The Daily Gamecock

Homecoming pageantry deserves rehaul

If ever I needed a reminder that I’m studying abroad in the deep South, last night it hit me loud and clear. Sitting in USC’s enormous old basketball stadium, the Carolina Coliseum, I watched the evening’s entertainment unfold. This week is Homecoming Week: a string of events hosted to foster a sense of school spirit and community on campus. The Homecoming theme this year is “The United States of Carolina,” a patriotic nod to the U.S. and South Carolina. So all the acts took to the stage at the Homecoming Showcase with more national pride and Appalachian effervescence than ever.

The Showcase hosts the annual crowning of Homecoming King and Queen. Five male and female nominees must perform one talent, strut the stage in their formal wear and answer a question drawn from a hat. As one female contestant told the compère why her mom is her biggest inspiration in life in a thick Southern accent, a renewed awareness of my surroundings washed over me. It occurred to me afterward that there really isn’t anything remotely similar to this in British university life.

All of the acts in the talent round varied greatly. From singing and dancing to a satirical interpretation of synchronized swimming, the acts showed how much effort and devotion the nominees had poured into their dream of becoming the Homecoming monarchs of 2013.

I’m not completely sure what gaining the title of Homecoming King and Queen entails. I understand that the winners are students in their final years, who have contributed significantly — usually extraordinarily — to their colleges and communities. I know that the winners get to ride on the Homecoming Parade float and that they will receive BNOC status around the university. For all of my American readers, “BNOC” is a term that Brits affectionately bestow upon “famous” students — hence “Big Name On Campus,” pronounced phonetically as “bee-knock.”

As a temporary Gamecock with a Brits-eye view upon the unique flavor of Carolinian life, you might expect me to come out and slam the nature of the Homecoming Showcase because it’s so far from what I’m used to at home. Once candidates have survived the application process, it is effectively a pageant that judges nominees on their ability to entertain, look handsome and beautiful, and answer a cliché question on the spot. This doesn’t exactly resonate with stereotypical “British” morals: a straight-talking, no-nonsense, stiff upper-lip with no time for gaining credentials based on a brief examination of outward appearances and loaded statements.
But I think that the American tradition of Homecoming King and Queen just needs a makeover, that’s all. Some of the candidates were aspiring doctors and pastors. Some of them had worked with sex-trafficking victims in South America and have internships alongside their degrees that may as well constitute a full-time job. I believe that highlighting the wealth of incredible achievements of our Homecoming candidates can only be a positive thing, and putting these students in the spotlight could potentially be a way to encourage other students to get involved with the world outside the student bubble.

But the format of the Homecoming Showcase doesn’t flatter these illuminating individuals enough. Over 30,000 students attend USC’s Columbia campus. Despite this, the arena was only one-third full and the audience was carved up into huge sections of various supporters cheering on their friend, sorority sister and classmate — but not many people had come to watch and cast an objective vote. The format of the showcase is, unfortunately, a popularity contest that focuses too much on empty admiration and breezes past the incredible accomplishments of its candidates.

I’m sure this year’s winners are fully deserving of their crowns. But I think that it would have been a closer, more earnest competition had the format of the showcase allowed candidates more time to focus on their fantastic talents and achievements that cannot be contained to a three-minute time-slot on stage. As long as the Homecoming Showcase continues to reward candidates for stage performances and catwalk struts, it will remain a competition that prides visual entertainment, popularity and style over intellect, charisma and sophistication.

— Evelyn Robinson, second-year international English and history student