Culture

Skip the Sunday Yak Shows and Watch Virginia Postrel Talk About Glamour!

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If it's Sunday, it used to mean the ritual self-flagellation of watching Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, or some other routinely tedious yakfest in which Team Red spokespeople faced off against Team Blue spokespeople for some of the least engaging theater since Anyone Can Whistle hit Broadway for all of nine performances.

So instead of cozying up with David Gregory, Bob Scheiffer, Chris Wallace or George Stephanopoulos, take a look at this truly fascinating conversation with former Reason Editor in Chief Virginia Postrel about her excellent new book, The Power of Glamour.

It's about an hour long and covers more territory than a Christo installation!

Here's the original writeup:

"If you acknowledge that you find something glamorous it makes you vulnerable because it says something about who you are," says Virginia Postrel, author of the new book, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion. "But I want people to think about what they find glamorous and learn from that."

Postrel, who served as the editor in chief of Reason Magazine from 1989 to 2000, is an internationally acclaimed writer, a regular columnist for Bloomberg View, and the author of two previous books, The Future and its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (1999) and The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness (2004).

She sat down with Reason TV's Nick Gillespie for an hour-long conversation about her new book, which is a meditation on how our perception of glamour shapes our culture, determines the choices we make, and reveals our inner-selves. The book is an entertaining romp, analyzing the deeper significance of the glamorous people and places that have shaped the last century of American culture.

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Gillespie and Postrel discuss the glamour of the Tuskegee airmen (6:45); the glamour of California (9:30); the distinction between glamour and charisma (14:45); Obama's glamour vs. Bill Clinton's charisma (16:45); Marxist art critic John Berger's "desiccated" take on glamour (20:30); Joan Crawford role in "defining the modern woman to the general public" (25:20); how a "ridiculously glamorous" image inspired dancer Michaela DePrince (27:30); how Naomi Wolfe's projected her "single mother chic" image on Angelina Jolie (30:45); Oprah Winfrey's infatuation with the Mary Tyler Moore Show (32:15); David Bowie's ever-changing personas (36:30); how glamour "tells the truth about desire" (38:45); the democratization of glamour (40:45); the proliferation of glamour in a capitalist society (45:20); how Postrel's libertarianism informs her work (48:30); the "intense glamour" of planning in the early twentieth century (51:20); how understanding glamour provides insights into human behavior (56:15); and how the breast cancer drug Herceptin saved Postrel's life (57:30).

For more on Postrel's tenure at Reason, watch a recent discussion she participated in celebrating the 45th anniversary of the magazine, and read Brian Doherty's oral history of the magazine, on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.

Approximately 1 hour.

Camera by Jim Epstein and Anthony Fisher, and edited by Epstein.

This originally ran at Reason.com on Friday, November 15, 2013.

For downloadable versions, more links, and other resources, go here.

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  1. Looking good, Ms. Postrel.

  2. Sounds like a pretty solid plan dude.

    http://www.Privacy-Web.tk

    1. That’s Ms. Postrel, not Mr. Lebowski!

  3. I think a lot of libertarians have become really hostile to the whole subject of how we’re perceived by other people for a number of reasons.

    I think we’re accustomed to being savaged in the media as an inherently unglamorous group of people, who are racist, sexist, etc., and we’re constantly being contrasted to Barack Obama, someone who seems to be able to effortlessly clobber us with glamor simply by smiling into the camera.

    I think boldly standing up for the constitutional rights of pornographers, the right of terrorists not to be tortured, gun rights in the face of mass shootings, and all sorts of other unglamorous things has conditioned many of us to be proud of being unglamorous ourselves.

    I also think many of us here at Hit & Run come from various points on the nerd spectrum, and doesn’t every nerdy enclave have something to do with not caring about how other people perceive us?

    Being so rotten at glamor, we’re in desperate need for someone to explain these things to us. I fear we libertarians may have maxed out our appeal to the demographic that’s susceptible to reason; if reaching the rest of the masses out there depends on finding ways to make ourselves glamorous, then we need to change.

    1. If we have truly maxed out our appeal to the demographic that is susceptible to reason, then we are doomed, regardless. You might as well get your lawnchair and enjoy The End.

      1. Relax.

        There are lots of ways to reach people that aren’t about reasoning with them, exactly.

        This is how you sell things:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib-Qiyklq-Q

        I’m not saying we need to abandon reason–one iota–but our appeal needs to be about more than that.

        It’s like taking someone out on a first date. You take a shower. Maybe get a hair cut. Put some nice clothes on.

        None of that has anything to do with abandoning reason. It’s just that the people who want to be in a relationship with us, that like us from the get go no matter if we just rolled out of bed, those people are probably already on board.

        To get bigger than where we are, we might have to try a little harder. There are things Barack Obama and the progressives do to make themselves look appealing–to look glamorous. …and we both know those things don’t have anything to do with reasoning with people.

