Fragments From 'Stung! The Musical'

From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman takes a look at Miss America's recent involvement in a cybersex sting.

[Fade in. Lauren Nelson, the reigning MISS AMERICA, is walking in her hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma, when she catches sight of her reflection in a department store window.]

MISS AMERICA

Who is that girl?

She glows like the dawn

I admire her smile

And the clothes she has on

I feel a kinship

With this princess of Lawton

I once knew her name

But now I've forgotten

[MISS AMERICA's reflection replies.]

REFLECTION

You seem to be

In some kind of shock

My clothes, of course, were taken from your closet

You are acting as dumb

As a big box of rocks

(Lawton is famous for its granite deposits.)

Am I speaking too fast?

Can you see the full view?

I'm not just a girl!

I'm you! I'm you!

[MISS AMERICA faints. Her REFLECTION does not. She sings a swelling ballad that explains MISS AMERICA's consternation.]

REFLECTION

Once upon a time

In Atlantic City

Young women convened

To show that they were pretty

Girls posed and smiled

That was the tradition

Soon enough the whole shebang

Became a competition

They called it Miss America

For years she ruled the world

She survived Vanessa Williams

Butt-naked with another girl

In recent years, however,

She has fallen far

Reality TV, you see,

Has killed the pageant star

Lying at my feet

Is a sad anachronism

Let's retrace her troubles

By moving through time's prism

[The scene fades out. When the lights return, it is three weeks earlier. BROCK MURPHY, a policeman in Suffolk County, is trying to convince MISS AMERICA to work with him on an online operation to capture pedophiles.]

BROCK MURPHY

Help me out! Come on now! Give me the time!

You have the power to help us fight crime!

MISS AMERICA

I'd love to help

But I am unsure

How this will work.

I'll be used as a lure?

BROCK MURPHY

Help me out! Come on now! Give it a try!

You have the power to nail this guy!

MISS AMERICA

Again, I will help

But I need some details

Do you need me to chat?

To send out emails?

BROCK MURPHY

Help me out! Come on now! Give it a shot!

Let's put these dirtbags in jail to rot!

[MISS AMERICA, resigned to the fact that she won't get straight answers from BROCK MURPHY, decides to help.]

MISS AMERICA

I believe in law and order

In juries and in trials

I will help you catch

These loathsome pedophiles

BROCK MURPHY

I'm glad your sense of justice

Is unbowed and undaunted

Oh, by the way, we're filming this

For "America's Most Wanted."

[BROCK MURPHY sets up the sting operation. Using old pictures of MISS AMERICA, he creates an online profile for "Lee-Lee," who claims to be a fourteen-year-old girl interested in having "a good time" with an older man. JIM, a troubled layabout in his early thirties, begins chatting on the Internet with "Lee-Lee." They strike up a friendship that turns intimate and soon enough "Lee-Lee" agrees to meet for sex. JIM is thrilled.]

JIM

I have met the most beautiful girl

Her hair is spun gold. Each eye is a pearl.

I feel a love I could not have foreseen

The best thing about her? She's only fourteen!

[JOE, Jim's much smarter roommate, comes into the room.]

JOE

Who are you texting?

It's probably a sex sting.

JIM

Don't be ridiculous

I have found true love

A lonely hand can sometimes

Locate the perfect glove

JOE

Whatever, dude.

Do we have any food?

[JIM goes to meet "Lee-Lee." He wears cologne and carries a copy of Avril Lavigne's The Best Damn Thing as a gift. When he arrives, he is greeted by the police and MISS AMERICA.]

MISS AMERICA

I'm happy to say

That you'll no longer prey

On an innocent teen

JIM

You're not fourteen!

[JIM's arrest is filmed and shown on the Fox network. Later, when the case comes to trial, JIM's lawyer argues that since JIM spoke to MISS AMERICA, she will have to return to be a witness at the trial. MISS AMERICA, who has returned to Lawton, refuses.]

MISS AMERICA

I helped you nab the bad guys

And avoid a tragic sex attack

But listen when I tell you

I'm not coming back

No - I'm not coming back

I know this sounds unethical

Or selfish at the least

But I need you to understand

I'm not coming east

No - I'm not coming east

[This enrages prosecutors, who feel that this decision may hamper their ability to get a conviction. Prosecutors also note that MISS AMERICA's presence at the arrest was entirely unnecessary.]

PROSECUTORS

We had a chance to get these guys

Before this publicity stunt

How dare you pull this nonsense,

You self-serving little—

MISS AMERICA

Please, please

I wish you'd settle down

I am Miss America

I wear a lovely crown

It upsets me deeply

To see the rage upon your face

I am deeply sorry

If I've jeopardized your case

But...

You can run your stings with another stinger

I'm sorry if frustrations linger

Remember when I was a singer

In the talent portion of the show?

The song was "What Kind of Fool Am I?"

Well, now I guess we know.

[PROSECUTORS and police publicize MISS AMERICA's refusal to testify. Under pressure, MISS AMERICA recants.]

MISS AMERICA

Yesterday I made a cop irate

By saying I wouldn't assist him

Today I say I'll cooperate

When a cop is nice who can resist him?

Oh, the other pageants have their problems

Tara Conner drank and snorted

I feel only pride about

The criminals that I have thwarted

So why shouldn't I lend a hand

To bring these men to justice?

I stand up with society

And declare that they disgust us

I will testify

Of course I will

My duty to the courts

Is a duty I'll fulfill

I will testify

For the prosecution

I was part of the problem

Now I'm part of the solution

[As the trial nears, MISS AMERICA remains in Lawton, where she enjoys a considerable amount of local celebrity. She confides to close friends that she is still not sure about testifying, but that neither she nor the pageant can weather any more bad publicity. The strain of the impending trial weighs on her. One day she is walking in the street when she catches sight of her reflection in a department store window. Her reflection opens its mouth to sing. Fade out.]

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, is just being published.

Previously: Fragments From 'Shetty Woman! The Musical'