- JOCK-ULAR?: Smith's annual beauty contest has become a staple of local radio.
Arkansas is an old boys club, or a good ol' boy network, whatever you want to call it. In small towns, schools are run by a select few influential community members or — and this is probably true more often than not — the athletic director. It's a place where god-like status is conferred upon ex-Hogs and where, in the hallowed halls of state government, right in the middle of committee hearings, you can hear jokes about a female representative's “preference for thongs.” This actually happened. If you don't believe me just go and hang around at the Capitol for about 15 minutes.
Blake Rutherford reported on his blog earlier in the week about the small controversy stirred up over the release of Arkansas Business' “25 for the Future,” a list of 25 movers and shakers that will shape the state in the years to come. Some felt there weren't enough women on the list (there were four) and even those who put the list together agree. Gwen Moritz, editor of AB, said in a statement that, “For many reasons — hardly any of them blatantly discriminatory — the world of business is still dominated by men, and as long as that is true, Arkansas Business is likely to include the names and faces of more men than women.”
So I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise that March Madness brought with it yet another round of the “Local Babe Bracket,” a yearly battle between local celebrity-types and news personalities put on by 103.7 The Buzz. Tommy Smith has offered his national “Babe Bracket” for 11 years now and the local bracket, actually named “Dave Bazzel's 2009 Local Babe Bracket” for Smith's co-host, has gained popularity over the last couple of seasons.
I know, I know. It's fun and it's good for ratings, but it is sexist. It is a popularity contest in which women are judged strictly on physical attractiveness. To hear 103.7 tell it, every one of the “babes” agrees to be seeded and no one has ever expressed a problem with the yearly tournament.
According to Lindy Blackstone, promotions and marketing director for The Buzz, nearly every contestant goes on the morning show to promote herself and have a good time. That's all well and good, but out of the local news personalities that I talked to that were included in the bracket, and some of those who weren't, none wanted to talk about the competition on the record.
Blackstone says the event is all in good fun, and that's probably true for the women who get included. For others, I imagine it might be a little humiliating to sit in a morning news meeting with co-workers who are deemed hotter than you. What if someone came up with a “Local Studs” bracket? Tommy Smith probably wouldn't make it. Would that cause a rift between him and his co-host, the ever-so-dreamy Bazzel?
“We're a male-dominated station,” Blackstone says. “It's a silly, fun game that Tommy has done for years. The local bracket has really only exploded in the past couple of years. This is what the listeners want, this is what they like, so we've jumped on board and gone with it.”
All of that aside, it is worth noting, as I'm sure others have, that the bracket did include an honorary spot for the late Anne Pressly. Pressly's spot was labeled “In Memory.” She had no opponent and did not advance past her initial bye in the first-round, but her inclusion was curious.
Blackstone says that Pressly was always willing to lend a helping hand to The Buzz at their local celebrity events and won second place in the tournament last year.
“She was an absolute dear friend to the Buzz family,” Blackstone says. “She supported us and was always one of the first to volunteer for our events. Last year, she was a runner-up to Beth Hunt in the babe bracket. We just thought this would be another way for us to honor her and remember her.”
The Buzz is, of course, not the only station to run such a contest. Many other stations do and often use puns to name each of the rounds, like the “Sexy 16” and the “Exquisite 8.” One can only cringe at the possible alliteration to be found with the word “four.”
I did not know Anne Pressly. By all accounts she was a sweet, smart and competent young woman. I can't help but think there are better ways to honor her memory than giving her an honorary slot in a superficial contest.