So let’s get a couple things out of the way first:
1. Steve Harvey has too many jobs.
Steve Harvey is the host of The Steve Harvey Morning Show. And Family Feud. And Steve Harvey the talk show. That’s three full-time jobs. Plus dozens of panels, talks and seminars. And, I’m assuming, a couple hundred or so fittings per year for custom-made rhinestone blazers and patent leather hospital shoes. When you have too much stuff going on, you’re bound to f—k something up. It just so happens that this something happened in front of a billion people.
2. There are many people who believe Harvey’s flub is a bit of karmic payback.
Harvey was a very popular stand-up comic who also helmed a successful sitcom for six years. But the main reason Harvey has a thousand jobs today—and why he’s worth over $100 million—is his status as a relationship-advice guru. It started with the popular “Strawberry Letter” segment of The Steve Harvey Morning Show, where people (mostly women) wrote in to the show with their relationship problems so he could offer advice. The success and popularity of this led to Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady (a best-seller). Which led to a very successful movie based on the book. Which then led to the type of cultural visibility necessary to get your own talk show. Or a gig hosting Family Feud. And a gig hosting Miss Universe.
But there are many who believe that Harvey is, at the very least, a hypocrite who doles out relationship advice despite the fact that he’s been married three times and is no stranger to infidelity. And, at the very worst, a charlatan who’s made millions of dollars by taking advantage of certain relationship insecurities possessed by (many) black women by offering homespun advice that’s often regressive, misogynistic and plainly wrong.
And that someone like him would make such a major gaffe on such a huge platform could be considered a form of karma.
But let’s forget about all of that for a moment. Instead, let’s focus on what should be the biggest takeaway from Sunday night: This was the best thing that could have happened to the Miss Universe pageant.
Some context: While running an after-school program a decade ago, I had a few grad students working for me. One of these kids happened to be the reigning Miss Pennsylvania. I later learned that she was competing in the Miss USA pageant, not Miss America. I knew there was a structural difference between the two—Miss America stands alone, but the Miss USA winner competes in Miss Universe—but I wasn’t sure if there were any other differences in mission and/or agenda. So one day I asked her.
Her reply (paraphrasing): “Oh, definitely! Miss America is more of a conservative function. Almost like an actual talent show. A scholarship pageant. Miss USA is all about sex!”
“Yes, really. You’re graded and judged on your sex appeal.”
Now, was she exaggerating? Perhaps. I’m sure there are factors besides good genes and how you look in jeans that help contestants. Like spatial intelligence and spades-playing ability. Also, I’m sure sex appeal also remains a major factor in who’s crowned Miss America. There’s a reason they’re paraded in ball gowns and swimsuits and not hardhats and lab coats. But it doesn’t take a major mental leap to suggest that a company (Miss Universe) owned by Donald Trump for 19 years was ultimately a roundabout way for Trump to vet and audition potential future ex-wives.
Pageants are, on every level, ridiculous functions. The idea of placing dozens of extraordinarily beautiful and conspicuously single (they’re “Miss” for a reason) women onstage for us to gawk at and grade their beauty is ridiculous. Not ridiculous in a “we need to stop this from happening” sense. These are, after all, grown and accomplished women with agency making their own choices. But ridiculous in an “I can’t believe this is happening” sense.
They’re fascinating. A fascinating and supremely interesting anachronism. Like someone rocking Karl Kani in 2015. And if you saw someone walking down the street today in a Karl Kani jumpsuit, you wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—try to stop that person from doing it. Instead, you’d probably just stare in awe and wonder. (And then you’d say “No, I don’t want any CDs.” Because anyone rocking a Karl Kani jumpsuit in 2015 is definitely also selling CDs.)
This—the inherent abject ridiculousness—doesn’t negate how hard the contestants work. Or the feelings of the hundreds of millions watching and/or invested in the outcome. But from a foundational level, this entire institution is absurd. A farce made even more farcical by the fact that it was owned by Donald Trump. (Please reread that sentence for emphasis.) A man who’s repeatedly made inappropriate comments about the physical beauty of his own daughter and only relinquished ownership of Miss Universe after NBC got mad at him for calling Mexicans a bunch of rapists.
That said, it does consistently make for good television. Which, ultimately, is its primary function. Miss Universe exists today so it can be watched. And what Steve Harvey did was make an already remarkably watchable and unusually fascinating event—albeit one that had grown quite a bit stale—even more watchable and more fascinating.
I’m writing this on a Monday afternoon. Harvey’s “Harvey” happened Sunday night. Between then and now, I’ve watched and/or talked about the footage of him sheepishly walking to the stage—seriously, he was walking exactly how my dog walks when he’s in trouble for eating a blanket—to inform the crowd and an elated Miss Colombia of his mistake approximately 33,212 times. Which is 33,212 times more attention than I (and, I suspect, most of you reading this) would have paid the Miss Universe pageant if that didn’t happen.
In less than a year, Miss Universe lost Donald Trump and gained the ghost of Steve Harvey’s gaffe. Which, admittedly, could be like losing herpes but gaining gout. But at least this gout is GIF-able. Which, in the Miss Universe universe, is a win.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.