YouTubers have made fun of it. The Miss Teen USA contestant has disavowed it. But is it possible that Lauren Caitlin Upton's incoherent response to a pageant question about geographic illiteracy featured at least one moment of, well, coherency?
In short: Is it possible that Americans can't locate their homeland on a map because, as Upton asserted at Friday's Miss Teen USA pageant, there just aren't enough maps to go around?
"No, I don't think so," author and former social-studies teacher David J. Smith said Tuesday. "We don't have a culture that makes it important for youths to understand maps."
"But there are plenty of maps."
Don't expect an argument on that point from Upton. On Tuesday's Today Show, the 18-year-old college-bound pageant hopeful said she was "laughing at [her]self" as she watched the playback of her painful 50 seconds or so in the spotlight. [Watch the clip.]
"Everything did come at me at once," Upton said on the NBC News show. "I was overwhelmed. Everybody makes mistakes. I'm human."
As TV gaffes go, Upton's was neither blue, nor outrageous. It was just good, old-fashioned embarrassing.
During the question-and-answer portion of the show, Upton, a finalist representing South Carolina, was asked why she thought one-fifth of Americans couldn't locate the United States on a map.
"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps," Upton replied.
On a roll, Upton kept right on going—downhill.
"And I believe that our education like, such as South Africa, and, the Iraq, everywhere such as," Upton said, inventing new turns of phrase with each passing second, "and I believe that they should [insert missing word here—please] our education over here in the U.S., should help the U.S., and should help South Africa, and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future for our children."
At that point, mercifully, host Mario Lopez pulled back the microphone from Upton. Her time was up. But her 15 minutes was just beginning.
Mercy being in short supply on the Internet, clips of Upton's deer-in-the-headlights moment are everywhere. At one point on YouTube on Tuesday, Upton or Upton-related clips accounted for 7 of the day's top 20 most-watched videos—not bad for a contestant who finished third runner-up.
As a TV show, the Miss Teen USA pageant was far less successful, hitting an all-time low in viewers.
Given a second chance to answer the pageant question on The Today Show, Upton rallied with complete sentences, and nary a word about "U.S. Americans."
"Personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on our map," Upton said. "We don't know anyone else who doesn't, and if the statistics are correct, I believe there should be more emphasis on geography and our education, so people will learn to read maps better."
And on that point, Smith, author of the children's social-science book, If the World Were a Village, and Webmaster of Mapping.com, likely wouldn't disagree.
When asked if the Upton incident might spur interest in geography, Smith said, "It would be lovely if it did."
And imagine if it could bring peace to "the Iraq," too.