Let FOXNews never be accused of sensationalism, yet the front-page story1 seemed to promise gross spectacle. However, coverage of the event was respectful, if not enthusiastic.
Miss Landmine is the brainchild of Morten Traavik, a Norwegian theater director who traveled to Luanda, Angola, in 2004 and saw first hand the effects of twenty years of civil war. It is estimated that 8 million landmines are still buried throughout Angola, and over 80,000 people who live there have amputations resulting from landmines. The situation gave Traavik the idea to celebrate the beauty of Angolan women despite the stigmatized trait of amputation, a spirit capture in the pageant's Miss Landmine Manifesto.
THE MISS LANDMINE MANIFESTO2
(in no particular order)
- Female pride and empowerment.
- Disabled pride and empowerment.
- Global and local landmine awareness and information.
- Challenge inferiority and/or guilt complexes that hinder creativity- historical, cultural, social, personal, African, European.
- Question established concepts of physical perfection.
- Challenge old and ingrown concepts of cultural cooperation.
- Celebrate true beauty.
- Replace the passive term 'Victim' with the active term 'Survivor'
The Miss Landmine Pageant seems to run counter to dominant American ideology about pageants, a fact that Traavik himself has acknowledged:
"We tend to associate beauty pageants with sleaze and exploitation of women and so on, but this felt very different. This was much more of a celebration, much more of a carnival-esque in many ways," [Traavik] said of his first pageant experience in Angola. (FOXNews.com)
Traavik's use of the term "carnivalesque" is perhaps unintentionally reminiscent of Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin's usage of the term. To Bakhtin, the carnivalesque represents a collective within which dominant socioeconomic and politic classes cease to matter. Within the democratic space of the carnival, "[A]ll were considered equal during carnival. Here, in the town square, a special form of free and familiar contact reigned among people who were usually divided by the barriers of caste, property, profession, and age" (Bakhtin 10). Moreover, carnival augurs an inversion of dominant social practices--all carnival goers engage in activity that is commonly associated with lower social classes, and in carnival the fool is king.3
In this regard, the celebration of a stigmatizing bodily characteristic is requisite for the competition. By incorporating this anomaly into the cultural ritual of the pageant, Traavik and Miss Landmine inflect cultural assumptions about beauty and normativity.
However, for all the democratic work of the pageant, there can be only one Miss Landmine. Or, in this case, two. A group of ten women competed for two titles, Miss Landmine 2008 and Miss Landmine Internet Winner. Miss Urica, the brick-and-mortar winner, was chosen by a panel of five Angolan government officials, while Miss Cuanza Sul, Maria Restino Manuel, was chosen as the Internet winner.
Both winners received custom prosthetic limbs among their prizes, an award that highlights the material reality of their lived conditions not as young women who treat pageants as their careers, but as survivors who are integrating their difference into their and our lived experience.
1At the time, the main headline was for a story set in Fenway Park in which a girl named Alexa Rodriguez was attacked by a red-tail hawk. Remember, the date was April 4th.
Bakhtin, M. M. [1941, 1965] Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.