10 January, 2014

The Power of Glamour: Longing and the art of visual persuasion [Claire, Central City Library]


We all love the lie that is glamour. Images of glamorous people, objects and places offer us an escape from day-to-day mediocrity. For a moment we can imagine ourselves living in another world more perfect than this one where we can escape to a life of tranquility and ease. Someone or something glamorous represents "that dream-self we all long to be".

Virginia Postrel's theories on glamour are thought-provoking. She explains how glamour is a powerful form of nonverbal persuasion and how it taps into our most secret dreams and deepest yearnings to influence our everyday choices. She gives us some of the history of glamour through the ages. The old Scots word "glamour" described a literal magic spell. A "glamour" made its subject see things that weren't there.

Glamour is an illusion that distorts perceptions and is often used to sell us something. The image isn't entirely false, but it's deceptive. Some details are obscured while others are heightened. I found it interesting to think about how glamour has changed. Warriors have always been icons of glamour, but after World War I the horrors of the trenches changed the way people viewed war. In the 1920s, pacifism became glamorous.

I was surprised to learn how glamour can actually be a positive force. It appeals to our optimism and can drive our aspirations through triggering the imagination. Postrel gives the example of a 4-year-old orphan girl who saw an image of a ballerina on a magazine page that blew onto the orphanage's fence. In the picture she saw everything that she didn't have and thought, "This is what I want to be". Each night she gazed at the picture and dreamed. Adopted by an American couple, she studied dance and at age 17 became a professional ballerina. She said she moved along fast because she was so determined to be like that person in the magazine.

In a world where we're constantly bombarded by images, I found it enlightening and fascinating to learn a lot more about visual persuasion.

Title: The Power of Glamour: Longing and the art of visual persuasion
Author: Virginia Postrel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York.
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9781416561118

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