Lobster Festival leaders need to listen to their community

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | Aug 08, 2018

News that leaders from the Maine Lobster Festival had asked this year's newly crowned Sea Goddess to step down hit our website shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday night.

By Saturday afternoon, the story had received nearly 30,000 views. The vast majority of those responding to our online poll did not support the decision to strip Taylor Hamlin of her crown.

It seems festival organizers took issue with photos posted on social media, including one from more than a year ago of Hamlin holding a joint. Another photo from a few days before showed Hamlin holding a Juul, a device for using nicotine.

Someone would be hard-pressed to argue this was anything short of a public relations catastrophe for the Maine Lobster Festival. This news came directly in the middle of the festival's five-day run.

Our views reflect those of many in the community, and we see several key problems with what festival leaders have done.

First, as far as we know, there were no written rules stating contestants in this event would be disqualified for these specific issues: social media posts showing smoking or drug use. It may seem a common sense move to some, but without written rules that gives a lot of power to the festival leadership. Their decisions can and have been challenged as unfair and arbitrary.

Second, these photos were clearly pointed out to the festival leadership by someone who had an ax to grind, calling into question the motives for this decision.

Granted, high school sports stars can lose their place on a team if they are caught at a drinking party because they have broken the rules. In those situations, however, the coach or teacher tells the student this decision has been made in a straightforward manner based on established rules, and then stands by the decision as one they made publicly.

However, Hamlin was asked to sign a document saying she could not perform her duties as Sea Goddess. They tried to get her to go quietly and told her she could keep the scholarship money.

This is similar to the manner in which a Sea Princess was asked to quietly leave the competition a few years back after she was in the news for having had a Confederate flag stolen from her pickup truck.

If the festival leadership is making a righteous decision, it should be willing to own that decision publicly and not attempt to mislead the community into believing these young women left of their own accord.

The festival leaders should have met with Hamlin and told her that during the next 12 months she would be barred from any inappropriate behavior or online posts. This would have been a way to both teach a young person and use the restorative justice approach now used by our schools. When working with young people, it is better to teach than to punish.

The festival and especially the Sea Goddess pageant are beloved local traditions. They are as central to Rockland, Maine's culture as any holiday on the calendar. Traditionally, many people in this area have had a certain image of the Sea Goddess in their minds and what this person represents in terms of values.

And yet, times change. Our values have changed and evolved. In many ways, the entire idea of a beauty pageant clashes with these evolving values and seems an outdated concept. So in a certain sense this is a crisis for the festival and the community.

The outcry from the community has been passionate.

Festival leaders need to issue an apology to the community or some kind of humble acknowledgement of the anxiety this decision has created.

Now may also be the time to rewrite and clarify the rules governing the pageant, and maybe it's time to consider drastic changes to evolve with the times. Should this be a "pageant," or some kind of local talent competition. Should it be open to more than one gender?

Festival leaders need to remember that this festival can only succeed with support from the larger community.

As a postscript, we also want to remind community members that this is an organization made up of volunteers who happen to be our friends and neighbors. The festival does a lot of good in our community. We have heard that some of the leaders have received threats and that is never appropriate. We need to keep this thing in perspective, and remember you are going to run into the people you talk about online in the store next week!

Editor's note: We learned after this editorial went to press that the Lobster Festival did issue an apology on its Facebook page.

Comments (1)
Posted by: cathy trueman | Aug 10, 2018 08:51

Excellent editorial!  Very valid and well thought out points were made.  While it is nice that an apology was posted on Facebook, it seems like it would be beneficial if it was also sent to the local papers too.  Many of us have Facebook, but there are many others who don't have it or are not connected to the Lobster Festival page.

 

Well done Courier, not only on this editorial, but on the excellent reporting of the incident itself and the many situations that arose from it.



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