I have spent the past day or two sitting around trying very hard to be offended. It is harder than it looks.
I saw that ESPN had apologized for something that commentator Brent Musburger said during the game where Alabama walloped Notre Dame. What might this mightily offensive remark be, I wondered.
Well, it seems Brent Musburger did the unthinkable. He called Miss Alabama Katherine Webb “a beautiful woman.” “Wow,” he added. He urged little boys to start throwing footballs with their fathers in order that they might be able to secure themselves a woman like that, which, actually, now that I type it out, is an awkward, backward sentiment to express aloud.
“We apologize that the commentary in this instance went too far. Brent understands that,” ESPN said.
The commentary went so far that Katherine Webb has more than 100,000 new Twitter followers, and she has expressed bewilderment at the apology.
And I’m with her on this one.
It is hard to be more offended by a remark than the person on the receiving end without looking foolish.
Webb clearly has some experience being called beautiful — she’s Miss Alabama, after all — so perhaps she’s more inured to it than others would be. But I have visions of color commentators sitting there tongue-tied as they gaze at the sidelines. “There’s his mom,” they’ll say. “Looking proud.” “There’s his girlfriend, who is literally a beauty queen.” There will be an agonizing silence. “I hear her kidney health is excellent.” “Very healthy kidneys.”
This is just a strange and slippery slope.
Look, beautiful people have it hard enough in this world without everyone apologizing to them all the time. Most of us only attract attention to our appearance when people compare our faces unfavorably to wedding cakes that have been left out in the rain. This is manageable. But beautiful people are beset on every side. Everyone is always giving them jobs, high salaries and promotions. Their ancestors always had the choicest mammoth carcasses and fanciest stone wheels dragged to the front steps of their caves and left there with bows. They walk through Times Square, and strangers offer them modeling contracts, lucrative film careers, and their hands in marriage. It is all very inconvenient.
Some compliments are not really compliments. Sometimes focus on appearance is not warranted. I wanted to boil over with indignation.
But I just couldn’t this time.
I tried. I sat alone in a dark room and glowered.
“How dare he,” I murmured. “He went too far. Far too far.”
But I just couldn’t keep it up. Look, we should not have to apologize to beauty queens for calling them beautiful. Should we? It is in the job description. It’s not Miss Great Kidney Health America. It’s not Miss Judge Me By My Clarinet Ability Alone America. There is a difference between objectification and objectivity. If you start apologizing for minor crimes like this, it robs apologies of their force when they are actually needed.
“I think the media has been really unfair to [Brent Musburger],” Webb said. “I think that if he would’ve said something along the line of we were ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ or made any derogatory statements like that, that would’ve been a little bit different. But the fact that he said we were beautiful and gorgeous, I don’t see why any woman wouldn’t be flattered by that…I don’t take any offense to it at all.”
I can see why you wouldn’t be flattered. Say, you showed up to a presidential debate and everyone spent the whole time talking about your impeccable manicure and how “gorgeous” you looked. There are times when complimenting a woman’s appearance can be just as reductive as denigrating it. But when you have embraced being judged by your ability to flaunt an evening gown, and dang, you look good in the stands at a football game, what are we supposed to do?
Must we really agonize over this? We have more pressing things to worry about, like that new strain of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.
Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. Even when that spade is very, very beautiful.