James Bond is not a “realistic” character; real people occasionally smile. But he is a compelling and distinct one. With the right leading man, Bond is just human enough to be believable—and yet sufficiently aloof and suave to appear mostly untroubled by the world’s real worries. He thus provides just the right amount of escapism. The best fantasies are those that appear not entirely unattainable.
This observation offers an insight into why Bond used to be the quintessentially glamorous male figure. Glamour offers an emotionally specific version of escapism. It does not merely stir adrenaline or laughter. Rather, glamour provides a way to imaginatively transcend the constraints and burdens of everyday life. For a moment at least, it makes us feel that our greatest yearnings are achievable, that the impossible is possible, that we are not stuck with the life we have.
As Bond/Fleming sits in America and tucks into a mountain of crabs and melted butter, gorges on steak ‘so soft you can cut it with a fork’ and slurps another giant martini it becomes an almost pornographic contrast with the cable-knit sweaters and briarwood pipes, trad-jazz-revival and milk-bar world he had flown away from. As Felix Leiter in the book of Thunderball watches from a helicopter through his binoculars a naked girl sunbathing on a yacht and yells to Bond, ‘Natural blonde,’ Fleming’s original, chilblained, earnest British reader, with his uncontrollable flashbacks to the Burmese jungle and ill-informed keenness on Harald Macmillan, must have flung the novel across the room in despair.
Skyfall continues the Daniel Craig movies’ deglamorization of Bond. Here, he epitomizes not the old easy grace but, as M says in his premature obituary, “British perseverance.” The film is a celebration of the world the old Bond offered audiences escape from. This stoic, aging 007 belongs to the tough world of Tennyson, Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, not the Jet Set. He struggles, suffers, and eventually wins out.
We don’t long to live in his world. We fear we already do.
Described by The Independent as a "glamorous gold chameleon," British singer-songwriter Alison Goldfrapp projects strong, stylized imagery in all her performances, whether on screen or on stage.
I suspect she's just showing off here in demonstrating that with super-slick audio and visual production values—and the right pair of legs—glamour can even shine through gritty images of ashtrays, toilets, and garbage:
The retro Studio 54 stuff doesn't hurt either.
Whatever else she has going for her, she seems to have the glamorous art of being photographed with an indirect gaze and obscured eyes down to a science:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal qualities and story helped to invest the diverse relationship between Hollywood and the White House with a special resonance. This resonance in particular would enhance the figure of the president in certain cinematic terms—in other words, in terms that reflected the publicizing of heroic male figures in mass culture. As the theater provided Lincoln with emotional and philosophical guides to leadership, movies provided FDR with a mirror in which he could perceive and evaluate the deeper meanings of his life and his presidency. The fundamental reason for this deep bond lay in Roosevelt’s unprecedented employment of performance (as dramatic artists understood the word) in service to his presidency.
While Lincoln mined Shakespeare to enrich the music and the tragic weight of his prose and pondered melodramas (as well as Shakespearean tragedy) to elucidate his career-long fascination with tyranny and its consequences, Roosevelt, in keeping with his times, strove for a lighter touch. Through his effective use of radio in the Fireside Chats, he built on his cousin Theodore’s efforts to transform political speech from orotund Victorian practice to casual conversation suited to the age of mass media. He consciously confined the vocabulary of the Chats to about a thousand of the most common words, and always broadcast to a small group of guests in the Oval Office to create the feeling of an actual conversation.
To be sure, Roosevelt proved equally effective, especially during election campaigns, at booming and occasionally portentous oratory before huge crowds, but here too he showed his mastery of the microphone, adjusting his voice to the space and its echo and providing a novel new variety of temperaments, extending to effective uses of humor. Through his skilled introduction of light and humorous speaking qualities to presidential oratory, as well as the general buoyancy of many of his public appearances, Roosevelt conveyed his appreciation for comic acting and monology, in the style of Will Rogers and similar performers of the time.
The president’s most important performance by far was the deception with which he masked his physical disability. While every citizen knew about Roosevelt’s bout with polio, which afflicted him below the waist in 1921, almost none of them ever saw it literally paralyze him. In public the president walked, stood, smiled, and confidently led the nation. FDR was brazen enough in his first inaugural address to characterize fear as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” apparently unworried that his passing reference to paralysis might diminish his own image at the very moment he was attaining power.
