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Miss France: the ageless queen of kitsch

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Miss France: the ageless queen of kitsch
Is it just sentimentalists, dirty old men and snarky hipsters who watch Miss France in their millions? Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP
19:26 CET+01:00
The annual Miss France competition takes place in the eastern city of Dijon on Saturday night. In postmodern France, where women hold cabinet positions and beauty pageants are mercilessly mocked, you might think nobody will be watching. You'd be very wrong.

Who is Miss France?

Well, at time of writing she is one of 33 young beauty queens, vying for the mantle.

Why is she in the news this week?

First of all, the Miss France ceremony takes place at exactly 8.50pm on Saturday night. But the approach of the annual competition has reignited debate in France about is place in postmodern society.

So what’s the controversy?

Well, as has become routine in “Miss” competitions and beauty pageants throughout the world, French feminist groups have protested against this weekends festivities.

One might have thought that in the 21st century, contests such as this would have become more irrelevant than divisive, if it weren’t for one fact – last year’s ceremony garnered nearly 10 million viewers on French TV TF1.

Is that a big number?

Well, TF1 said it was the highest audience in half a decade.


Before and After. Miss Bourgogne, Marine Lorphelin, becomes Miss France 2013. Photos: P Andrieu/AFP/GeeyomYam/Youtube

So why is it still so popular?

That’s the question that many have been asking in France this week. The French have something of a reputation for casual sexism, but it’s not clear that this would explain why 39 percent of the available audience watched Marine Lorphelin (Miss Bourgogne) crowned last year.

There are a few separate (and very different) audiences for Miss France, as François Jost, professor of semiology at the Sorbonne (seriously) told French daily 20 Minutes on Friday.

“The biggest audience love beauty contests – the age-old story of the farm girl who becomes a princess."

However, there is an emerging second group which watches Miss France more out of irony than genuine interest. To them the whole thing is “so bad it’s good”, and social networks such as Twitter play a big role in fuelling this kind of spectatorship.

“These are the ones who watch the show on an ironic level, and mock it,” says Jost.

Then, of course, there is the “male audience”, which in the words of the good professor, “appreciates seeing beautiful girls lining up in swimsuits.” Enough said.


(L to R) Julie Legros, Savoy; Laetizia Penmellen, Provence; Aurianne Sinacola, Côte d'Azur. Photos: Jeu Miss France/Youtube

So it’s essentially sentimentalists, dirty old men and snarky hipsters who watch Miss France?

Not quite. As Virginie Spies, a media analyst at the university of Avignon pointed out to 20 Minutes, there’s something reassuring to many French people about sitting down in front of the TV to watch something so familiar since it was first broadcast in 1986.

There is, also, one would venture, an element of “train crash” TV about the whole thing. With every competitor smiling nervously for several hours, and with families on tenterhooks waiting for verdicts, drama is inevitable.

Take, for example, this horrifying moment from 2009, when Miss Guadeloupe did the unthinkable during the group’s ball-gown entrance.

Or the response of Peggy Zlotowski, Miss Aquitaine 1989 whose joy at being crowned Miss France was too much for her body to handle.

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