Glamor as a Tool of Persuasion

March 30, 2010 at 4:56 pm Leave a comment

Among the most regrettable qualities of advertising professionals is their tendency not to dig deeply enough into the superficial (apologies to Andy Warhol for the slight rewrite of one of his aphorisms). We have a tendency to assume we know what words like “glamor” mean, and race off to create a television commercial that uses glamor (or its simulacrum) to sell 1,200-calorie cheeseburgers. Virginia Postrel in the Weekly Standard has written a whip-smart review of two books on the subject–Glamor, A History by Stephen Grundle and Glamour in Six Dimensions by Judith Brown–that I cannot recommend highly enough to people who are paid to sell things to other people.

Postrel debunks John Berger’s (you may remember him from his BBC series Ways of Seeing) Marxist notion that glamor boils down to nothing more than “the state of being envied” and suggests that instead glamor is “a generous quality, a sign of an open society.” But rather than attempt to summarize or improve upon what she has written (a daunting task), I’ll cite a couple of salient quotations from it to whet your appetite:

The pleasure and inspiration may be real, but glamour always contains an illusion. The word originally meant a literal magic spell, which made the viewer see something that wasn’t there. In its modern, metaphorical form, glamour usually begins with a stylized image—visual or mental—of a person, an object, an event, or a setting. The image is not entirely false, but it is misleading. Its allure depends on obscuring or ignoring some details while heightening others. We see the dance but not the rehearsals, the stiletto heels but not the blisters, the skyline but not the dirty streets, the sports car but not the gas pump. To sustain the illusion, glamour requires an element of mystery. It is not transparent or opaque but translucent, inviting just enough familiarity to engage the imagination and trigger the viewer’s own fantasies. (Postrel)

“The Apple tablet is the Barack Obama of technology. It’s whatever you want it to be, until you actually get it.” (James Lileks)

When Anthony Patch, one of [F. Scott] Fitzgerald’s failed heroes, learns that “desire cheats you,” he refers to a phenomenon we now recognize as the power of glamour: “It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it—but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone—.” We may demand the sparkling surface, like a cellophane coating, yet what we are able to grasp will be of little consequence. Glamour wields the power to capture its viewers’ attention as if by a spell that fascinates and arrests. .  .  . Transfixed, one gazes at a world of possibility that is foreclosed, inaccessible, yet endlessly alluring. (Judith Brown)

I encourage you to read the full article, then go forth to your next client meeting where you’ll be able to wield glamor with wisdom and terrifying precision.

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