In defense of Lauren Caitlin Upton.
Oh, Lauren, Lauren, Lauren. I’m sorry, Lauren. The Internet can be so cruel.
In case you haven’t seen this clip (And if you haven’t–really? You haven’t?) , during the Miss Teen USA pageant, Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton was asked the following question: “Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the United States on a world map. Why do you think this is?”
Then, dear readers, she answered. Her response–again, in case you’re the only person on earth who hasn’t seen it:
“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some … people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, ah, education like such as in South Africa, and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., or should help South Africa, it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for.”
I alone knew, as I watched her performance, that she was responding in character. The character of someone who can’t find the United States on a world map. She was so good, they took her seriously. She’s too deadpan. You should have winked, Lauren. You should have winked.
Honestly, now: here’s been a lot of Internet-wide smirking at Miss Upton’s expense, a lot of talk about how she’s an example of teen idiocy, how she had a “blonde moment” (are we still making that joke?), how shameful and ignorant her response was. The Boston Herald crowed, “She’s beautiful, but not too bright!” (By the way, Boston Herald? You mentioned that she finished third. Actually she was the third runner-up. That makes her fourth. Might want to work on your math skills.)
But let’s take another look at Ms. Upton’s response: it was, to be fair, beyond idiotic. It consisted of a series of words so incoherently strung together that Noam Chomsky wouldn’t be able to parse them. It didn’t make even one-tenth of an ounce of sense. If a mongoose were given the ability to speak, he would have come up with something more eloquent. In other words, it’s not that she’s dumb. It’s that she freaked.
Okay, okay, maybe she’s dumb, too. This is a possibility I cannot deny. But I consider myself a smart person, and I have to tell you, I have had similar moments. Me! I know!
After Good Morning U.S. America appeared on my lawn and made me change my shirt into something more festive and then sat me down under many bright lights, they asked me my first question, and what came out of my mouth could not have made less sense. I stammered and sputtered and the interviewer looked at me in amazement and pity. A look that said, “I am having a hard time looking at you, but were I given access to YouTube at this moment, I would surely relish the opportunity to put your spastic moment up there, so that hundreds of thousands of people could laugh at you and call you a moron.” And if she had put up that moment on YouTube, all those people would right now be all, “How could she say all those asinine things about Alphamoms? Who does she think she is calling herself an Alphamom—is she even talking in English? Did she only speak in verbs, in that one sentence? Did I just hear a series of clicks and grunts coming out of her mouth?”
And that was in my home. With the friendly, smiley producer sitting right there, next to me, our knees touching. And no audience, except for the cameraman and sound guy. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been standing up there in a spangly dress, with Mario Lopez breathing down my neck like that, thinking his unclean Mario-Lopez thoughts.
Lucky for me, the GMA interview was taped, and I had a glass of water and calmed down, and then managed to string some words together. But still, those first few minutes were humbling indeed. And I’m a pretty smart person! I have, like, degrees, and stuff. True, I’m not on the pageantry circuit (whew) but I’ve performed plenty in my day, sometimes in spangly dresses, even, and I thought this little TV segment would be no big deal for me. And there I was, seizing up. It happens.
Lauren Caitlin Upton (God, that’s killing me) appeared on the Today Show and confirmed everything I suspected. (Of course, would she stand by her statement? “Yes, the Africans and the I-racks have to be helped for our future, and building up. I believe this to be, you know.”) She said she can’t remember a word of what came out of her mouth. This says to me that she was in deep panic mode. So can we stop analyzing the words spewing from her quivering lips? She seemed like a nice enough girl, maybe not too desperately bright, okay, but who is? I mean, Ann Curry told her that Matt Lauer utters less intelligible statements all the time. And that, I can believe.
On the other hand, maybe it was an incredible shrewd tactic. What other Miss Teen USA contestant got to appear on the Today Show? Type in Lauren Caitlin Upton’s name in Google and you’ll get over 300,000 hits. Quick, tell me who the winner of the Miss Teen USA pageant was. See?
So laugh away at Lauren Upton Caitlin (wait, that’s wrong) if you like, but someday, it could be you up there. At least Lauren, in the end, helped us get the maps we so desperately need. Will you be able to say the same?Published August 31, 2007. Last updated September 18, 2015.