From the time he contracted polio FDR spent virtually waking hour of his life battling the image of the invalid, first to restart and to advance his political career and then, as president, to project the traditional image of the national leader—a Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, or Theodore Roosevelt “running” for office and “marching” the people forward. In the age of movies, this expectation was heightened. As the art historian Sally Stein has observed, “today’s mass media intensifies the popular impulse to scrutinize the bodies of leaders and would-be leaders for signs of the[ir] abilities.” Even in the electronic age, while “absolute monarchs may sit . . . politicians dependent on popular mandate are expected to demonstrate quite literally their ‘good standing’ by rising to present themselves to their constituents.”
For Roosevelt, confronting such expectations was an unyielding physical and psychological challenge. His campaign led him to acquire a spa in Warm Springs, Georgia; experiment with quack medical remedies; devise steel leg braces and paint them black so that they would not be detected against his socks; and feign walking, falling forward while a strong man grasped his arm.
He even assumed the traditional leader’s pose by mounting a horse during his campaign in 1928 for the governorship of New York. Since his legs could not grip the horse’s flanks, this was a dangerous stunt; a slight movement by the animal likely would have thrown him to the ground. These efforts were only part of his ordeal, though. As one biographer, H. W. Brands, has put it, FDR
had determined, not long after contracting polio, that he would deny its effects on his life and dreams. The sheer physical effort of standing in his braces, of staggering forward, step by lurching step, of smiling through the sweat and the clenched hands gripping the lectern for dear life, would have exhausted anyone. But the emotional effort was at least as great. He couldn’t show his anger at his lost athleticism, his vanished virility, his physical dependence on others. He couldn’t be discouraged or despondent….The result of all this was that the actor never left the stage.
Even during times of relaxation such as his “children’s hours”—afternoon cocktails usually in the company of his adoring female secretaries and cousins —FDR projected an air of insouciance and buoyancy, mixing drinks while seated behind the liquor cart. In the dark first days of his administration, as the financial system hung in the balance, his adviser Raymond Moley found him to be almost unreal, “unmoved” by turmoil as if he “had no nerves at all.” Earlier, at the inaugural ceremony, the pioneering motion picture actress Lillian Gish—who was perhaps uniquely qualified to render evaluations of an individual’s “star quality”—marveled at Roosevelt, exclaiming that the new president seemed “to have been dipped in phosphorus.”
Coupled with this, as Brands perceptively notes, was the fact that Roosevelt was by nature a devious and misleading personality. “He had been emotionally isolated since boyhood. His close relationships had always been with persons not his equal. He had no close friends as a boy or young man, no one at Groton or Harvard in whom he genuinely confided.” Decades before he fell to polio, he enjoyed fooling people with verbal misdirection and his befogging brand of charm. Voters heard the young FDR boast about achievements that were entirely the work of others; election opponents, lulled into complacency by his genteel demeanor, learned only later of his ruthless campaign plotting and dealmaking; and he betrayed Eleanor by conducting an affair with Lucy Mercer, her own secretary. Eleanor’s uncle Theodore, as Booker T. Washington and many others noted, had seemed totally lacking in deviousness, possessing a “straightforward indiscretion, [a] frankness to the point of rudeness.” His cousin Franklin’s demeanor could not have been more different.
Part of the difference was due to changing times. In the decades after Theodore’s death, the advertising and public relations industries asserted that individuals (as well as corporations) must wear a carefully constructed public face in order to succeed, and the motivational speaker Dale Carnegie sold millions of books advising ambitious young men to mask their mundane, everyday selves in job interviews or in business transactions. In an era that celebrated public deception for the benefit of advancement, FDR was a truly representative man. His Herculean efforts to mask his paralysis and his despair made him a virtuoso of deceptive public performance.
As president, manipulating allies and foes alike, Roosevelt kept the goals of the New Deal multiple and often contradictory, so that he might preserve maximum political flexibility. He admiringly called himself “the juggler,” but some of his machinations also held a cruel edge. More than most presidents, as the biographer Conrad Black put it, “Roosevelt punished his enemies.” Stung by the opposition to the New Deal of Moses Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, FDR led a relentless effort to convict Annenberg for income tax evasion and sentence him to maximum time. Roosevelt ignored petitions on Annenberg’s behalf from Jack Warner, the movie comedian Eddie Cantor, and many others, and the publisher remained in federal prison until shortly before his death.
