and more extensive gymnastics training, however, some culling or thinning of the herd usually takes pace.  If a gymnast lacks the skill level to benefit from higher-level instruction and team participation, such is usually made clear to the parent, which is not to say that in every case the parent's money would be turned away, but even if the less-skilled gymnast were allowed into a rigorous training program, it would be the athletic equivalent to "against medical advice."

In the world of pageants, no such screening happens except to the degree that parents are perceptive and realistic enough to take their children's repeated mediocre placements as indicators of their children's overall modest-at-best aptitude. Even so, pageant operators, who need the entry fees of contestants to keep their events profitable, are not above throwing an occasional undeserved title in the direction of a contestant in order to keep a family's hopes high,  so a parent will continue to invest in at least a few more pageants. It's the old Skinnerian variable ratio reinforcement schedule similar to that provided by a slot machine. A jackpot once in a great while keeps a gambler dropping those coins into a slot or all those dollars into a pageant pipe dream.

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