From time to time I get notes, letters and email from people who have a growing concern for what passes as ‘acceptable’ behavior in today’s society.  I realize that not everyone may be in agreement with my thoughts on that subject so you’re more than welcome to express your opinion in the Sun-Times Opinion section or send me your views via the newspaper or contact me directly through:  With that in mind, here goes some Food for Thought.

     My friend visited the Talent Contest and Beauty Show at our recent Cleburne County Fair.  A quote from her note to me includes the following:

“What is with these dance studios making these girls dance like strippers and why on earth would the parents allow it?  You would not believe the risqué outfits these young girls were wearing!  The moves they made were making me ask, "Where's the pole?"  The music, too!

It was so thumping, just like in a club.  I was really disappointed in our community having stuff like that”.

     Good points – all of them!  Shades of JonBenet Ramsey!  JonBenet was a 6 year old child whose mother placed her in a series of child beauty and talent pageants and who was murdered around 22 years ago.  Officially, the murder was never really solved although speculation on the killer’s identity occupied the public’s attention almost rivaling that of the OJ Simpson case 2 years earlier.  A large part of the JonBenet discussion centered on the wisdom of the beauty pageant promoters as well as the parents of the children involved in emphasizing the sexuality of these young girls through costuming and stage moves.  What exactly are the judges of these events looking for in order to name a winner?  Is it an over-the-top exploitation of the innocent or a pandering to the judges’ inner demons disguised as ‘art’?  What are the motives of the parents who allow their children to parade through these events acting and dressed as tiny sirens in the hopes of winning?

     Some locations and even countries have banned such events for exactly those reasons.  The question is, “When does it stop being art and cross the line into soft porn suitable for pedophiles”?   On the other side you’ll find parents and promoters who criticize such views or questions as reflecting a ‘dirty mind’ that doesn’t appreciate the ‘art’ of the event. 

     As the father and step-father of 5 daughters, 3 granddaughters and 2 great granddaughters my view is that many of these pageants have gone well beyond good taste and ventured into the darker side of child promotion.  For every young girl that gains confidence via succeeding on the runway I think you’ll find more than a few that dislike being promoted like merchandise at an auction and pushed to perform beyond their age level in order to satisfy their parent’s objectives for either themselves or for their child.  When these young girls are dolled up like miniature strippers and trained to dance and shake their booties who or what are they trying to impress or attract?  What lessons are they learning about life and the value they bring to it?  Are the lessons placing too high a value on physical perfection, acting older than their years or getting their way in life through the seductive potential of their bodies?  Will they believe that pushing the edge of the ‘entertainment’ envelope will provide them an edge over their competition or will they believe that their body is a tool to be used in order to be in demand in later years as an attraction?  Does their self esteem take a hit when they lose a competition or do their parents ‘protect’ them by blaming it on the myopic stupid judges?  I’m sure I’ll be tarred and feathered by those who see an overwhelming value in these contests for their child but, that’s OK.  My skin is thick.

     I’m not a prude but, in my opinion, many of these ‘beauty’ pageants have pushed back the normal restraints of society just as we’ve seen happen in other areas of the entertainment industry.  The pendulum has swung too far and the promoters and judges of these events should rewrite their pageant rules on decorum for these tiny entertainers.  They should also enforce the regulations by barring parents from allowing their children to compete if they cross the line in their blind determination to win.  If the parents won’t exercise normal restraint while applying an ‘anything goes’ approach to improve their chances of having their child win then the administrators must step in.  We’re not in Hollywood where dysfunction is an art and civility has been consigned to the trash can!

     Entertainers like Madonna, Spears and others have established new, lower standards for what passes as entertainment today.  Rappers make fortunes from ignorant and unthinking young fans that mindlessly applaud crude and obscene lyrics that glorify violence, disrespect and antisocial behavior which revel in the mistreatment and demeaning abuse of women and authority.  Local communities, like Cleburne County, should stand up and do everything appropriate to discourage its growth.  If beauty and talent pageants insist on using our local county fairs to sexualize young children then the administrators of these events or our county officials should hold it in check by applying strict guidelines to the promoters!  A little Food for Thought could make a huge difference for these children and our community.

End of rant.  Have a blessed day.