Ambassador Joseph Kennedy had done FDR no favors by blatantly claiming that Great Britain—the country in which he was stationed—was doomed to fall to Hitler, but Roosevelt’s bizarre and utterly insincere audiences with Kennedy during his visit home in November 1940, in which he lavished praise and sympathy on the diplomat, seemed designed only to make his imminent firing all the more brutal. As in Annenberg’s case, the movie industry played a supporting role in Kennedy’s fall. Speaking at a luncheon in Hollywood given in his honor by studio chiefs, the ambassador made his most strident isolationist comments to date, praising Hitler’s regime in front of dozens of Jewish producers and directors. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. reported Kennedy’s comments to the White House, and the president summoned Kennedy to his home in Hyde Park. Moments after he greeted the ambassador, FDR seethed to Eleanor, “I never want to see that son of a bitch again as long as I live!” brusquely ordering her to take him to the train station.
Such deviousness and cruelty, of course, are not uncommon in the annals of politics and leadership, and more than most leaders, Franklin Roosevelt might be excused for utilizing such means to achieve noble ends. Nevertheless, if we observe his tactics in tandem with his campaign to hide his paralysis and with his sensitivity to the power of mass media, such as radio and motion pictures, we sense that FDR was building new connections among the presidential image, political tactics, and the growing cultural appetite for celebrity.
It is particularly notable that while Roosevelt and his inner circle worked to hide his paralysis, they also relied upon his audiences—the press and the electorate—to willingly suspend their disbelief, to play along with the ruse that FDR really could walk and “stand for office” like any other strong leader. As Sally Stein notes, the public conspired with FDR to cover up his actual physical condition, engaging in “a collaborative process of dealing with the president’s lack of conventional signs of mastery.” In late 1932, when an article in Time magazine made a passing reference to the president-elect’s “shriveled legs,” hundreds of readers wrote indignant letters, and the magazine refrained from using such language again. It is difficult to quantify the impact of the public’s desire to protect Roosevelt’s image and to help him maintain the illusion of conventional physical strength. Although he faced some of the most adverse political and social challenges in American history, across an unprecedented three full terms and four election campaigns, the illusion persisted.
In the second of our excerpts from The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image, historian Burton Peretti looks at how the relationship between the White House and movie stars intensified during Franklin Roosevelt's administration, leading to high-profile movie-star appearances and to more movies about past, present, and imaginary presidents. (Unlike Steven Spielberg, who held his new Lincoln movie until after the election, Hollywood during FDR's administration had no qualms about mixing past and present politics.)
The Great Depression and World War II intensified the escapist power of the movies and the voters’ tendency to search for idealized, cinematic, heroic traits in their elected leaders.
It is striking how much more visible Hollywood became in the Roosevelt White House. Movie stars, familiar to Americans from their appearances on theater screens, began to show up regularly at the White House during the Roosevelt administration. The main impetus was an annual event on behalf of a charitable organization founded by the president, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (which later renamed itself after one of its fundraising efforts, the March of Dimes). While the public never received a clear account from the press of the extent of Roosevelt’s handicap, they were aware of his illness, and the novelty of having a president afflicted by polio intensified press coverage of the disease and efforts directed toward its prevention and cure.
As a result, in late January 1934 a small gathering of movie celebrities at a Washington hotel, hosted by the performer and humorist Will Rogers, celebrated Roosevelt’s birthday for the purpose of raising money for polio research. Hollywood publicists then concocted a plan to transport a larger group of well-known movie performers to Washington every year, beginning in 1935, in conjunction with the president’s birthday. The performers lunched at the White House with the First Lady and attended a variety of fundraising affairs around the capital. With the exception of young Ginger Rogers’s invitation in 1936 to witness the delivery of a Fireside Chat in the Oval Office, none of the participating actors met the president himself. FDR instead attended annual birthday dinners, which were held the same evenings as the movie stars’ lunches but were attended only by government officials. From 1935 to 1937, when Roosevelt was at the height of his popularity, the annual Washington birthday event inspired similar events on the same night in other cities, to raise money for the fight against polio.
Owing to such Hollywood–White House contacts, Alan Schroeder argues, “it was Franklin Roosevelt who first perceived the power of association waiting to be harnessed in Hollywood stars.” This power of association was a deeply emotional bond connecting Roosevelt, his family, and more liberal members of his administration with their most fervent supporters in the movie industry. During Roosevelt’s terms, the unwritten but long-standing American taboo that barred star performers from partisan activism was often breached.
