Virtual Book Launch: Looking for Miss America by Margot Mifflin in Conversation with Jessica Bennett
Where: powerHouse Arena
28 Adams St.
718-666-3049 Price: Free
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Looking for Miss America is a fast-paced narrative history of a curious and contradictory institution. From its start in 1921 as an Atlantic City tourist draw to its current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the pageant has indexed women’s status during periods of social change—the post-suffrage 1920s, the Eisenhower 1950s, the #MeToo era. This everchanging institution has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of television and reality TV, and, significantly, by contestants who confounded expectations. Spotlighting individuals, from Yolande Betbeze, whose refusal to pose in swimsuits led an angry sponsor to launch the rival Miss USA contest, to the first black winner, Vanessa Williams, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade, Margot Mifflin shows how women made hard bargains even as they used the pageant for economic advancement. The pageant’s history encompasses, vitally, those it excluded: though the notorious Rule Seven, which required contestants to be “of the white race,” was retired in the 1950s, no Latina has won to this day. In rigorously researched, vibrant chapters that unpack each decade of the pageant, Looking for Miss America examines the heady blend of capitalism, patriotism, class anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual.