Ed Driscoll

Building a Glamorous Bridge to 1958

At her Deep Glamour Website, Virginia Postrel explores the nexus between glamor and politics. The whole thing is worth reading, but note this:

3. Political glamour is most seductive when it’s selling systems that promise an escape from complexity and compromise. Whether expressed in full-blown communism, Western European socialism, or American technocracy, the glamour of top-down planning shaped 20th-century politics. F.A. Hayek lamented classical liberalism’s lack of similar Utopian inspiration but, in fact, Ayn Rand was masterful in her use of glamour. She knew not only how to tell a romantic story of struggle and triumph but how to create glamorous snapshots that focused her audience’s yearning for freedom and fellowship. Hence the persistent, if illusory, appeal of recreating Galt’s Gulch [link added for DG] in the real world.

And as Postrel adds, “glamour is one of the most common ways of selling policies, from single-payer health care to the abolition of the income tax — not to mention countless military actions, perhaps the oldest use of glamour in politics. My favorite recent examples, because of the alluring imagery involved, are high-speed rail and wind energy.”

Back in December, Postrel noted that around the mid-20th century, highways received a similar treatment, with results that likely appear more than a little silly a half century later:

Although not relevant to the distinction between private indulgences (e.g., dresses) and public subsidies at the end of my column, the point is quite true. The “lost glamour of air travel” is a cliché, of course. But highways were equally glamorous in the mid-20th century. They promised swift, smooth travel with never a traffic jam. Unlike passenger rail, which tends to suffer from underuse, both highways and airplanes lost their glamour to popularity.

Thanks to this post on Matt Novak’s great PaleoFuture blog, I discovered this vintage bit of highway glamour. (Be sure to check out the restored Magic Highway stills on Matt’s blog, as well as our Q&A with him.)

This cartoon was created by Walt Disney’s animators in 1958; it’s a pretty safe bet that it heavily influenced the aesthetics of two very different futuristic filmmakers in the 1960s — Hanna-Barbera’s Jetsons cartoon, and Gerry Anderson-produced shows such as Captain Scarlet and UFO — and possibly Syd Mead as well:

[youtube F6pUMlPBMQA]