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Blogging 'bout poor Lauren

What bothered me the most about a Lexington High School graduate's mangled answer before a national TV audience is that 4 million people felt compelled to watch on the Internet.

I admit that I was among that number. I wanted to check my reaction after reading comments on several blog sites. As I feared, many Web-sters cited Lauren Caitlin Upton's response as one more example of how stupid are -- take your pick - South Carolinians, Southerners or blondes.

And those were among the kinder comments! Some made Don Imus' remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team seem a compliment by comparison.

Miss Upton was a finalist in Miss Teen USA pageant Aug. 24, when she was asked why she thought one-fifth of Americans can't point to their own country on a world map.

I recognized that she was in trouble when she talked about how the "U.S. Americans" in question probably didn't own a map. It went downhill from there. She sprinkled her response with the phrase "such as," which made her sound like a -- you know -- Valley Girl.

Any parent would have been pained by her obvious embarrassment. After all, stage fright has paralyzed many older, wiser people.

Honor graduate

Lauren, an honor graduate of Lexington High School who will enroll at Appalachian State University, partially redeemed herself with an appearance on the "Today" show Tuesday. She came across as a poised young woman with the ability to laugh at herself.

The second time around she gave a logical -- albeit not particularly profound -- answer to the question that had tripped her up four days earlier. Americans who can't find their own country on a world map didn't study enough geography in school, she said.

She could have expanded on that thought a bit by suggesting that high-stakes testing has led U.S. schools to de-emphasize social studies, history and other subjects that might give the clueless -- and mapless -- a better chance of locating their homeland.

Or she could have replied: "It's because they're less interested in current events than in watching mind-deadening diversions like Miss Teen USA." That probably wouldn't have changed the judges' decision, however.

Most parents, I venture, would be proud to have a child with moxie like Lauren's. When I was her age, had I been the target of some of the vitriolic comments made about her, I wouldn't have had the gumption to crawl out of bed, much less fly to New York to be interviewed on national TV.

Pageant irony

It's ironic that answering a random question in a beauty pageant would lead to such abuse. I know organizers prefer they not be called that these days, but let's not pretend that contestants are selected for any reason other than that they are drop-dead gorgeous. Should we be surprised that a teen pageant controlled by Donald Trump would be more interested in how well a contestant fills out a swimsuit than in her SAT scores?

I would venture that almost every high school in South Carolina has plenty of young women who know more about geography than does Lauren Upton. Some are just as pretty. So, why weren't they vying for the title of Miss Teen USA? Perhaps because they're engaged in more meaningful pursuits.

You won't read about most of these young women on the Internet, and unless you happen to see an item in their local paper about how they made the dean's list at Clemson or obtained a master's degree at Winthrop, you likely will never hear about them. Because their names are not Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, these women likely will never become known to many fellow Americans outside their family, church or workplace.

That will be OK with them. Most are fortunate enough to have grown up in a loving environment where self worth and contributions to the greater good are valued above momentary notoriety.

Neither their accomplishments nor their bust size ever will draw the attention of 4 million of their fellow Americans. Most will never amount to much in the blogosphere.

And they will be the better for it.

So will all of us.