        And there’s no reason why we can’t do those things, too. Abandon reason? No, I’m not calling for that. But what’s the reasonable argument Coke is making in that commercial I linked up yonder?

        It isn’t about reason. But that could have been a commercial for Barack Obama or libertarianism, too. It’s unreasonable to abandon that whole market segment to Barack Obama–and then wonder why he’s always kicking our ass.

        1. You have completely misunderstood my point, namely, that I disagree with your previous assertion. I don’t think that the end is nigh, merely that it would be if you were correct. That is why I’m not going to concern myself much with the issue of political glamour.

          1. “I don’t think that the end is nigh, merely that it would be if you were correct. That is why I’m not going to concern myself much with the issue of political glamour.”

            Most people support their favorite political party for the same reason they root for their favorite baseball team.

            I’m not saying we should abandon reason, but, for a lot of people, using reasoned argument alone to try to persuade people to stop rooting for their favorite baseball team is a pretty unreasonable strategy.

    2. if reaching the rest of the masses out there depends on finding ways to make ourselves glamorous, then we need to change.

      Bullshit.

      The “job” of libertarians is to convince others of the correctness of our philosophy based on its merits. The second you attempt to attract others with shiny objects is about the same time you abandon your principles to get elected and become Team B/R.

      Not me. I’d rather be the nerd surrounded by other nerds capable of critical thought.

      1. The purpose of libertarianism is not to form some kind of exclusive debating society.

        I’d like to have an impact on the culture and public policy.

        I doubt Gillespie or Welch would tell you that the purpose of Reason Magazine is keep libertarianism out of the minds of as many people as possible.

        Seems to me that this is supposed to be about outreach. As Doherty once wrote (and this is from memory), “The purpose of libertarianism has always been to make more libertarians”.

        1. Who said anything about being exclusive?

          Abandon reason? No, I’m not calling for that.

          Yes. You are.

          I get what you’re saying. You want to attract people with shiny objects so you can get them to listen to your philosophy. Got it!

          If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

          You might start with good intentions. You will become everything you hate about Team R/B. And even if Ken Shultz has the discipline to stay pure of heart. Others won’t.

          Nerds/geeks are already sexy. If you want to help convince others of the truth of that, fine. But we don’t need to change the way we look to buy the attention of stupid people.

          1. This is the main reason why I’m not an Objectivist: I really don’t care why people support libertarian ideas–so long as they do.

            If people want to support libertarian ideas becasue they think it’s the cool thing to do, then that’s just fine with me.

            But I’m not talking about changing our arguments or our positions one iota.

            I’m just talking about the way we present ourselves. If a libertarian leader like Virginia Postrel is taken aback by the way we present ourselves, then how must we look to non-libertarians?

            I think libertarian style capitalism is the rational solution to all sorts of problems in our inner cities: why do so many minorities see us as their enemies? It certainly isn’t because the arguments we’ve been making are irrational.

            Why did it take so long for the NAACP to embrace our libertarian position on the War on Drugs? Our anti-drug war arguments were rational all along.

            At some point, we should start looking at the way we present ourselves. If that’s important to people and part of what makes them likely to consider our positions seriously, then it would be irrational of us not to take that into consideration.

            1. SO a vote is a vote, huh Ken? Doesn’t matter how you get it, just so your Team obtains/retains power?

              Vote for me…I’m pretty. Maybe we could promise special favors to our voters? Give em some free stuff in exchange for their votes? Perhaps you’d be okay with just paying for them? How about extorting them?

              No, Ken, part of being free is not modifying my behavior to appease the easily offended. To speak as I will rather than be forced to speak as others would have me speak.

              If your ability to recognize a good idea is dependent upon the person presenting it wearing a tie, you are part of the problem.

              That’s why Nick wears a leather jacket instead of a suit.

              1. If you don’t think Gillespie is trying to reach the mainstream, you’re out of your mind.

                I bet the leather jacket, for one example, is probably more appealing to average people than a suit and tie would be, but if living in a more libertarian world really required Gillespie to give up his jacket (to appeal to the mainstream), I bet he’d trade it in without hesitation.

                But it’s a little weird talking about expecting people to give up their personal freedom (what to wear) to advance the cause of libertarianism–despite your insistence to the contrary, I haven’t argued that anybody do anything like that.

                That’s coming from voices in your head.

                Telling people that they’re more likely to get the job if they get a haircut, take a shower, put on a suit, and avoid picking their nose during the interview–that isn’t insisting that they give up their freedom or behave irrationally. No matter how much you want it to be so.

                1. If you don’t think Gillespie is trying to reach the mainstream, you’re out of your mind.

                  Who the fuck said we shouldn’t try to reach the mainstream?

