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last week tonight with john oliver, miss america pageant

In this 2014 excerpt from HBO’s late night satirical news program,Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver targets the longstanding Miss American Pageant. Oliver critiques the pageant’s adherence to outdated traditions and beauty rituals, wondering why such entertainment still exists today. He points to the double standards and contradictions central to the pageant’s criteria and rules which require women to be unmarried, childless, show off their bikini bodies, as well as answer extremely complex foreign policy questions. Oliver goes on to question the organization’s non-profit status and its claim to be the world’s largest provider ($45 million) of scholarships to women. While research by Oliver and his staff proves that these numbers are indeed inflated and misleading, he also concedes that no other organization gives as much to female-only scholarships, asking viewers who are invested in change to consider searching out and donating to other such scholarships.


Are beauty pageants inherently about judging and valuing women based on their looks? Can they be changed to minimize objectification of women’s bodies? If so, how?

How does the Miss America pageant (and other beauty pageants) perpetuate certain stereotypes and ideals of femininity and female beauty? Are some of the criteria and pageant rituals (especially tied to beauty) potentially outdated, if not retrograde?

How does Oliver use humor and satire to critique on the Miss America Pageant? Is his use of satire effective?

Why do you think the requirements for the pageant contestants include that women have to be never married and never pregnant? Does this pageant (and others like it) rely on double standards about males and females? How?

What is the purpose of the question and answer portion of beauty pageants? Should contestants be given more time to discuss world issues? How would focusing more on this section of the competition change the pageant?

Is there value in the Miss America pageant? Should it continue to exist?

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