If you are over a certain age, you probably remember getting on a transcontinental or international flight, and it was a glamorous experience. People dressed up to travel. Strong pilots and beautiful stewardesses framed the wonders of the journey. The glamour of air travel imbued us with a sense of freedom and possibility.
Those days are gone. However, in a much talked about 2009 essay in Harper's Bazaar, Naomi Wolf resurrected the aviation-as-glamour archetype. In a profile on Angelina Jolie, Wolf seized on a particularly juicy tidbit: Jolie was learning how to fly a private plane. This represented, in Wolf's view, a new form of single mother chic.
According to Virginia Postrel, author of The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, the aviator is evoked here as a glamourous icon that serves Naomi Wolf's own emotional purposes. Such is the nature of glamour, a powerful aspirational force that Postrel says is universal, but which varies greatly, from person to person and from culture to culture.
In this week's Specific Gravity interview, Postrel says that we recognize glamour the same way we recognize humor - as a pang, a longing, or a projection. Unconsciously, we imagine "if only life could be this way...If only I could be there, be like her, wear those shoes or drive that car." And thus we use glamour in two basic ways. We enjoy glamour. It is a form of mental recreation, or a fantasy that you don't act on. It's a momentary escape.
The other use of glamour is what we decide to act on. We see a glamourous pair of shoes. We buy those shoes. We develop a belief that a certain job is glamourous so we decide to pursue a certain career.
How much power does the allure of glamour have over us? In the podcast below, Postrel tells Jeff Schechtman that it is important to understand the three essential elements of glamour.
Glamour takes your desires (for love, friendship, comfort, recognition, etc.) and focuses it on some object.
Glamour hides difficulties, costs and distractions and makes things look easier than they actually are. For instance, Postrel says Naomi Wolf saw Angelina Jolie as the embodiment of her own longing to be effortlessly beautiful. Glamour, of course, makes it look effortless ("Don't let them see you sweat!")
Glamour is translucent in that it let's us see "just enough," while hiding the difficulties.
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