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Ed Driscoll

Interview: Virginia Postrel on The Power of Glamour

November 3rd, 2013 - 8:46 pm
angelina_jolie_louis_vuitton_swamp_ad_11-3-13

Angelina Jolie in a Cambodian swamp for Louis Vuitton.

One of the messages of The Future And Its Enemies is this idea, which I actually took from a writer called Henry Petroski, of form follows failure, which is, whenever something has been achieved — he’s talking about in terms of an artifact [or] a design — and you have the thing there, then you start to notice all the things that are wrong with it.  And he argues, and I agree, that this is a major driver of progress, because you have people who start to try to make a better product or better procedure or whatever it is.  And particularly in the competitive marketplace, this is — you know, this one reason things get better.

However, it’s also a disillusioning process.  And this is where that relates to glamour, which is that when you get the thing that you envisioned in a very glamorous way, the glamour dissipates, it disappears, because you not only get the positives, you get the negatives.

And so glamour can only be this, sort of, pointer in the right direction, at best.  It can’t be the reality.  When it meets reality, there’s often a process of disillusionment.  And in some minds, not mine, but in some minds, that leads to saying oh, if it’s not perfect, it must be terrible.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Virginia, last question: It’s easy to look back at the 1920s through the mid-1960s, and see much of that period as a glamorous era. Today, between casual Fridays, and the lessening importance of suits, ties, and dresses, and formality in general, and the lack of distance that ubiquitous social media seems to impose between ourselves and our celebrities, is the role of glamour in our lives diminishing, or simply changing into some sort of new form?

MS. POSTREL:  Well, one of the big messages of The Power of Glamour is that glamour is not a style, and it takes many different forms, depending on the audience.  So, for example, there — space travel is glamorous.  I talk about Star Trek as glamorous to its audience in some of the obvious ways and also in some less obvious ways, like Star Trek as a glamorous ideal of a workplace.

So I think that what’s happening today is less — it’s not so much that we don’t have glamour, it’s that the kinds of glamour that we have are much more fragmented, because aspirations are much more fragmented, what people want varies more.  There’s more — and media is less monolithic, so people can find their little corners.  Things that would have been — the kind of glamour that, you know, was glamorous in the 1930s is still around in newer forms.  A lot of stuff that was the contemporary version of the 1930s glamour, you find [today] more in the hip-hop world than in the sort of educated, affluent, white people world.

I talk in the last chapter about this Louis Vuitton ad of Angelina Jolie sitting in a rowboat in a swamp in Cambodia and why that’s glamorous to the audience that Louis Vuitton is selling to and why it wouldn’t have been glamorous to somebody in 1950.

It’s not enough just to have a beautiful movie star, it’s the environment she’s in, which sends certain positive signals about tranquility and nature that that audience resonates to today, whereas in 1950 it would have looked like she’s in the jungle, it’s hot, it’s — you know, it’s like –

MR. DRISCOLL:  She’s going to catch malaria!

MS. POSTREL:  — the Pacific theater.  Yeah, and it wouldn’t have seemed glamorous, even though she would have seemed like a beautiful woman.

MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll, and we’ve been talking with Virginia Postrel of Bloomberg.com, the author of The Power of Glamour.  It’s published by Simon and Schuster, and available from Amazon.com and your local bookstore. Stop by her newly revamped Website, at vpostrel.com. And Virginia, thanks once again for stopping by PJ Media.com.

MS. POSTREL:  Thank you.

(End of recording; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)

Transcribed by eScribers.net, with minor revisions (including hyperlinks) by Ed Driscoll. Artwork created using elements from Shutterstock.com.

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37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the reason the Jolie photo would have failed in the '50s, aside from the truth of what Ms. Postrel observed of how different generations observe the telling of a story, is that it scores low marks on the 3 most important elements of mid-century presentation of product: design, technical ability and vision.

There's little point to going to Asia if you don't employ Orientalist tropes rather than make it look like Jolie is taking a break from turtle-snatching in Louisiana.
38 weeks ago
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