Cigarettes, terror, and Barack Obama: Glamour is Serious Stuff

So many insights, so little time!

Virginia Postrel at the Weekly Standard writes of “the deeper meaning of glamour,” opening with an anecdote about a C-Span Booknotes watcher who was disappointed that she was involved with the website “DeepGlamour” instead of something serious.

Boy, what a moron! What could be more serious than Deep Glamour? (C-Span’s founder, Brian Lamb, by the way, is a local boy made good.)

Postrel names and reminds readers of a very important pervasive, perhaps even fundamental, human reality: our ability to be persuaded by a bit of mystery – even taken in as suckers (though she doesn’t say that).

As critics who denounce movies that “glamorize violence” or “glamorize smoking” understand, glamour is much more than style. It is a potent tool of persuasion, a form of nonverbal rhetoric that heightens and focuses desire, particularly the longing for transformation (an ideal self) and escape (in a new setting). Glamour is all about hope and change. It lifts us out of everyday experience and makes our desires seem attainable. …

Glamour can, of course, sell evening gowns, vacation packages, and luxury kitchens. But it can also promote moon shots and “green jobs,” urban renewal schemes and military action. (The “glamour of battle” long preceded the glamour of Hollywood.) Californians once found freeways glamorous; today they thrill to promises of high-speed rail. “Terror is glamour,” said Salman Rushdie in a 2006 interview, identifying the inspiration of jihadi terrorists. New Soviet Man was a glamorous concept. So is the American Dream.

Barack Obama was elected partly because his “campaign’s iconography employed classically glamorous themes, with its stylized portraits of the candidate gazing into the distance and its logo of a road stretching toward the horizon.”

Glamour is Serious Stuff. Serious enough that I’m adding it as a category.

My grandmother used to recoil as we watched circus performers in tight or skimpy (by the day’s standards) outfit on black and white television: “Does your mother let you to look at that?” (That’s not a typo; that was one of her speech mannerisms unless my memory is fooling me and she really did say “allow you to look”.) She probably was dimly aware (she of humble origins, widowed at 29 years and for 65 years beyond, worker of fingers-to-the-bone) that this contraption, popularized after her 50th year on earth, was somehow subversive and potentially transformative by bringing glamour into the home in a new way.

It occurs to me that one of the implications of Postrel’s insight is that parents – if they allow their children to watch television at all – need to begin early and age-appropriately to point out the manipulativeness of so much of it, and not just the commercials. The trouble is, identifying the manipulativeness of the shows themselves requires some real work. When smoking was already accepted, who’d have thought that smoking characters were committing glamourization? When consumerism is already accepted ….

I highly commend the article.

2 thoughts on “Cigarettes, terror, and Barack Obama: Glamour is Serious Stuff

  1. […] This is what Dreher calls the “Benedict Option” – semi-monastic, consciously counter-cultural. I’ve been wondering, as has Dreher, whether conscious separation, which surely will get us labelled “fundamentalist,” is the only real option in a very seductive society. […]

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