Ignorance Loves Company: Miss Teen South Carolina Knows Little but She’s Not Alone.


During last week’s Miss Teen USA pageant, eighteen-year-old Lauren Caitlin Upton—now better-known as Miss Teen South Carolina—fumbled her way into infamy with a rambling, disjointed, and generally appalling response to a simple question, demonstrating to me that she is neither well-informed nor well-educated. But Caitlin Upton is merely a symptom of a larger problem.

That larger problem, my friends, is that Caitlin lives in a country where knowledge—especially the kind that may be acquired through schooling—is not valued. That’s why the most popular kids in school are never the top students. That’s why the smart kids get picked on. That’s why millions of people who can’t name the capital of Burundi flock to their TVs to watch beauty pageants instead of the international news. And that’s why, as a nation, Americans are woefully deficient in their knowledge of the outside world. Only 21 percent of Americans follow international news closely, while 65 percent admit they lack the background to follow overseas news. Ignorance is part of the American way of life and people like Caitlin Upton merely serve to illustrate this.

Basically, Caitlin’s ignorant because she can get away with it. How else could she have reached the age of 18 without having acquired sufficient English or logic or rhetoric or whatever other foundational skills one needs to answer a question as simple as the one she was asked? Clearly, she’s never had to! She’s pretty, she’s blonde, and that’s enough to have gotten her this far. Her inability to think or articulate opinions is irrelevant to her day-to-day life. As the Young Turks point out, Caitlin took fourth place in the pageant, despite her moronic response!!! Obviously, the message is that nobody cares that this woman is an idiot, as long as she’s pretty. Millions of Americans are getting that message loud and clear.

Caitlin is not unique. She’s not a bad apple or an anomaly or a black sheep. On the contrary, she’s a typical American teenager. Even worse, she’s an archetypal American teenager. She is the American teenager that millions of other American teenagers aspire to be like. And our values do little to help. Beauty pageants are elegant, elaborate affairs that showcase beautiful people wearing exotic costumes. Geography bees, on the other hand, are far less glamorous and receive far less publicity. How many high schoolers would rather win a geography bee than be Miss Teen USA?

Popular culture provides even more prosaic examples. Take country music legend Alan Jackson, for example, who proudly proclaims in a hit song that:

I’m just a singer of simple songs.
I’m not a real political man.
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran.

But country singers are by no means the only Americans who revel in knowing nothing about the outside world. The system is rotten from the top down, and even political figures go out of their way to prove how provincial they are. How many of our political figures can speak a language other than English? How many of them have lived or traveled abroad? In fact, to have done so is considered a political liability. Remember Sen. John Kerry, who challenged George Bush for the presidency in 2004? He caught flack for having lived in Europe, for being a Europhile, and for “looking French.”

Our ignorance of the outside world is not only a part of our way of life, it is an essential component of our very understanding of how we live. Ignorance allows Americans to believe that the US healthcare system is the best in the world, despite studies that rank it far behind those found in other countries. If the majority of Americans don’t even know the names of other countries or where on the map to find them, how can they be expected to know about social and economic systems in those countries? This same ignorance allows us to defend our petroleum-based economy while the rest of the industrialized world is exploring clean and renewable energy alternatives.

Most seriously, this ignorance enabled the Bush administration to successfully conflate Osama bin-Laden’s Al-Qaeda network with all Muslims and all Arabs. Only ignorant people could have been led to believe that a secular Ba’athist like Saddam Hussein would ever collaborate with a theocratic zealot like Osama bin-Laden. Yet this is precisely the argument put forward by the Bush Administration as a pretext for invading Iraq, and the majority of Americans—knowing next to nothing about the Arab and Islamic worlds—swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Today, the people of Iraq are paying the price for our ignorance and gullibility.

In Caitlin’s case, the worst consequence of her ignorance was humiliation. For millions of other people the world over, the consequences of Americans’ ignorance may be far more dire.


15 thoughts on “Ignorance Loves Company: Miss Teen South Carolina Knows Little but She’s Not Alone.

  1. Abdul Kargbo i thought you had written some really interesting points. Unfortunately what you wrote too kkh2o made you seem just as bad as all the people you say are ruining american society. To me you seem like a very bitter and jealous person, jealous of what i don’t quite know. Have you had a bad time at school because you were ugly or something then and you thought it must have been because you were smart? Perhaps your envy towards sociable, good looking, intelligent people made you so unwelcoming and that is actually the reason you had/have no friends.

    It was an achievement for this young girl to even get into Miss Teen USA, and just because it is a different achievement to what you may have does not mean you should undermine her.


  2. Our education system is mostly blamed when dealing with this issue but i think that there is missing link to this that we can see when dealing with Americas ignorance on global and national issues. Well we can see that there has to be a reason why students simply are unwilling to learn about these national and global issues, the role models in which they are following. In a recent Washington Post study, over 70 percent of americans were unable to identify the 3 branches of government in which they were under. This is a major problem and although our educational system is most commonly blamed, we need to look at the bigger picture and that is in fact the adult role models in which are teens are following.


  3. kkh2o,

    Omygod! You’re like so smart and your comments are like totally awesome and show me that you’re not like 15 years old. Your analogies about flowers and restaurants are like totally clever.

    But please, do me a favor and read the post again. I would really like to hear your thoughts on the rest of the post, you know, the part that was not focused exclusively on Ms. Teen South Carolina: I can see you’re a big fan of hers. But the point of the post was not to talk about how ignorant Lauren Caitlin Upton is—although she is pretty ignorant—but to talk about the general ignorance of our society at large and the role this ignorance plays in how we interact with the outside world.

    So like, when you have like a minute, I’d like to hear back from you.


