I’ve tried to avoid reading about this story until I was asked to talk about it tonight on Canada’s CTV. At first I considered not doing the interview but I decided to go ahead with it to question the global media focus on the seemingly frivolous affairs of an objectifying beauty pageant in a country where 1.6 million Syrian refugees are living in terrible conditions and some are literally freezing to death. (The world’s major powers have accepted little responsibility for this human tragedy with zero to insignificant numbers of refugees given asylum in Europe, the US or the Arab Gulf countries).
And yet Miss Lebanon distancing herself from Miss Israel in a “selfie” is a global news story, covered by CNN, NBC, Gawker, The Daily Mail and hundreds of others. Most of these media outlets have expressed shock and dismay at the behavior of Miss Lebanon who claims she was “photo-bombed” by the Israeli contestant who took the picture against her will.
Wherever the truth may lie, the media and the Miss Universe organizers have been quick to chastise Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, while Ms. Israel is painted as a victim.
“So much for world peace,” cried The Wall Street Journal, lamenting Greige’s’ actions. The Journal dismissed the possibility that Greige may have wished not to be photographed with a citizen of a country at war with her nation, saying the selfie disavowal could be read as “throwing her fellow contestant under the bus.”
NBC was also sympathetic to Miss Israel, Doran Matalan:
“A seemingly good-spirited selfie taken at the Miss Universe pageant has caused a political stir,” opened a piece on the NBC News website.
The national news giant did a follow up report quoting the pageant organizers, stating:
“It is unfortunate to know a photo of four smiling women from different parts of the world, working together at an event, could be misconstrued as anything other than what it is, a celebration of universal friendship, which the Miss Universe pageant is all about.
The organization said it hopes that when the contestants go to local charity events in Miami ahead of the pageant they will “see just how much they have in common” and form bonds that could “make inroads for change in the future.”
But can a celebration of skin-deep beauty and glamorization of women’s objectification really “make inroads for change in the future?” Few news organizations seemed to question this.
Like many other American outlets, the NBC story closed with the Israeli contestants ‘disarming’ remarks.
“Matalon expressed a similar sentiment on her Facebook page on Sunday, saying that she wished “hostility” could be forgotten during the three-week period the contestants spend together.”
Gawker and CNN gave Matalon’s peaceful attitude more weight:
“It doesn’t surprise me, but it still makes me sad,” wrote Matalon on Facebook. “Too bad you can not put the hostility out of the game, only for three weeks of an experience of a lifetime that we can meet girls from around the world and also from the neighboring country.”
It will not be hard to imagine which of the two contestants is painted as ‘the bigger person’ and in this scenario. But is Ms. Matalon really working toward peace and coexistence in the Middle East?
According to one report Miss Israel served two years in the Israeli Army:
Of course anyone who knows a little Lebanese history will know that the Israeli military has bombed Lebanon extensively over the last 50 years and such bombs and missiles have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians. As recently as 2006, over 1,000 Lebanese were killed in Israeli attacks during the July that left entire towns leveled and over a million cluster bomb fragments in the earth, many of which killed civilians for years after the war.
But unlike NBC news, which has called the selfie scandal a “political firestorm” many Lebanese TV channels are far more busy covering other news tonight, mainly Israel warplanes’ attack on Lebanese fighters for Hezbollah. As thousands mourn the dead carrying coffins through the streets of Beirut, the move could indicate a dangerous transnational widening of the Syrian war next door. Perhaps that is a more relevant issue to be discussing on CTV tonight.