updated 24 Dec 2010, 07:55
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Wed, Jun 16, 2010
The Straits Times
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Brainy beauties and the showgirl slur
by Ho Ai Li

THEY are pretty much a fixture at car and computer fairs these days: Skimpily attired young women gyrating in front of a plasma screen as onlookers ogle and snap pictures.

But the educational background of some of these 'showgirls' has sparked a heated debate in the media pitting educators against entertainment personalities.

For some of them actually hail from Taiwan's finest seat of learning, the National Taiwan University (Taida).

Take 21-year-old Yang Yi-mei. The graduate from the university's faculty of international enterprise has become a big name in Taiwan's online circles with her doe-eyed looks and fulsome figure.

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their brains?

She gained notice among gamers after starring in an advertisement for an online game.

While the likes of Ms Yang have smashed stereotypes and shown that beauty and brains do indeed mix, not everyone is happy about this.

'It's quite a pity,' Taida president Lee Si-chen said last weekend.

'With the intelligence and natural gifts of Taida students, they should be able to take on tougher missions and jobs. While they are paid well as showgirls, they should be able to find more suitable jobs on the basis of their inner qualities.'

Another educator, Mr Lee Chia-tung, a former president of the National Chi Nan University, was more blunt, calling it 'extremely crass' that Taida graduates should use their looks to make a living.

Their comments have sparked a debate about whether it is right for students from elite universities to become showgirls, a job that is usually a stepping stone to the island's entertainment industry.

Many jumped on Dr Lee Si-chen's remarks for what they see as an unwarranted bias against showgirls and artists in general.

Mr Fu Wei-che, the head of Taida's student union, said all occupations are equal and that there is nothing wrong with Taida students becoming showgirls.

Who says showgirls do not have qualities beyond their looks, he asked.

Popular host Matilda Tao did not mince her words.

'High educational qualifications do not mean everything. A Taida graduate may also be a corrupt president,' she said, referring to former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, who was found guilty of corruption last year.

'If scholars still have a bad impression of the entertainment business, it means that we need to work harder. But I think scholars should not tar everyone with the same brush,' added Ms Tao, herself a graduate of the elite National Chengchi University.

Others have criticised the two educators for being out of touch with the aspirations of the young.

Host Nancy Kou, a regular on popular political satire show Party, said many people used to look down on the entertainment business, but added that times have changed.

She has a point. Most of the 1,588 primary school children surveyed in a poll in April said they wanted to become singers or actors when they grow up.

Even the venerable China Times paper, usually the guardian of culture and morality, took a non-judgmental stance, noting that fresh graduates faced great challenges in the job market.

'Our young people have it tough. There are more and more graduates but the kind of jobs open to them are limited,' Ms Chen Man-li, an activist in women's and environmental issues, told The Straits Times.

'There may not be that many office jobs available; some may have to take on less traditional work,' she added.

In response to criticisms, Dr Lee Si-chen later clarified his comments to stress that all occupations are equal.

Taida students have been given more of society's resources in the form of a subsidised education and should contribute back to society in the professional arena, he added.

This is hardly the first time that these elite students have been criticised, underlining the high expectations many people have of the university, which has produced the Who's Who of Taiwan, from President Ma Ying-jeou to acclaimed writer Pai Hsien-yung.

Last year, medical students from Taida had the spotlight cast on them after a visiting lecturer spilled the beans on how some dozed off or ate in class and did not take their lessons seriously.

'If you don't want to study, why not give the chance to someone who wants to do so?' wrote well-known Taiwan educationist Hong Lan.

The same could be said of Taida students who have their sights set on becoming showgirls or joining the entertainment business, argued a doctorate student from the school, Mr Yu Bing-hong, in a letter to the United Daily News.

'If (they) want to become only showgirls or join show biz, why slog so hard to be admitted into Taida?' he asked.

Singer-composer Huang Shu-chun, who has a master's degree in business administration from Taida, said that had he known he was going to be a singer, he would not have needed to study at Taida.

In some cases, the distractions of the entertainment business have caused students to neglect their studies.

The latest controversy has also raised questions about the use of nubile young women to sell products.

Ms Chen, though, believes there is nothing wrong per se with Taida girls becoming showgirls as long as nothing illegal is involved.

'Everyone is young only once and should be given the chance to try.'

Ms Yang, for one, does not regret her decision to be a showgirl and join show business.

She said: 'If people ask what I'm doing, I'd tell them proudly that I'm involved in the management of myself as a product.'

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This article was first published in The Straits Times.

readers' comments
If 'showgirls' are earning the same as uni grads, its going to devalue the purpose of a degree. Kids should want to go into universities with the mentality to learn, not just on earning big bucks.
Posted by shybunny on Thu, 17 Jun 2010 at 14:38 PM
Aiyah! Educators should WAKEUP and come down from their IVORY TOWER!! A lot of people have University degrees these days, and cannot find jobs. It is a requirement now to have LOOKS and BRIANS to standout. These 'street smart' good looking U grads know this and are leveraging on it.

You go to China.......throw a stone, hit ten people, at least 5 to 6 are U grads. I once had a master degree holder as my secretary in China. So......a U degree is a basic requirement these days........

Wake Up People!!
Posted by cityahbeng on Thu, 17 Jun 2010 at 11:07 AM

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