Friday, January 30, 2009

Broken Wings

I don't offend easily. Honestly, I don't.

(As with everything though, I have my exceptions. For a clue, scroll down to the Ban the 'R' Word button on this page. You know what word I mean, and I know you aren't referring to my son, and I know you really don't mean it. But I don't really care, and besides, that's a whole 'nother blog post.)

OK, so we've established that I don't offend easily. Regular readers of this blog know - or should have surmised by now - that I'm a native Philadelphian, proud of my origins in the City of Brotherly Love that booed Santa Claus and burned down an entire city block.

One day a year, I get offended and more than a little embarrassed for the denizens of my city. The occasion? Wing Bowl.

Unfamiliar with this exercise in gluttony and debauchery? Then simply mosey on over to http://www.philly.com/, where Wing Bowl 17 (yes, this would be the 17th annual incarnation of this ... this ... there isn't a word for it, really) has been the top story all day, and prepare for an edd-joo-mah-kay-shun. Or go to the esteemed Wikipedia and plunk in Wing Bowl. I'd provide you with the links myself, but this is a family-friendly blog.

For the blessedly uninitiated, Wing Bowl began in Philadelphia in 1993 as a chicken-wing eating contest sponsored by the host of a local sports-talk radio station. Held on the Friday before the Super Bowl, it was kind of like Philly's consolation prize for not making it to the big game. It had it's share of criticism, mainly from people boo-hooing that a) such an event had no business being held in Philly, once voted the fattest city in America and b) that it promotes obesity. (Most of the contestants are already well on their way down that path.) Still, prominent politicians (like Pennsylvania's current governor) attended this soiree, sponsors forked over big bucks, and every news station sent reporters to Wing Bowl.

Now, 17 years later, the event (and make no bones about it, Wing Bowl is most definitely an event) has quite the following. It's held in a stadium. One filled with 20,000 people. At 6:30 in the morning. It's covered by every local media outlet and beyond.

As I do every morning, today I logged onto philly.com to access The Philadelphia Inquirer. I need to read the obituaries every morning, first thing. I need to know if anyone I am even remotely acquainted with has departed this earth. (Yes, I've discussed these issues with a therapist. More than one, as a matter of fact.)

Greeting me on the home page this morning was a photo of a Wingette sans clothes. And underwear. Stark naked. Full frontal nudity right there in my morning paper. (Oh, you're wondering what a Wingette is? 'Tis a scantily-clan pretty young thing, usually employed by one of the dozen of strip clubs supporting Wing Bowl, or just some attention-starved nubile 20-something. There's no shortage of Wingettes at Wing Bowl.) I should have been warned because philly.com did provide me with this helpful piece of advice. Advisory: Content on the Wing Bowl page may be considered graphic by some readers.

As I've said, I'm hard to offend. But, this was nothing less than offensive on so many levels. Thankfully, the kids had already left for school, or else there would have been a good chance one of them would have been hovering over the computer. And what then would I have told my 7-year old daughter? How would one have explained why that girl wasn't wearing any clothes, and why there was a picture of an obese guy looking quite ill, hot sauce dribbling down his chin, and a bevy of babes whose cleavage was emblazoned with "PADDY WHACKER"?

Because it's a little more complicated than saying that Miss Wingette made a bad choice. It's a commentary on why, why, why do women allow themselves to be degraded in this manner (for the attention? the money? both?) and why, in a nation that has lost 76,000 jobs this month (this week?) alone and when nonprofits are stretching dollars and seeing more and more people in need, why are people and corporations and media outlets sinking hundreds upon thousands of dollars into this?

It's because we're paying attention, because this is what sells, because there will be millions of drunken eyeballs foisted on the more than 250 Wing Bowl photos posted at philly.com, because 20,000 people can't be wrong. But that doesn't make it right.

Because I am passionate about issues concerning women and girls, what saddens me most about Wing Bowl is the Wingettes. That each one of them was once someone's baby. Someone's little girl. Someone's daughter.

I finally clicked onto the tab that took me to the obituaries, leaving the debauchery of Wing Bowl behind. Or so I thought, because leading the death notices was this:

Adolph "Ade" Autenreith, 86, a tool-and-die-maker and a spirited Wing Bowl devotee, who after being run over by a pig-shape float at Wing Bowl 12 did not let a bandaged head injury keep him from the debauchery, died of heart failure Sunday at Sunrise Assisted Living in Mount Laurel, where he had lived for three years. Mr. Autenrieth, who had hoped to live long enough to enjoy today's Wing Bowl 17 at the Wachovia Center, had been a longtime resident of the Mayfair section of the Northeast.

An 86-year old man who lived for Wing Bowl. And then I read further, down to the listing of Mr. Autenreith's next-of-kin, and realized why he enjoyed Wing Bowl so much, and why there will be Wing Bowl 18 and 19 and into perpetuity.

His daughter is married to none other than the radio host responsible for creating Wing Bowl.

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