Glamour - Postrel and Getting This Right

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Glamour - Postrel and Getting This Right

This thread actually started as a post to another discussion. But as I kept writing, it became clear this is too important a topic--it needs a separate discussion.

I put it here in Writing Techniques, but it really belongs to all aesthetics and marketing. Below is the post that I was responding to, which has the added luxury for me of starting with a quote from... who?... you guessed it... tadaa!... me!


(How's that for glamorous? :smile: )


Funny you should talk about this. What a damn coincidence.

Yesterday I bought Postrel's book on glamour, and the one on style. I stumbled across a reference to them, looked them up and they seemed really good from the descriptions and reader reviews. So I ordered them.

Here. Lemee give a plug since Illinois changed the law and I'm an Amazon associate again :smile: :

The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion by Virginia Postrel

The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness by Virginia Postrel

I'm waiting for them to arrive. This is my cup of tea so I can't wait to dig in.


There was a YouUbe link to a Virginia Postrel interview on RoR-- I think from Steve W. I enjoyed the interview; I ordered the book, too.

I just now finished this video.

btw - My two books by Postrel arrived today. Dayaamm! That was fast. I ordered them the day before yesterday. Obviously I haven't read them before making this thread. I did a quick skim and, from what I saw, I am certain I am not going to be disappointed.

This thing has rocked my world.

Yayyy Postrel!

This woman has given voice to a lot of stuff that has happened in my life, a lot of the ideas I have held but didn't have the words for. (Don't forget I have been a professional musician and producer.)

Here are some random thoughts:

1. I like her breakdown of glamour into three essential components.

a. Transcendence, which means something glamorous gives you a feeling of escape, of transport to a different place, a better reality than the one you have and that you dream about. The difference between this and pure fantasy is you believe this exists and you can have it.

b. Grace, meaning glamorous things are shown as effortless. All the flaws are gone, even though a crapload of messy work went into making a flawless impression.

c. Mystery, which leaves something to the imagination. Glamorous things are distant enough that you don't get the full picture, but close enough to inspire a wish to know more. They cover and reveal at the same time. Postrel uses the word translucent.

2. Ayn Rand is all about glamour. Hell, the description above is practically a checklist of how she positioned her good guys in her fiction.

3. There are a couple of quotes I loved from the video:

Glamour is an illusion that tells the truth about desire...

. . .

If you acknowledge you find something glamorous, it makes you vulnerable.

This is important to know. It is especially important in the political world if you are someone who wants to share your passions. In the Saul Alinsky environment of partisan bickering, the name of the game is ridicule what the other finds important.

If you believe something is glamorous and someone is hounding you to ridicule it, I believe it is OK to spit on that person and get him or her away from you. This is because you are vulnerable and it will hurt. (And there's no shame in it. Welcome to the human race.)

Also, nine times out of ten, such people are not even mocking in earnest. They couldn't care less about discussing the object you find glamorous. Thier target is you or something you are promoting (like ideas).

On the other hand, I have been studying humor, too. (John Morreal, for instance, is one among several people I'm studying.)

One of the main points about humor is that you need psychological distance for it to work. And with glamour, I can't help but notice that you need psychological distance for that to work, too.

So it occurs to me that if you want to totally trash someone with humor, not in a fun way, but in a humiliation "let's declare war" way, simply do some thinking to figure out what they find glamorous, find the translucent points, then expose the messy stuff in a comical way.

For instance, with lefties, when they talk about redistribution of wealth and hold out the glamour of a college education, the messy part is collecting (or plundering) the wealth from folks. (There are other messy parts, too, like the slavery of student loans, but let's stick with collecting for now.)

All you need to do is show an undeserving college kid (grungy, smoking dope, partying, etc.) holding a check, a hardworking person being robbed, and a slogan like "Creating the Future in America."

That's a real simple example off the top of my head. Imagine what you can do with this if you get in a nasty mood. :smile:

4. I read a book by Sally Hogshead not too long ago called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. A discussion of this book is outside the scope of this post, but leave it to say that I believe her fascination triggers are precisely the raw materials for building glamour with if you are into creating an image for a person or cause or campaign.

5. I am currently in the middle of a book called Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss by Laurence Rees. It sounds weird but Hitler's early years were all glamorous from a Hitler supporter perspective. Later he lost the glamour and became charismatic only. (Postrel makes a distinction between charisma and glamour.) It never occurred to me before this book and listening to Postrel to think about Hitler as glamorous, but during a certain time for a certain public, he most certainly was.

6. I thought it was kinda cool that in the video, Postrel mentioned that there's an entry in TV Tropes called Magical Database. She was talking about how something as mundane as a database could have a glamorous aspect. I would have to see the video again to hone in on her point more clearly. I'm just mentioning it because it's cool and nothing more. :smile:

7. I find watching these videos before I read the respective book makes the ideas in the reading a lot more sticky in my head. The viewing primes my mind and gives a relevant context to the experience of reading the book. I recommend the process to anyone who wants to follow a similar path.

8. Here is a video of Postrel giving a 2004 TED Talk on Glamour. This is interesting because the copyright of her book is 2013. It's kinda cool to see the book as an infant, so to speak.

And here's a recent CATO talk by her. I haven't seen it yet, but I will soon.

Since this is not an article per se, there is no conclusion or anything like that. These are random ideas to prompt a discussion and draw attention to Virginia Postrel, who I believe is an important thinker.

I can't believe I've missed her stuff up to now.

Thanks to Fred for bringing her to my attention.


