Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beauty pageants in Cartagena

Here is an interesting, if not particularly novel, look at class, race, and beauty pageants in Latin America. Specifically it deals with the annual Miss Colombia pageant in Cartagena.

Some of the analysis is facile and steeped in the US obsession with race. I understand the odd contrast of seeing mainly white candidates in a mainly black city, but most of Colombia is not black, and neither are most of Colombia's poor. By my rough estimate, maybe nine of Colombia's 32 departments have sizable black populations, and maybe five that I can think of are mainly black. Since each department sends only one candidate to Cartagena's pageant, it makes sense that most will be white. This doesn't mean that Colombia doesn't have a huge gap between rich and poor, or that many blacks in Colombia aren't poor. It's just a critique of a too-convenient spin the writer puts on the story. When he speaks of white candidates fidgeting nervously when put together with black ones, is he basing his observations on an in-depth study of every fidget of every candidate, or simply confirming his storyline with handy semi-facts?

On this note, why does it seem like the New York Times writes all of its Colombia human interest stories from Cartagena? Cartagena is just one of many cities in Colombia, and by no means the most representative economically, culturally, or climatically. I suspect the New York Times's focus on Cartagena has more to do with the comfort and entertainment preferences of its reporters than with where the most interesting stories are coming from!

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