Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: "Beauty Queens" by Libba Bray

Beauty pageants are often frequent targets of satire, even if most of the aspects that are lampooned are pretty exaggerated. We love to pull out the "world peace" trope, and revisit the idea that beauty pageant contestants are dumb, even if in reality they're quite often tremendously accomplished. (And I say this as both a fan and a nearly 12-year volunteer with the Miss America Organization.)

The young women in Libba Bray's satire, Beauty Queens, a cross between Miss Congeniality and Drop Dead Gorgeous, with a little bit of the media-related commentary of Max Headroom are in a class by themselves. They're flying to the beach to compete in the Miss Teenage Dream pageant, and their every move is being captured by film crews, with the culminating event being the televised pageant itself. And then the unthinkable happens—their plane crash-lands on a deserted island, killing the majority of the contestants and all of the adults involved, and leaving a select few to fend for themselves.

From the get-go, Miss Texas, Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, wants the survivors to keep practicing their musical numbers, keeping up their beauty rituals (despite losing most of their cosmetics, not to mention food and water and hygiene products), because Miss Teenage Dream is always prepared. But Miss New Hampshire, Adina Greenberg, who never really cared much about competing anyway, thinks it's crazy the girls don't concentrate on surviving the elements and try to get rescued. They can't have a pageant if all the contestants have starved to death or get eaten by wild animals, can they?

But what the contestants don't realize is that the island isn't deserted—it's actually the site of a top secret compound run by "The Corporation," the conglomerate that produces the pageant as well as nearly every popular television show (like Patriot Daughters," featuring a sexy Betsy Ross, and Captains Bodacious, which features a group of telegenic young men masquerading as pirates), movie, book, and record, not to mention pharmaceuticals, fashions, and beauty products. And The Corporation is about to take part in a very shady business deal with a very shady foreign dictator.

Beauty Queens lampoons so many elements of pageants, from the pushy mothers who strong-arm their daughters into competing, to the vapid contestants who know a lot about makeup and smiling but little about the world around them. And then there's the most famous Miss Teenage Dream ever, Ladybird Hope, now an aspiring presidential candidate. Her take on why the pageant is important:

"Our country needs something to believe in, Barry. They need us to be that shining beacon on the hill, and that shining beacon will not have all these complications and tough questions about who we are, 'cause that's hard, and nobody wants to think about that when you already have to decide whether you want Original Recipe or Extra Crispy and that little box is squawkin' at ya. And let me tell you something, Barry, that shining beacon will have a talent portion and pretty girls, because if we don't come out and twirl those batons and model our evening gowns and answer questions about geography, then the terrorists have won."

Parts of this book were quite funny, and the contestants' adventures were interspersed with "commercials" from The Corporation. But after a while, as the plot got more and more outlandish, it started to lose steam, and it just wasn't as funny anymore. There were only so many times the contestants could joke about the slutty one, the lesbian, and the token minorities, or the plot entailed the contestants defending themselves with everyday beauty tools and products before the book just lost its appeal. I think if this book were shorter, it definitely would have been funnier, but instead it appears Bray tried to cram as much as she could into the plot.

If you enjoy satire and social commentary about just how silly the media is and how much control it has over us, you may enjoy Beauty Queens. It's definitely amusing, even laugh-out-loud, stupid funny in places. I just wish it didn't lose steam before it ended.

No comments:

Post a Comment