Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Not my universe, not my world

Published:Saturday | January 31, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

There are quite a few things that lay claim to being representative, or the best of, all known human existence - as in the world. There are also those which go even further to extend their claim of supremacy to that which is still largely unknown - the universe.

The universe ones are, of course, in all practicality, preposterous. To literally lay claim to a universal title from this tiny part, of a tiny part, of a tiny part, of a very tiny part of space is impossible; to deploy the word as a substitute for world is incorrect, at best, and nauseatingly grandiose, at worst.

However, the world titles are a different kettle of fish. In direct competition, with adequate safeguards against doping, we can identify world champions in various sports. Naturally, Usain Bolt comes to mind, as does Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. So does Nicholas 'The Axeman' Walters. Then there are world rankings for sports like tennis and cricket, in addition to regularly scheduled competitions to determine a champion for a particular period of time.

DEFINING THE 'WORLD'

But then there are things like World Wars I and II, which are inaccurately and very presumptuously named. Those wars were fought among a small number of highly militarised countries which, with their history of running roughshod over the rest of the world, were so arrogant as to claim that their bloody internecine tussle was a 'World War' fought on behalf of people everywhere.

Add to that an American baseball league that claims to produce a 'world' champion team.

And, for both universe and world, add contests about women's physical appearance. For whether they are named Miss World or Miss Universe (and there have been shots at a Global franchise as well), the overall winner and the Jamaican entrants do not represent my world, much less universe.

If those competitions were named what they actually are, then I would have absolutely no problem with them. Call the competition that took place last weekend Miss-White-Or-As-Close-To-It-As-Possible Known-Universe, and the nail would have been hit acceptably close to firmly on the head. Call the other one Miss-Ideal-Caucasian-Or-Near-Caucasian-Culled-From-Several-Countries-Worldwide and I can work with it.

For, without identifying sashes and prior knowledge of the individual contestants, at a glance at a group picture, it would be safe to assume that the top contestants in any given year are from the same country. Sure, there is an aberration in skin colour occasionally, but not too far from the porcelain perfection; and the noses and lips might be a little thicker, but not broad on those top broads.

And they sure as hell have not much heft on the hips and junk in the trunk.

But as they stand without qualification, the titles state that the single look that dominates the contests is the standard for every woman. And that makes them ugly contests - for if the minority (and those young women with the frozen smiles who parade in the Miss World and Universe contests year after year represent a worldwide numerical minority) is the ideal standard of beauty, then that makes the other women of the world various levels of less beautiful based on how closely they approximate the crowned ideal.

CREATING UGLINESS

In an ideal world, it would not matter. Without a world history of European colonisation and brutality, the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions would not matter. Heck, maybe they would not exist! However, in a world with an all-too-unfortunate history of creating ugliness as part of inculcating superiority of the conqueror, it does matter.

Of course, there are quite a few people who will rush to show their open mindedness by rushing to dismiss my views as distasteful and even racist. That is okay. One thing I have learnt and come to accept is that people will fight tooth and nail for their right to give abuse or take abuse. They will also fight vigorously for their right to low self-esteem because they are extremely uncomfortable without being told their place in a particular pecking order.

Plus, this matter of constructing beauty and ugly is a very tenuous thing. It cannot stand up to rational examination, so the knee-jerk reaction of those who have invested their psyche in the concepts of beauty promulgated by the falsely named Miss Universe and Miss World contests is to fling a label at anyone who critiques it.

That's okay. I just don't see a hierarchy, much less my supposed place in it. It is not my universe; it is not my world.

So we continue to distract ourselves from the real issues with trivialities like brittle answers to inane questions and the fall of a piece of cloth arranged as a gown. And, while so many of us invest emotionally in keeping the world and universe of ugly standards in place, as a country, we spend over $1 billion a year on false hair, and bleaching by cream and skin peels goes on and on and on.

There is a connection.

melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com