Hollywood’s increasingly central role in American political culture was also evident in the first significant depictions of U.S. presidents—fictional and real ones—in sound films. Not coincidentally, these depictions first appeared during the depths of the Depression, at the precise time the nation looked to Roosevelt for leadership. D. W. Griffith had presented Washington and Lincoln as supporting characters in his silent historical epics, and his first talking film was a Lincoln biography, but before 1932 Hollywood avoided depicting real or imagined presidents; politics, in the main, was not considered dramatic. The Depression steadily altered this view in a number of the popular arts, as exemplified by the groundbreaking musical comedy Of Thee I Sing (1931).
In Hollywood it was, perhaps not surprisingly, William Randolph Hearst who produced the first, fevered cinematic portrayal of the presidency. Gabriel over the White House (1932) has long fascinated critics and historians with its story about a weak president who is transformed by a blow to the head into a bold, quasi-dictatorial leader. Walter Huston (who had portrayed Lincoln for Griffith two years earlier) enacts Hearst’s own thwarted fantasy of a populist leader unbound by legalistic restrictions, free to confront the Great Depression and the threat of organized crime with paramilitary squads and government by decree.
As the Great Depression eased later in the decade, presidents in movies were portrayed in a more sentimental fashion. The avalanche of Lincoln lore, unleashed in the wake of Carl Sandburg’s very popular biography, epitomized the back-to-the-land sentimentality of the New Deal era. It was manifested in Hollywood in the late 1930s films Abe Lincoln in Illinois (from the play by Robert E. Sherwood, soon to become FDR’s speechwriter) and Young Mr. Lincoln, as well as Frank McGlynn Sr.’s supporting appearances as Lincoln in many films. More generally, the leading director Frank Capra developed a passion for contrasting homespun, Lincolnesque American goodness with ruthless corporate power in a series of celebrated films. The most overtly political of Capra’s films, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), was vaguely based on the story of Senator Burton Wheeler, who before his isolationist heyday had arrived in Washington from the Montana farmlands as progressive young crusader. Yet, as Michael Rogin and Kathleen Moran have shown, Mr. Smith muddled its political messages and obscured its ideology so completely that Capra—possibly by design—leaves the audience with only a vague yet powerful sense of pride in the little man. (Capra’s last political film, Meet John Doe , is more pessimistic but equally opaque in its political orientation.)
Finally, there was FDR himself, whose representations in 1930s studio films still startle viewers today. The first FDR movie “appearance” occurred in the 1933 musical extravaganza Footlight Parade, in which the Broadway impresario James Cagney’s closing stage show “Shanghai Lil” evolves unexpectedly into a patriotic celebration of the New Deal (and the National Recovery Administration in particular). An audience onstage holds up cards to produce a large image of the president’s face, as martial band music explodes on the soundtrack. The scene is often considered an illustration of the fervent support of FDR by the brothers Warner, well known as the leading Democrats in Hollywood.
Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox was another Roosevelt supporter, as was the director John Ford, and it was undoubtedly these men who ensured that the resettlement camp director in California in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)—the virtual savior of the Joad family, welcoming them smilingly to the clean and friendly camp at the end of their cross-country ordeal—resembles an ambulant FDR, down to his grin and eyeglasses. In wartime, Warners and Cagney revisited Roosevelt in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), an award-winning biography of the entertainer George M. Cohan, which begins with Cohan (played by Cagney) visiting the Oval Office and receiving warm praise from President Roosevelt (portrayed once again by a lookalike, but only shown reverently from the back). [Watch the scene here.] Zanuck then gambled the Fox studio’s assets on an expensive film biography of FDR’s mentor Woodrow Wilson, which explicitly endorsed the internationalism at the heart of American policy during World War II. These films collectively represented the apex of Hollywood’s favorable depiction of a sitting president and his goals.
In his new book The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image, historian Burton W. Peretti traces the ways 20th-century U.S. presidents developed and mastered a “cinematic brand of leadership,” turning the occupant of the Oval Office, whoever that might be, into a “lead actor”—the star, in fact—in the nation’s drama. “Despite the heightened cynicism and divisions in today's political culture, Americans of all persuasions perceive the president through the amorphous yet familiar cinematic image that has developed over the past century,” Peretti writes in the book’s introduction. “It is an image we must understand and critique if we are to understand our political culture more clearly, and if we are ever to come close to realizing effective and wise self-government.” Over the next three days, DG will run excerpts from chapter two of The Leading Man, focusing on the earliest presidents of the cinematic era: Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.
Whether he was politically strong or weak, a twentieth-century president benefited from the status he enjoyed in Washington society; the perception of the power of the office around his person; public relations, advertising, mass periodicals, radio, and the other machinery of modern celebrity; and the innovative example of Theodore Roosevelt, who infused his time in office with dramatic gestures, theatrical oratory, and evocations of aggressive masculinity.