  4. and one last thing:

    Chances are, you’re going to give your partner a pretty-clean-radiant flower from the garden, as opposed to one with petals falling off, caterpillar bite marks, and beginning to die.
    Or, you would take them to a restaurant that looks clean and nice opposed to a dirty one. Yeah. People naturally would have a better viewpoint of the 1st options.


  5. and to David: You’re pretty pathetic to suggest people who watch beauty pageants are stupid.

    It is human nature to want what looks fabulous and better, right? Saying it’s sad that the spelling bee having less viewers than the pageant does, is exactly like saying it’s sad that someone would buy a nice-looking-sleek-car opposed to a boring one- even though they are the same price(I say that because it’s the same price to switch the channel and watch either the pageant or bee).

    People naturally want pretty things. You will choose the puppy that looks cuter, or more helpess and small, or tall and refined, than the dog that is opposed to your liking- right?

    Plus, something people (usually jealous seeming people) tend to forget:

    *Being pretty or joining beauty pageants does NOT automatically mean you have a lack of intelligence, as it is a competition. I do not see being rewarded for your looks is not like intelligence. Because honestly, though intelligence (can be an opinion like beauty) they are both something that chance and luck require to have, and can BOTH be added to and improved.

    Honestly, I bet when you walk down the street and see a blonde w/ tan and a pale brunette woman, your brain assumes that the blonde is more “giddy” and not as smart.

    Hahah, I guess w/ the way the jealous people of society categorize and present them as, it’s only natural. But, you’re wrong. Many people at my school who do the whole tan and bleach thing, believe it or not, have very very good grades, as well as join in curricular activities, and do things rather than sit and watch t.v. all day. And then some geeky looking girls you’d expect to have better grades, they don’t know shit. :L They’re embarrassingly dumb.


  6. WOW, as much as I hate name calling on the internet, let alone real life, you are a complete RETARD. I have heard her speak outside of her pageantry, and she is quite knowledgeable. You’re the idiot here. No doubt about it.

    1. She is a pageant girl, meaning, she is taught to answer pageant question in a certain, thus the “such as” repeated some times.

    2. She is on the spot. She can’t have time to assemble her answer.

    3. If you were in her spot you could just as easily do the same thing.

    4. Smart kids are NOT picked on. You are being stereotypical and thinking that being popular means being pretty. NO. At my school, there are some pretty overweight, acne-faced girls and boys, who are “popular” because: They are social and have this sense of common sense and ableness to talk to whoever in a normal fashion. They are athletic, which means even though they have a chubby bod, they show that they really have strength and persistence in sports(and in high school, you really have to be good at a sport to be in it in the first place) which requires a lot of hard work.
    You think all nerdy kids w/ glasses are smart? Or anyo9ne with knowledge is picked on? NOT TRUE. Though being pretty is something that- undeniably- we all do like in a person, just that doesn’t make you “popular”.

    5. Face it, looks are important. So is knowledge of course, but you are lying out of your ass if you say looks do not count. I bring this up because girls YOU think are popular because they look good, are the same people that have this look to them that they are DESIRED by the other kids. When you are desired, sometimes you are intimidating, this putting them on a higher stool.

    Now, stop stereotyping and assuming, it’s pathetic.

    Good day.


  7. John,

    You sound like you would do anything. There are plenty of blondes who are prettier than her and intelligent. Looking like that requires a decent face, bleaching kit, and faux tan. Get the real deal not someone off of an assembly line.


  8. The title is clear~YES! But not to the teens alone!
    She’s a teen~that’s why teens should be teens~that is enough~yeah~if they think and believe they know then they have to be questioned and answer~excuse her please!
    Thank YOU!

    Happy new year!


  9. Pingback: Dawn of the Foodies, America’s Most Obnoxious Clique. « T’ings ‘n Times

  10. David,

    I couldn’t find viewership stats for the National Spelling Bee but I did find figures for the Miss America beauty pageant:

    “Country Music Television has aired the pageant the past two years before deciding not to exercise an option for the 2008 event. After setting a CMT ratings record with 3.1 million viewers in 2006, viewership for the 2007 version of the pageant dropped to 2.4 million.”

    I would be really shocked if even the spelling bee—let alone the National Geography Bee—drew over 2 million viewers. 🙂


  11. A few musings:

    -What did you expect of South Carolina, which still proudly displays the Confederate flag above their capital???

    -It IS a beauty pageant;) I would argue you have to be stupid to watch OR enter such a travesty. Unless you’re Olive, of course (Little Miss Sunshine, what!)

    -The Spelling Bee is on ESPN, and I’d wager it gets more viewership than Miss Teen USA, so we’re getting SOMEWHERE at least.

    -As far as Bush duping America, I think there is a POTENTIAL positive, albeit a small one at an astronomical expense of life; An entire generation of kids should grow up questioning their government. Hope hope.


  12. Abdul, you write the truth. Miss Teen Carolina’s reply to an cliche question was utterly bizarre and completely embarrassing to watch. I don’t know how the event is being handled by the media in the U.S., however, in the U.K, people use Caitlin as another example of “stupid, lazy Americans”. I hate how Americans have this label– I have met equal numbers of dumb Brits, but no one equates British people with stupidity (more like imperialism, tea time, and a crazy royal family). Abdul, there are Americans out there that aren’t ignorant and dumb, however, we are part of a marginalized fifth column that has been deemed traitors by corporate fuck-wits (Bush administration) and have been silenced by mainstream media. We need to have our voice loud and clear to fix up what people like Caitlin are messing up!

    I smell a trophy wife career path for Caitlin. Ugghh…someone smack her face with a can of Aqua-Net!


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