When I ask my kids an impossible question in a high-pressure situation — say, something like, “You thought it was okay to use a toilet plunger, a real, used toilet plunger, that is used for REAL POOP, for your Dalek costume? What were you thinking? Huh? What made you think that was okay?” — they don’t know what to say. They’re the ones who put themselves in that situation, and yet they know and I know that there is no acceptable answer to the question. But I’m all caught up in the passion of the moment, and I actually stand there, glaring at them, waiting for an answer. More than once, the answer I’ve gotten is ” . . . bep . . . ”
I don’t know what “bep” means. It’s some kind of croaking that comes straight from the soul of a person who’s face to face with the impossible, I guess.
“Bep” is more or less what Miss Utah said in a widely circulated, widely mocked video from the Miss USA Pageant. Someone named Nene Leakes asked her, “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?” Here’s Miss Utah’s response:
Dopey, right? Of course it is. But my response was pretty much the same as what NPR blogger Linda Holmes says here: that there’s no possible way anyone could give an intelligent or meaningful answer to that question, especially in that setting.
Not to put too fine a point on it, what kind of a simultaneously (1) dumb and (2) impossible to answer question is that? First of all, it’s three questions rolled into one — what does it say that in 40 percent of homes, women are the primary earners, or what does it say that women earn less than men, or what does it say that we allow these two facts to coexist? Second of all, “What does this say about society?” Really? Not “What kinds of help do families need to make ends meet?” or something with at least some policy meat on the bones, but “What does this say about society?” Asked by NeNe Leakes? While you’re standing next to Giuliana Rancic, whose other job involves making people walk their fingernails down a tiny, hand-sized red carpet? What would have been a good answer to this question that could have been delivered in the time frame she had? I think about this kind of stuff a lot. I’ve studied it. I’ve had about 20 years longer than Miss Utah USA to think about it. I have no idea what I would have said if someone had asked me such a moronic question on live television. This isn’t the kind of question that actually tests what you know; it’s basically a test of your ability to generate cow patties on command.
What do they want from this poor woman? They starve her and paint her and wrap her up like a rhinestone mummy, dangle a cash prize in front of her, and then ask her about women’s place in society.
I don’t suppose she stumbled because she was suddenly struck by a paralyzing bolt of irony. I suppose she just got mixed up, and didn’t know what to say. But still.
I don’t have any particular opinion about beauty pageants. They used to seem exploitative and demeaning, but boy, you have to work pretty hard to stand out in that field these days. It almost feels wholesome and reassuring that all these women have to do is trot around in bathing suits and have very white teeth, and nobody expects them to live tweet an orgasm or something.
What does that say about society? Ohhhh, I don’t know. Bep.