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In defense of Lauren Caitlin Upton.

By Alice Bradley

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?

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Isabel Kallman

    Isabel Kallman

    August 31, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    i was thinking the same thing. my first live interview was with Fox News and it was a disaster. i froze and said “uh, uh, uh, uh” for what felt like an eternity before the producers probably whispered into the interviewer’s ear “wrap it up stat; the woman is a disaster.” The interviewer was all “okay thanks for joining us” as I was still uhhhing.
    I still cannot bear to watch that tape even more than 2 years later.

  • kate

    August 31, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    You’re spot on as usual. Watching my sister’s very first day as a TV meteorologist was a lot like watching Lauren’s answer. It could happen to any of us. As long as we’re also talking about maps, that Map of Generic Names For Soft Drinks By County is AWESOME because when I moved downstate I was mocked for saying “pop”. And in addition to that, have you ever seen these geography games?
    They could help us US Americans built up our future, for.

  • Rachel

    August 31, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    It’s sort of a strange question, no? The only answers that I can think of are that 1) Americans are dumb and 2)Americans are so ethnocentric that they forget there is such a context as a world map and therefore cannot locate their own country when presenting with a befuddling mess of “rest of the world” and 3) the American education system is a total nightmare. The latter two are obviously offshoots of the first, and no answer is particularly well-suited, thematically, to the spectacle of faux-individualism that is a beauty pageant. These things are supposed to give contestants a platform from which to spout platitudes about helping others, in accordance with which she defaulted to mentioning Foreigners Who Need Our Help.

  • Amy

    August 31, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    The saddest part of the whole thing is that the statistic itself is a mess. Who did the research? What was the study size? Population cross section? If confronted with that statistic in front of a live audience I’m afraid I’d freeze up, too. What? How old are these people you asked this question? five? I just feel badly for her. There are many more Americans who freeze when forced to give an impromptu speech than those Americans who can’t find the US on a world map.

  • Mom101

    August 31, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Well I actually hadn’t (I hadn’t! I hadn’t!) seen that until just now and I’m just amazed to see that the quotes you attributed to her here are actually verbatim. I didn’t think it possible.
    Of course she froze, you’re right. Absolutely. But then she goes and talks about “The Iraq” again, a second time, and now I’m thinking that maybe she should have spent less time daydreaming about glittery outfits during school hours.

  • ozma

    September 1, 2007 at 7:06 am

    What was horrifying about it to me was that I had that moment the first time I taught a graduate seminar at a very prestigious university. Hence, the intimidation factor. I did that the first day of class in front of 20 grad students who were 50X more articulate than me. For about 20 minutes. Then I sat down in horror and made them introduce themselves I was so freaked out.
    But it didn’t show up in my teaching evaluations and so it doesn’t count, right? Or so I hope.
    When I saw Lauren, it brought back that moment. I wanted to tell myself that I had not been as idiotic as I feared but after watching her I had to realize that when you are just randomly stringing words together in a moment of sheer and utter terror, yes, you sound like an idiot.
    Oh, God. How I wanted to forget.
    Anyway, isn’t America crazy? Do something humiliating and as long as the moment is recorded in some way and it is sufficiently spectacularly humiliating, you might get famous. WHAT A COUNTRY.

  • honestyrain

    September 1, 2007 at 9:42 am

    how can that even be true? how can people not know where their country is on a map? i am baffled by this statistic. baffled, i tell you.

  • HM

    September 2, 2007 at 3:18 am

    I thought the question was pretty simple. Looks like she should have been paying more attention in geography.

  • Niki

    September 2, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Thank you for this post. I, too, snickered when I saw the clip, but then decided not to share it around because it seemed more like her brain had seized up while trying to pull together platitudes than any demonstration of the poor state of American education, or whatever. (Actually, my first thought was of Bull Durham, where Nuke LaLoosh is spouting just such platitudes about winning one for the team, etc., in front of reporters.) This post and the comments capture my own assessment of her terrible performance.
    That said, I’d like to respond to honestyrain: I assumed (setting aside many possible objections to the actual statistic) that this was a case of American students being able to find America on a map that presented a projection different from the one they’d learned. (Doing a quick search, it appears that various map projections are quite controversial; why is that not surprising?) More particularly, I guess I assumed that it was a case of North America not being front-and-center on the map they were shown. But those of you who question the statistic to begin with are probably on the right track.

  • Zoot

    September 5, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    I wrote about this poor girls as well because I was so pained by the video I couldn’t even watch it. I decided to answer the question for her. I am a Cartographer by training and made maps professional for almost 10 years. Yet I did not mock her. And it’s because I’ve been in the classrooms of my children and seen the VERY US-centric map displays across the schools. As a cartographer I understand the visual power of a map and know that the US shape that we plaster on the walls is not easily found on a world map.
    I hung a world map on my son’s wall — just in case.

  • Lysa

    December 3, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Caitlin is a friend of mine. She is a sweetheart. I personally believe (just kidding) that her question was 1. entirely unresearched and 2. extremely unfair. The winner (who I’m sure is not a big fan right now) had a question (Which would you rather be: Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, or Lindsey Lohan?? or something like that) that any teenager can answer without having one brainwave. Her answer was witty..and forgettable, just like all of the other contestants. Caitlin was unlucky with this one, but hey..who’s more famous?

  • Miss Nancy

    September 18, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    I blame the educational system. I listen to people on TV ramble on with, “Like” and “I’m like” that makes no sense. What about people misspelling words in published articles? A lot is not spelled a-l-o-t and you’re welcome is not spelled y-o-u-r welcome!