The modern cult of personality, advanced by the theater and exploited by public figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, reached its apogee in Hollywood’s crafting of its most charismatic leading actors and actresses. Much of the movies’ power derived from what early Hollywood producers and directors were fond of calling their “verisimilitude”—their apparent, ultimate success at turning real sights and sounds into art, using real people and real locations—the ideal to which realist literature, painting, the phonograph, radio, and even photography had separately aspired but could never reach.
Herbert Hoover poses for “talking motion picture”
The movies, though, also exploited fantasy, creating exaggerated visions of space, time, and personality that often pulled the medium away from realism. Motion pictures’ precarious straddling of both reality and escapism, interestingly enough, was roughly equivalent to Americans’ highly conflicted feelings about politics: leaders and voters alike simultaneously struggled to confront ugly realities and to pursue seemingly fantastic goals of national unity and harmony, with the voters often putting their faith in politicians who made unrealistic promises and ran on platforms of utopian change.
As the United States struggled through the Great Depression and fought World War II, presidents and motion picture actors fulfilled similar cultural roles and increasingly crossed paths in both work and play. The presidencies of Herbert Hoover (1929–1933) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933–1945) illustrate how the new cultural dominance of the movies affected the leisure activities of the chief executives, the business that came across their desks, and the evolving image of their office. Both men were inquisitive and alert students of their times, which brought economic distress and painful change to average Americans. Out of necessity, they looked to the movies for new tools and examples of leadership.
Mayer, like other founders of Hollywood, had traveled far in life. He left his native Ukraine in childhood, grew up in St. John, New Brunswick, and made an early living as a theater owner in Boston. In the 1920s, he was the head of production at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. MGM’s very name illustrated the merger mania among studios in the 1920s—a dynamic business situation that was certain to attract the attention of the Commerce Department. Mayer and Secretary Hoover assiduously cultivated each other’s loyalty. Mayer wrote Hoover in 1924 that he wished that all Americans “could know you intimately as you deserve to be known,” while the secretary of commerce assured the producer “that I have you in mind many times a day.”
Louis B. Mayer and his family visit the White House
As a Californian and as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce during the 1920s, just before he ascended to the White House, Herbert Hoover was well situated to witness the growth of the motion picture industry. Much of his perception of the industry was shaped by his close relationship with one of its most important early figures, Louis B. Mayer.
Mayer called on Hoover whenever he visited Washington, and Hoover reciprocated during his travels out west. During the 1928 campaign, Mayer sent MGM photographers up to Palo Alto, California, to take portraits of Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, at their home. In the days before Hoover’s election as president, one of his aides reported that Mayer, “unable to contain himself longer, called me up last night to ‘bubble over.’”
Even more than his immediate predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, Hoover found himself framed by the lens of the motion picture camera. During his years at Commerce Hoover’s background as a celebrated humanitarian had already made his image an appealing (and often unauthorized) element in advertisements. His presidential campaign in 1928 represented a major leap forward in the use of public relations techniques in marketing a presidential candidate. The campaign was also the first to make significant use of movie technology as a promotional tool. Prints of a silent biographical film entitled Master of Emergencies, produced by Hoover’s friend, the journalist Will Irwin, were made available for showings nationwide. “WHY WE SHOULD VOTE FOR HERBERT HOOVER TOLD IN TALKING MOTION PICTURES,” proclaimed a billboard on the side of a truck that brought the film to towns across the Midwest.
Autogiro lands at White House
Hoover’s White House aides were in regular contact with the newsreels, planning access to events featuring the president. They arranged, for example, to allow multiple newsreel services to cover Hoover’s attendance at the Thomas Edison birthday celebration in Dearborn, Michigan, organized by the public relations pioneer Edward Bernays. On another occasion the newsreels covered the landing of an autogyro on the White House lawn. Various organizations wrote to the president asking him to film greetings for their conclaves. Others proposed starring roles for Hoover in non-journalistic productions. One filmmaker requested his assistance in making a series of short films “that will glorify the United States President.” White House aides declined almost all requests for the president’s appearances in such filming, but they did agree to let Hoover appear in Paramount’s inaugural newsreel, and in 1932 they allowed a filmmaker to plan a documentary about the president’s daily routine (which apparently was never realized).