                  The entire point is that you don’t have to look, dress and act like everyone else to have valid points. Marching to your own drummer is what being a libertarian IS.

                  Telling people they need to dress up for the cause couldn’t be farther from libertarian philosophy if you tried. That’s putting form over substance. That’s one of the very things we despise about the Teams.

                  “They couldn’t make a rational point to save their lives, but they sure are snappy dressers. I’ll vote for them.”

                  NOT being like the flock is what draws attention to our ideas. Same as Steve Jobs wearing jeans to a product unveiling. “The status quo sucks and this guy does things differently. Lets hear what he has to say. Wow, he makes good shit sense.”

                  1. “Telling people they need to dress up for the cause couldn’t be farther from libertarian philosophy if you tried. That’s putting form over substance. That’s one of the very things we despise about the Teams.”

                    Actually, my complaints about social conservatives and the anti-capitalist left have nothing to do with the way they dress.

                    “NOT being like the flock is what draws attention to our ideas. Same as Steve Jobs wearing jeans to a product unveiling.”

                    Steve Jobs was a marketing genius, and his public image was carefully constructed. If he thought wearing a tuxedo would have sold more iPhones, he’d have been there in tails.

            2. Ken you are being oversensitive about how VP thinks about us. The reason readership that’s developed after the suckification is different than before. That’s the reason she handed things off to Nick, because he’s better at connecting to people who listen to the same music as their teenagers.

    3. Being so rotten at glamor,

      Just because you can’t fucking match your socks, leave me out of this.

  4. Stylish failure is still failure.

    1. We may need to find ways to look stylish before we can succeed.

  5. And this time, watch the video, you lazy libertarian frat-boys.

  6. “Watch Virginia Postrel Talk About Glamour!”

    Really? Not for two minutes much less an hour.

    1. It really was a good interview. Thought provoking and very informative.

      1. She looks, a bit, like an older version of a girl I dated in college, but the voice is a little too close to Hillary.

    2. “I think a lot of libertarians have become really hostile to the whole subject of how we’re perceived by other people for a number of reasons.”

      https://reason.com/blog/2013/11…..nt_4138439

  7. I fear we libertarians may have maxed out our appeal to the demographic that’s susceptible to reason; if reaching the rest of the masses out there depends on finding ways to make ourselves glamorous, then we need to change.

    Being a libertarian means never saying, “Everybody agrees with me.”

    Telling people life is not fair will never be glamorous. I harbor no delusion whatsoever that libertarianism will become a popular mainstream political philosophy. Voters will always trade independence for bribery and false promises of security.

    1. “Telling people life is not fair will never be glamorous.”

      Fighting for the underdog can be glamorous. In the sense we’re using the word, wasn’t Che Guevara glamorous? He signed the death warrants of whole families of political prisoners. Why can’t libertarians be glamorous, too?

      “I harbor no delusion whatsoever that libertarianism will become a popular mainstream political philosophy.”

      And yet our ideas keep seeping into the mainstream without us!

      Holy smokes, they legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington! Gay marriage is now widely accepted. What part of libertarianism can’t go mainstream?

      Libertarianism went mainstream as a political philosophy during the American Revolution. In my lifetime, I saw capitalism go political mainstream world wide. Not as much as I’d like, but we’ve seen glamorous capitalists before.

      “Voters will always trade independence for bribery and false promises of security.”

      That battle will probably always be with us, but Americans have turned their backs on that stuff before.

      I think NSA spying is getting more and more unpopular all the time. Bribery is a toughie, but we’ve won battles against that along the way, too. Look at Governor Walker’s fight against the public employee unions in Wisconsin.

      1. Holy smokes, they legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington! Gay marriage is now widely accepted. What part of libertarianism can’t go mainstream?

        Maybe that’s your problem. You aren’t offering anything significantly different enough from what the mainstream parties are already offering to make it worth being bothered with. We already have two parties shilling for the establishment. We don’t need a third one.

        1. Just two years ago, those two issues were so different from the mainstream, they made us libertarians too radical.

          Two years ago, Barack Obama’s position on gay marriage was indistinguishable from that of the Southern Baptist Convention.

          Point is that we’re influencing the wider culture–but for some reason, they don’t want us.

          If they don’t want us, they only want our positions, then figuring out why is important.

          Understanding what Postrel is talking about when she talks about glamor seems like it might speak to that problem.

          1. The erroneous assumption here is that those were uniquely libertarian positions in the first place. Not true. The argument for marijuana legalization has been promoted on the left since at least the 1960. And why should gay marriage be considered a libertarian issue in the first place? Obama notwithstanding, many on the left have been promoting it for years.

            Those issues won because of their support from the left. Libertarians had little if anything to do with it. You’re attempting to get in front of a parade that’s already left without you.