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I have only just started this book, Glamour, and already there are two marvelous quotes:

p. 4:

The same imaginative process that led an orphaned child to see her ideal self in a photo of a ballerina has sent nations to war and put men on the moon, transformed the landscape and built business empires. It made California the Golden State and Paris the City of Light. Cinema and fashion traffic in it; so to tourism and construction. It sells penthouses and cruises, sports cars and high-heeled shoes, college educations and presidential candidates. It inspires religious vocations in scientific research, suicidal terrorism and show-business dreams. It gives form to desire and substance to hope.

I just love that last: "It gives form to desire and substance to hope."

This isn't hope of rescue, but the hope of fulfilling a dream.

Please understand my enthusiasm. I have been doing some fiction projects in earnest. Part of the whole problem of writing anything that smacks of heroic ambition, as opposed to a character becoming a hero because he has been put in such a pickle he has to respond or die (or suffer some other major disaster), is to make the story and hero sound real, not melodramatic. By this, I mean to make the heroic ambition itself move the hearts of readers. To make them own it. To make them vibrate with it. To make them see through the eyes of the hero as he dreams and feel magnificently alive.

Ayn Rand could do this--she was great at presenting glamorous people and situation and getting the reader to be there as a witness rooting for them. But she was not good at teaching other writers how to do it. Believe me, I've been through all her writing stuff over and over.

Virginia Postrel is presenting precisely how to do that. Case studies and all.

This stuff is, to coin a phrase, great shit. :)

p. 6

Although people often equate them, glamour is not the same as beauty, stylishness, luxury, celebrity, or sex appeal. It is not limited to fashion or film, nor is it intrinsically feminine. It is not a collection of aesthetic markers--a style, as fashion and design use the word. Glamour is, rather, a form of nonverbal rhetoric, which moves and persuades not through words but through images, concepts, and totems. (Even when conjured as word-pictures, glamorous images are perceived and remembered as emotionally resonant snapshots, not verbal descriptions.) By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It leads us to feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more.

Where the hell has this lady been all my life?


I can't wait to put this shit into practice in the stuff I'm working on.

(And, if I really want to do a thing with glamour, I guess I'm going to have to clean up my language and form of expression a bit, too. :) )


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I'm actually writing a speech focusing on some potential commercial implications of Postrel's work.

Postrel, really... her description of glamour sounds straight out of Randian aesthetics. "Romantic Realism" as Rand described it IS Postrel's idea of Glamour... "life not as it is, not with its flaws, but life as it COULD and SHOULD be like."

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Virginia Postrel wrote:

Glamour is, rather, a form of nonverbal rhetoric, which moves and persuades not through words but through images, concepts, and totems.

end quote

Well said. It reminds me of the old movie studio system of managing “stars.” Their glamorous image was essential to a movie’s profitability so a star could not be controversial. The Studios had people on the payroll to protect Clark Gable’s or Marilyn Monroe’s images. Gossip columnists were bought or shunned.

Contrast that system to today’s where movie stars are deliberately controversial and political. The only taboos are to not get caught under the influence, beating a spouse, or having a mug shot for any reason.

While a picture of nonverbal images is inspiring and influential I also like the written word that persuades. The author Stuart Woods is one modern author who writes about fictional movie stars and celebrities from all fields, and paints them as glamorous. But they usually have secrets that cannot be exposed and one really bad problem which the lawyer hero attempts to solve, over dinner and a glass of Knob Creek bourbon at “Elaine’s” in New York City.

Studiodekadent wrote:

I'm actually writing a speech focusing on some potential commercial implications of Postrel's work.

end quote

I hope you will eventually post it here.

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I went through Postrel's Cato talk and critique (or extra comments) by Tyler Cowen and Sam Tanenhaus.

Even more food for thought. This just keeps on giving...

The only thing I don't like Postrel saying is that Ayn Rand's involvement with glamour was so intense, she wrecked her personal life with it.

How does she know that?

I, personally, don't think Rand's personal life was a good one for me, but I don't think of it as a "wrecked" life, either. She didn't seem all that happy at the end, but I don't think she was miserable and feeling like a failure.

Is this a glamorous idea of Rand I am holding onto, or is it Ayn Rand's glamorous self-sacrifice Postrel is positing? (With all due irony... :smile: )

Regardless, Postrel rocks and I am sooooooooo glad I found her material. It's like a look behind scenes of the Romantic Manifesto and the fiction writing book put out under Rand's name.

In my view, Rand was great at creating glamour, but sucked at teaching others how to do it. Sorry if "sucked" seems harsh, but I've been struggling with this for many years. Rand was wonderful at inspiring people, but that is not the same thing as teaching writing techniques.

One thing that is not glamorous is Postrel's eerie resemblance to Hillary Clinton. From reading comments about her, everybody says that. But it's still weird.

At least that cross to carry doesn't seem to be wrecking her personal life. :)


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I have to give her credit for succeeding in totally changing my understanding of the concept glamor. There are new insights throughout her book.

Her distinction between glamor and envy-as-resentment was especially thought provoking to me; folks don't normally resent that which they find glamorous; the opposite, they find it glamorous. It is an attractor. They want to move toward it, not away from it.

The class warriors uber alles are not going to take lightly her illumination of that fact.

My thanks to Steve W. for posting that link on RoR. What first drew my attention was something totally silly-- her resemblence to a younger Hilary Clinton. I thought it was HRC when I first saw the link. I'm not sure I would have watched the link if I only knew the title "The Power of Glamor." I probably would have scrolled by. It would have been a mistake caused by my former bias.



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