On Twitter, Christa reminds me that the beauty pageant is a long-running Southern institution. Without speculating about why that is, I think it makes the explanation for why Miss USA has become so politically significant in the conservative community pretty simply: it’s a function of the further blurring between political and cultural signifiers for the right.
Obviously there’s going to be some overlap between the two in any cohort (says the liberal who listens to punk rock, watches The Daily Show, etc.), but what’s interesting about folks like Pipes and Malkin is how they find it impossible to view any form of cultural expression through any lens other than the ideological purity detector. It’s easy to criticize, but mostly it just makes me feel bad for them; I can’t imagine how much more narrow and impoverished my life would be if I reflexively rejected any form of cultural expression that didn’t conform to my own worldview.
Theory: As beauty pageants became less popular in the north, conservatives started identifying them even more closely with the values of Real America, which in turn alienated more non-conservative fans and contestants, which then in turn made pageants into even more of a conservative shibboleth, etc.
You know what other recent historical trend fits that shape? Conservative orthodoxy in general.