The English essayist Joseph Addison asked it in 1711 after a frustrating night at the opera, when all the pretty ladies seemed to have politics on their mind. Instead of congregating in the front--the better to put on a show for their male admirers--they arrayed themselves according to partisan allegiances: Whigs on the right, Tories on the left, and a dwindling number of "neutrals" in the middle.
The ladies' left-right symbolism (reversing today's left and right just as Americans reverse the European conventions of blue and red) didn't stop with seating charts. It extended to artificial beauty marks, like the ones Hogarth depicted on prostitutes in Marriage à la Mode (top) and A Rake's Progress (above), which were the height of fashion. The patches began as a way to cover the effects of smallpox or syphillis, but eventually became simply a style--with political meaning. Whigs patched on the right, Tories on the left.
Writing in his infuential daily newspaper The Spectator, Addison mocked this partisan patching, noting that the intersection of style and symbolism could create confusion.
whatever may be the Motives of a few fantastical Coquets, who do not Patch for the Publick Good so much as for their own private Advantage, it is certain, that there are several Women of Honour who patch out of Principle, and with an Eye to the Interest of their Country. Nay, I am informed that some of them adhere so stedfastly to their Party, and are so far from sacrificing their Zeal for the Publick to their Passion for any particular Person, that in a late Draught of Marriage-Articles a Lady has stipulated with her Husband, That, whatever his Opinions are, she shall be at liberty to Patch on which Side she pleases.
I must here take notice, that Rosalinda, a famous Whig Partizan, has most unfortunately a very beautiful Mole on the Tory Part of her Forehead; which being very conspicuous, has occasioned many Mistakes, and given an Handle to her Enemies to misrepresent her Face, as tho' it had Revolted from the Whig Interest. But, whatever this natural Patch may seem to intimate, it is well known that her Notions of Government are still the same. This unlucky Mole, however, has mis-led several Coxcombs; and like the hanging out of false Colours, made some of them converse with Rosalinda in what they thought the Spirit of her Party, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected Fire, that has sunk them all at once. If Rosalinda is unfortunate in her Mole, Nigranilla is as unhappy in a Pimple, which forces her, against her Inclinations, to Patch on the Whig Side.
Like the self-professed vegetarian who turned out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, some former critics converted to patching once it was turned to partisan use. Wrote Addison, "I am told that many virtuous Matrons, who formerly have been taught to believe that this artificial Spotting of the Face was unlawful, are now reconciled by a Zeal for their Cause, to what they could not be prompted by a Concern for their Beauty."
Style is not glamour, however, nor vice versa. The real glamour in this story is what Addison sought at the theater: an escape from partisanship into a world of beauty.
So, my friend and occasional DG contributor David Bernstein asks, What about Mitt Romney? He is, Dave points out, a "presidential candidate who looks like he was sent from central casting," with a "young photogenic energetic VP candidate who performs extreme exercise program (who's matched against graying hair-implanted gaffe prone old guy)." He might also have mentioned that Romney even made People's 2002 "Most Beautiful People" list. That sounds like a prescription for glamour.
But, at least in a politician, it isn't enough. To quote from my forthcoming book (which, before a significant reorganization at the publisher, was called The Power of Glamour and scheduled to be published September 3, 2013--stay tuned for updates):
Glamour is not the same as beauty, stylishness, luxury, sex appeal, or celebrity. Glamour is, rather, a form of nonverbal rhetoric, which moves and persuades not through words but through images. Glamour takes our inchoate longings and focuses them. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It makes us feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more. We recognize glamour by its emotional effect—a sense of projection and longing—and by the elements from which that effect arises: mystery, grace, and the promise of escape and transformation. The effect and the elements together define what glamour is.
Most of us would like to be or be with physically attractive people. So beautiful people who make their beauty seem effortless, and who maintain enough distance and mystery, can be glamorous. Their beauty makes us long to inhabit the world they represent--to be like, or be with, them.
Mitt Romney is good-looking, but he does not have that effect on most of his supporters. Barack Obama in 2008 did, not because he's good-looking--that's necessary, but not sufficient--but because his persona tapped people's deep longings for the country.
Unlike movie stars and models, whose professions encourage audience projection and allow them to take on multiple personas, politicians belong to a specific realm of life. Although most presidential nominees are physically attractive and many are charismatic, only very rarely are they glamorous. It's too hard to maintain the requisite mystery and grace and, as President Obama has discovered in office, to represent the disparate and idealized yearnings of millions of different supporters.
[Mitt Romney photo by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license.]