Miss Philippines: A life of no 'major major' mistakes

Rima Fakih, a 24-year-old Arab American from Michigan, beat out 50 other women to take the 2010 Miss USA title, despite nearly stumbling in her evening gown.

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By Alexandra Petri
Friday, August 27, 2010

On Monday night, Miss Philippines failed to become Miss Universe. Some attribute this to the fact that when she was asked about mistakes she'd made, she responded, "You know what, sir, in my 22 years of existence, there is nothing major major, any problem, that I have done in my life, because I am very confident with my family with the love that they are giving to me."

Her remark caught fire -- Major Major was trending on Twitter for days.

When I first heard it, I thought it was a reference to that character from "Catch-22."

"Good," I thought. "Major Major deserves more credit."

But when I figured it out, I approved even more.

The concept of Miss Universe has always troubled me. I think it's presumptuous of us to declare a beauty queen "Miss Universe" before we are absolutely certain that there is no intelligent life anywhere. Miss Teen South Carolina certainly did a good job indicating that about Earth in 2007, with her rambling, "like-such-as"-rich insistence that "U.S. Americans" couldn't find things on maps because "some people out there in our nation don't have maps."

We do, however, have our skill sets. Someone once told me that there are seven types of intelligence. I missed out on the evening-wear and talent-portion types because I was busy acquiring the type of intelligence that makes it difficult for me to watch "The Tudors" without yelling at the screen, so I don't have much experience with beauty pageants. But I respect those who do.

Back to Miss Philippines, whose answer intrigued me. Miss Philippines -- Maria Venus Raj -- and I are the same age; she majored in journalism, and here I am at a newspaper. Our lives are practically identical. How is it that she has no regrets or major, major problems? Personally, I have lots of regrets. I lie around in the evenings bent and broken with remorse. Sometimes, late at night, I call strangers to apologize for nothing in particular. Maybe she knows something I don't!

The more I contemplated Raj's remark, with its connections linking youth, lack of regret and familial support, the more it reminded me of a recent New York Times Magazine article arguing that 20-somethings exist in a bizarre twilight zone, somewhere between dependency and adulthood, tethered to our homes and parents by an umbilical bank balance. We are confident with our families, with the love that they are giving to us. So we sit around pondering deep questions such as whether or not our universe is inside a black hole and coming up with convincing reasons not to apply for jobs. We have no major major problems. We have no regrets because we have never really had to, well, do anything. Raj's remark could become the manifesto of our so-called boomerang generation.

Maybe that's wrong, though. After all, we 20-somethings have a peculiar capacity to do lots of things without appearing to do anything. I have friends who have been holed up indoors for months doing nothing but acquiring Twitter followers. Even Jesus, when he wanted new followers, had to leave the house occasionally. These days, all you need is someone to tell people to follow you. It's like the lemmings in front shouting to the lemmings at the back of the line. And we're all contributing to the national discourse. (Speaking of which, follow @petridishes!)

Look at Facebook groups. "Why have you been sitting inside using the Internet for the past 36 hours?" our parents ask. "We're attending a protest!" we explain. That's how protests work these days. You just click something. If you're really feeling radical, you can post an animated graphic of a burning flag on your profile page. But why go to that extreme? Older people are always terrified when they see Facebook groups with more than 30 members. They have this antiquated notion that if we ever got worked up enough, we might show up somewhere in person. True, we might, but only to check in on Foursquare.

Somehow, I've always seen this as a step in the right direction. Look how much we've accomplished without actually "doing" anything! We popularized that Cee-Lo song! We almost ironically elected Basil Marceaux! Why stop now? No regrets! Let's push forward -- or, rather, stay put! Miss Philippines's statement is going to be my new creed.

Of course, Raj isn't sitting on some couch somewhere, conscientiously objecting to a job in finance. She is rich enough in the seven intelligences to be the fourth runner-up to Miss Universe. She has a job working as an information assistant at the DENR Region IV, whatever that is. But the essence of pageants revolves not around doing but around being. Exciting and fulfilling as the lives of contestants may be, these women are graded not on their apparent capacity to lay bricks or redesign electric grids but on existential qualities such as Bone Structure and Loving One's Fellow Man With Enthusiasm. We 20-somethings get that. We've been applying it to our lives for years. True, we can't all be Miss Universe -- or even the fourth runner-up. But we can stop doing things. "Doing" actual "things" only gives you regrets. The Major Major kind.

The writer is a member of the editorial page staff. Her e-mail address is petria@washpost.com.


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