            1. There wasn’t a political party pushing for drug legalization anywhere. There wasn’t a party pushing for gay marriage either.

              The Democrats are a complete disgrace on civil rights–and it’s been that way since half of forever. They didn’t even object to civil rights abuses during the Bush Administration implemented under the guise of the war on terror.

              Obama only became enamored of gay marriage once it became politically expedient to do so, and that only happened because average Americans became more accepting of things like gay marriage–over the objections of Republicans and Democrats like Barack Obama.

              If you’re suggesting that libertarian ideas are already more widespread in the mainstream than most people appreciate, then I agree with you. But if that’s true, then the question still remains: why do they want our positions but not us?

              To answer that question, I suggest we start listening to people like Postrel.

              1. There wasn’t a political party pushing for drug legalization anywhere. There wasn’t a party pushing for gay marriage either.

                Wrong.

                If you’re suggesting that libertarian ideas are already more widespread in the mainstream than most people appreciate, then I agree with you. But if that’s true, then the question still remains: why do they want our positions but not us?

                I’m not suggesting any such thing. I’m pointing out that the positions you’re claiming as “libertarian” are not held uniquely by, nor necessarily originated by, libertarians. And that the extent to which they’ve succeeded owes little if anything to libertarians.

                1. I believe libertarians were arguing for marriage equality more than a decade before the Green Party even existed in this country.

                  Regardless, I wasn’t arguing about cannibalizing the tiny, little green party. They’re ever smaller than we are! I was talking about appealing to the mainstream. We’re more mainstream than the Greens, for goodness’ sake.

                  Did anything Virginia Postrel say have anything to do with the Green Party? If anything I said before this had anything to do with the Green Party, it was completely by accident. I don’t give a shit about the Green Party, and I doubt anyone else here cares about the Green Party either.

                  Some American communist must have said something positive about marriage equality back in the early 20th Century–why not bring that up, too? Isn’t that just as irrelevant as the Green Party?

                  1. A Libertarian arguing the Greens are irrelevant? You don’t say!

                    But the point still stands: the positions you’re claiming as “libertarian” are hardly unique to libertarians; they’ve had support from across the political spectrum for years. There was plenty of opposition to drugs being criminalized in the first place, long before there was any libertarian movement existed!

                    How long has gay marriage been part of the Libertarian Party’s platform? Further, how is gay marriage even a libertarian issue? It certainly hasn’t reduced the state’s involvement in private matters, in fact it’s increased it!

      2. No Ken, libertarianism is fundamentally contrarian. Sticking up for the underdog can’t ever be glamorous because if everyone wanted to help out, it wouldn’t be the underdog.

  8. And this time, watch the video, you lazy libertarian frat-boys.

    [Insert glib dismissal]

    CUNT!

    1. If we don’t like being compared to frat boys, we should probably avoid behaving like frat boys.

  9. What part of libertarianism can’t go mainstream?

    We can’t even get any sort of honest cost-benefit analysis of idiotic bullshit like the TSA. What makes you think the soccer moms are going to wake up one morning and say, “You know what? It doesn’t matter what other people do.”?

    1. Drug legalization and gay marriage were uglier issues than that.

      I don’t really want to wait as long as it took to get through to the mainstream on those two issues–to get my 4th Amendment rights respected by the TSA.

      So, when we try to appeal to soccer moms, maybe we should try a little harder to seem…appealing. Again, the progressives are worse than we are on the issues–they’re just kicking our asses on the aesthetics.

  10. Drug legalization and gay marriage were uglier issues than that.

    I’m not sure how to break it to you, but “drug legalization” is not exactly a done deal. Just ask your friendly neighborhood federal prosecutor. Or soccer mom.

    As for gay marriage, what exactly do people gain by inviting government meddlers into their bedrooms, again?

    1. “I’m not sure how to break it to you, but “drug legalization” is not exactly a done deal.”

      We’ve made more progress than I expected. Two states legalized recreation use specifically? That’s like the Berlin Wall coming down. Yeah, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’ve made some incredible progress.

      “As for gay marriage, what exactly do people gain by inviting government meddlers into their bedrooms, again?”

      I don’t approve of voting on other people’s right by way of referendums, and I’d rather the government weren’t involved in marriage at all–but the government explicitly discriminating against gay people in marriage rights is a win.

      1. Wow, that needs some corrections.

        I don’t approve of voting on other people’s right[s] by way of referendums, and I’d rather the government weren’t involved in marriage at all–but the government explicitly [not] discriminating against gay people in marriage rights is a win.

  11. “I’m not sure how to break it to you, but “drug legalization” is not exactly a done deal.”

    Incidentally, what do you think we’ll see first?

    Soccer moms accept marijuana legalization or P Brooks accept threaded comments at Hit & Run?

  12. Over-the-counter laudanum at Seven-Eleven.

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