Caitlin Upton

Miss Teen South Carolina, Caitlin Upton, Finalist for Miss Teen USA 2007 with text from her infamous map question answer

PASADENA, 24 August 2007 — At the Miss Teen USA Pageant held here tonight, finalist Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina, gave what Wikipedia called a “rambling and unstructured response” to an impromptu question. Her response was sufficiently “unstructured” that YouTube clips of it received 54 million views and the World Stupidity Awards gave her the 2007 award for “Stupidest Statement of the Year.” (note that by 2012 Upton will still be pursuing her career, and the WSA’s will have been out of business for 5 years)

As the title of her award suggests, in theory, the 54 million views of her video were for the purpose of laughing at how stupid this young person, barely beginning her life, was. I’ve never seen it that way. I don’t think that video is about Caitlin Upton at all. I think it is about us.

There is much to be said about “beauty pageants,” but for the purpose of this discussion, lets simply stipulate that they exist. They are, for the time being at least, a part of our culture. In cultivating poise, grace, beauty, and elegance, teenager Caitlin Upton was doing what we, the larger culture, asked her to do. We didn’t really ask her to join the debate team. We never suggested that it mattered or that we valued those skills. And then in 30 seconds when this young person who had worked hard to achieve that which we had told her mattered, turned out to be less than perfect at that which we had told her didn’t really matter… she became an internet meme.

Yahoo Research Reverse IP Lookup map for search term "Miss Teen USA" showing the explosion of queries in 2007

When Yahoo Search alerted Yahoo Research that “Miss Teen USA” was a massively trending topic, they created a “Reverse IP Lookup Map,” the globe you see above. The beams of light are the number of search queries for “Miss Teen USA,” as you see it’s pretty quiet in Europe, dark over the breadth of the Atlantic, and then as you approach America’s Eastern seaboard, an explosion of search requests. That explosion of light isn’t a reflection of Caitlin Upton’s IQ… uh… I think it’s a reflection of ours.

Caitlin Upton did the job we asked of her.
She developed that which, with our media and our money, we told her mattered.
She was less aware of that which we never told her we cared about.

Meanwhile we, with out culture of banality, are so starved for entertainment, for the next meme to digest, that we can turn a 30 second flub into an entire meal. Did we really sit on our couches and critique her? When someone rich or powerful or beautiful falls off the pedestal we temporarily awarded them, it’s not only entertaining to watch the fall, it is a validation of our own lives, such as they are.

Caitlin Upton became that which our culture told her it valued, and we laughed at her for it.

Caitlin Upton did her job.

Caitlin Upton peering over the top of The Times Atlas of theWorld

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Categories: People

Author:Vanessa Anne Blaylock

As a Virtual Public Artist my work invites virtual communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

3 Comments on “Caitlin Upton”

  1. Wednesday, 04 July 2012 at 17:38 UTC #

    Geez Vanessa, I vaguely remembered this. So, I watched the vid and recalled the incident.
    The girl’s beauty is a gift and it does take work to appear poised and glamorous. Seeing her trying to smile and remain poised while she tried to find ideas to answer the question was very painful to watch. You put this in the right context, she did do her job. The people who plan these events should do their jobs and make sure winners are put into situations where they can shine, not be humiliated.

    A few days ago I watched a vid where a guy was pretending to be a television news reporter. He stopped people and asked over-the-top quesitons. The people _interviewed_ were just normal everyday people, but they all seemed to feel they were on television. Naturally, the interviews were selected for their humor value. It was funny and it was also disturbing, and embarrassing for those selected.

    • Wednesday, 04 July 2012 at 22:58 UTC #

      That’s a pretty great video Yordie. It’s SO meta, in the sense that it’s about media and then the interviewee responding to the “fake” question gives the “real” answer about media manipulation “even the Vatican’s not above it…” Crazy.

      Speaking of “Crazy” — hahaha — bad segue to famous Britney Spears track. I was thinking about the idea that that the “Caitlin Upton Video” isn’t about Caitlin Upton, but about us…

      If you think Britney Spears job is “singer” then her famous “meltdown,” shaved head and all that, represents the nadir of her life & career…

      But if you believe that Spears’ job is “entertainer,” then that “meltdown” was the zenith. She sold a lot of records and got a lot of media coverage before that, but “when Britney melted down” she owned the bulk of global media in a way that almost no one in human history ever has. She was on the cover of every magazine, the lead story on every TV show. She didn’t have to sing songs, because as an “entertainer” her “drama” was selling more products for more marketers than anyone could have dreamt of. We thought that her golden tresses defined beauty and success, but when Britney did her “inverse Samson” she was at the top of her game.

      When Spears was singing songs and doing dance numbers on TV awards shows, we owned her. But when she shaved it all off, Britney owned us.

      We sat on our couches and felt sorry for, felt better than, the poor melted down popstar. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

      |3RIT|/|3Y PWNS J00

  2. katcool
    Thursday, 05 July 2012 at 20:40 UTC #

    I always compared the media attention fallen celebrities received to a “civilized” form of public execution. With that said, I equated it to our inherent animalistic lust for blood – if we cannot, as “civilized” beings lynch someone in public, why not use words as metaphoric rocks? I never did see the power that the “lynched” victim held over the media and the audience. It does, however, make sense. Didn’t, after all, Abramovic own us when she asked the audience to do what we pleased with her? How easily roles and perceptions can be reversed!

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