By Thu Hằng
Việt Nam has had its fair share of beauty contest controversies over the years, but the event’s popularity has never waned.
But the latest controversy is different. It has nothing to do with the event, its location, rules, eligibility or choice of contestants, but with its timing in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.
Timing is everything, right?
We all know that entertainment galas, including beauty contests, are organised in the aftermath of disasters and tragedies precisely to help raise funds for victims.
However, when the semifinals of the Miss Universe Vietnam 2017 was held in Khánh Hòa on Saturday, it raised hackles because the country as a whole was concerned about the impacts of typhoon Damrey, which actually made landfall in the province that morning.
Khánh Hòa was among the hardest hit localities by the typhoon, which wreaked havoc on the central and south central coast.
The provincial People’s Committee has confirmed that they requested the organisers to delay the event, as they did with other arts and cultural activities in the province, but the contest was still held as originally planned.
Nguyễn Khắc Hà, director of provincial Culture and Sports Department told the Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper that the administration has asked the organisers to report on the event to a team assigned to investigate the case.
“I personally think that the event being organised in the province at this time was not appropriate, while agencies and sectors at all levels and the whole country were concentrating on consequences of the typhoon and flooding," Hà said.
This makes a lot of sense, but organisers have their views too.
Trần Ngọc Nhật, head organiser of the contest explained to the Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper that this was a national competition licensed by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism so they had to follow the schedule mentioned in the licence.
"The storm was unforeseen and unexpected, and we were only informed about it a day before the contest.
“If the event impacted human safety, it would have been imperative to stop it. The organisers also considered the situation,” Nhật said.
He said the storm came hit Friday evening and was over on Saturday morning. In the afternoon there was no rain and no wind, he added.
“We, including contestants, also organized a charity trip to visit the victims of the storm. This was a gesture from the organisers for the community."
Furthermore, the delay would have affected the contestants’ schedule and other issues, he said. With 63 women from all over the country competing, he has point about the logistics involved in postponing and re-holding such an event.
And even if it was held, the conditions were not ideal. The bad weather conditions meant power was cut and the programme took place later than expected. Backstage, contestants had to use mobile phone flashlights to make up. Until 9pm, the audience did not know if the event would take place or not. Thousands of spectators were ushered into the theater with mobile phone light and ticket checkers used flashlights.
In the face of criticism, Phan Anh, a member of the contest jury, noted on his personal Facebook page: "The audience is watching, television viewership is high, and the event was live-streamed. So do we criticise all of them? The theater was not affected by the storm. Every thing had been readied for the programme and it did not affect local disaster relief. Should everybody sit down and wait, then?”
He also mentioned that the organizers and contestants had spent time visiting, giving gifts and encouraging the victims.
But “many still think that we are insensitive," he wrote.
“Instead of arguing, let’s start doing things that are more practical and meaningful. Just focusing on criticism does not make life and people better."
Phan Anh’s comment received a lot of public feedback.
A Facebook user, Thanh Phuc disagreed with Anh: "Are the images of beautiful girls smiling on stage meaningful images? In any programme or contract, there may be a clause for canceling or postponing due to national disaster.”
The programme should have been delayed, I think. We cannot laugh on the pain of people destroyed by a typhoon. Beauty contests are dime a dozen, there are so many that I, and many others, cannot remember.”
Others saw merit in Anh’s argument.
Hoàng Phương Mai, who has been to many beauty contests, felt the event should have been held as planned.
“People should think about the organizers. Delay or stopping will cost them a lot… affect the whole contest and result in other issues,” she said.
“Stopping the contest does not mean helping the victims. The organisers and contestants also supported residents before the event. That should be recognised.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than everyone putting their differences aside to help people in the face of catastrophe.”
Nguyễn Hữu Trường, who works for a private advertisement company in Hà Nội, said he sympathised with the beauty contest organisers and also shared his support to the flood victims.
“The organisers and participants made a charity trip for the local victims. But I think it would have been better if they also spent time during the programme to raise money for the storm relief,” he said.
“Many events are not suspended automatically. Entertainment programmes have been deftly adjusted or mixed with charitable activities so that their programmes will not be deemed inappropriate in a certain situation.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has intervened and asked the People’s Committee of Khánh Hòa Province and the organisers to postpone the Miss Universe Vietnam 2017 contest until the consequences of natural disasters are overcome. It has asked organisers to report to the ministry and provincial authorities on plans to resume the contest.
If we are to acknowledge the suffering of people by canceling entertaining events it might not make sense, but there is a sensitivity involved in terms of when and where it is done. There is a time for mourning and a time for action, and in the aftermath of a disaster when people are still suffering, it is the latter that counts. -- VNS