*The Power of Glamour*, the forthcoming Virginia Postrel book

by on October 31, 2013 at 7:52 am in Books, Film, The Arts | Permalink

The subtitle is Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion.  I believe this is her best and most compelling book.  It is wonderfully researched, very well written, the topic is understudied yet of universal import, and the accompanying visuals are striking.

Here is Virginia’s list of personas to help us distinguish glamour and charisma:

Glamour: Barack Obama, Che, Thomas Jefferson, Jackie Kennedy, Michael Jordan, John Lennon, Leonardo, Spock, Tupac Shakur, Joan of Arc dead, and Early Princess Diana.

Charisma: Bill Clinton, Castro, Andrew Jackson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Janice Joplin, Raphael, Kirk, Snoop Dogg, Joan of Arc alive, and Late Princess Diana.

Except she does it in a nice vertical table which I cannot replicate.

She lists Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and Steve Jobs as having had both qualities.  The book is definitely recommended, and it is out in early November.

Here is her TED talk on the power of glamour.

1 michael October 31, 2013 at 8:22 am

Also a big props for her 1999 book ‘The Future And Its Enemies’, which still resonates when considering the Obamacare disaster

2 MG October 31, 2013 at 8:32 am

I would like the bevavioral economists in the crowd to discuss why attraction to glamour and charisma (over “substance”) is not irrational (at least somewhat). And to that extent, I would like the nudgers in the crowd to suggest regulation to nudge us away from being duped by it, especially in politics. (I am sure Chris Christie will appreciate this.)

3 Jordan B October 31, 2013 at 9:57 am

I think Chris Christie would be high charisma. A better example of a successful politician without either would probably be George HW Bush.

4 zmil October 31, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Calvin Coolidge.

5 Amos D Wright November 2, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Though, Coolidge has taken on some glamour as the years have gone by and our inability to elect decent men has increased.

6 dan1111 October 31, 2013 at 11:53 am

Causality is not clear. Are glamour and charisma causes of success, or do people exhibit those qualities because they are successful? Most (real) people on the list have “substance” of some sort. i.e. they have done something other than just be famous.

7 dan1111 October 31, 2013 at 8:37 am

Can anyone explain? I have no idea what the difference between “glamour” and “charisma” is based on that list.

8 Rahul October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am

+1 I’m lost.

That list seems quite arbitrary except perhaps that the author likes the people on the Charisma list but not the ones on Glamour and wants to push this value judgement?

9 Pshrnk October 31, 2013 at 9:44 am

Um yeah +1. Spock on the glamour list?

10 Amos D Wright November 2, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Oh, yes. Quite. Spock’s fandom is based partly on his otherworldliness. Kirk is a guy’s guy. He’s “the guy.” Spock is the one you look to for a glimpse of the unknown. Kirk the one you go to in a bind. That’s the difference between glamour and charisma. Glamour makes you look out at possibilities. Charisma is what compels you to get there.

And if you don’t trust me on the Spock part, trust the penultimate supermodel of the ’80s: Paulina Porizkova. One of her explanations for marrying Rick Ocasek was that he reminded her of Spock. She felt he had a intellect that was not just impressive in scale, but in kind.

11 dead serious October 31, 2013 at 9:47 am

I’ll take a stab at it.

Charisma is the ability to get people to like you. To get them to maybe do things they don’t naturally want to do just to be recognized by you.

Glamour is just star power. People are in awe of you in person due to your accomplishments, looks, talent, but that awe doesn’t translate into any sense of likeability of loyalty.

12 Z October 31, 2013 at 9:49 am

Janis Joplin was dirty and gross, but she had a powerful personality that her fans found attractive. Princess Diana was beautiful and graceful. The former is charisma, an active attribute, while the latter is glamor, a passive attribute.

How’s that?

As an aside, claims that Steve Jobs was glamorous and charismatic are interesting. He was the L. Ron Hubbard of the tech world, but his followers would not think of him as charismatic or glamorous. In fact, those are not terms I’ve ever heard applied to him.

13 Thor October 31, 2013 at 11:36 am

And yet, Apple products have a lot of glamour.

14 Z October 31, 2013 at 11:50 am

The more mobile the product, the more popular. I think that’s a good insight by Postrel. Jobs was a horrible person, but he was charismatic in the same way Hitler was charismatic. To those of us outside the MacCult, he was never glamorous, but inside he was a god. Both qualities rely on the innate desire of people to join the group and follow the leader.

15 Daniel Dostal October 31, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I think this is exactly wrong. Conservatives who listened to Bill Clinton actually liked him. I have a friend who is a community organizer for a green PAC. After listening to Anthony Scalia, my friend came away rethinking his positions. That’s charisma. My friend didn’t change his ideals, but he did feel the need to re-affirm them. Charisma isn’t just about bringing the fold in closer, it’s an interpersonal skill that creates empathy in just about any individual.

You may be right about glamor, but I don’t follow that quite as well. It’s probably an ability that works better in person, so even a conservative feels the need to listen to Obama, but won’t seriously question positions or anything.

16 Rumford October 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm

The young, beer-hall lecturing Hitler was charismatic, but Hitler as Furhrer was glamorous not charismatic. She defines glamour as requiring mystery, aloofness, minimalism, transcendence, grace. If you get a glimpse at any of the sausage-making it isn’t glamorous. Clinton was wonky: not glamorous. Obama, on the other hand, isn’t real good at details. Glamour projects an image of the image.

Charisma is prosaic. Tyler Cowen has a lot of charisma but no glamour. (You should probably avoid glamorous economists.) Most movie stars are glamorous, but some comedic stars manage not to be. Jim Carrey isn’t glamorous. Chris Rock isn’t glamorous but Eddie Murphy is.

17 Pshrnk October 31, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Beauty and grace are NOT PASSIVE.

18 Amos D Wright November 2, 2013 at 11:06 pm


19 BeaGomez November 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Charisma is warm, glamour is cold.

20 charlie October 31, 2013 at 8:47 am

I am very confused. Based on Obama’s restaurant habits it seems as if he wants to go to places with charisma (and presumably no good looking women) but he is still associated with glamour?

21 Dylan October 31, 2013 at 10:08 am

A convincing speaker has charisma, a visual icon has glamour. Obama is much more the latter.

22 GovCo October 31, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Der Spiegel suggests that Obama is neither glamorous or charismatic, just unlikeable.

Funny money quote,

An African head of government said during a visit to Washington that he longed for the days of George W. Bush.

23 Kirk Parker November 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm

GovCo, that’s the money quote for sure, but what’s funny about it? Anyone who pays the slightest attention to African affairs knows GWB paid more, and better, attention to African issues than any previous president.

24 Amos D Wright November 2, 2013 at 11:07 pm

He is likeable enough to his supporters, of which there are many, sadly. They’ll bend any logic, muscle right through any cognitive dissonance for him.

25 Nate October 31, 2013 at 8:48 am

I can’t decide which is more ridiculous: assigning glamour to Steve Jobs or assigning charisma to Steve Jobs.

26 Rich Berger October 31, 2013 at 9:17 am

Read the Jobs biography to find out why. Of course, he was a major-league dick, too.

27 dan1111 October 31, 2013 at 9:56 am

I’m not a Jobs fan, but he obviously had huge star power.

28 Ted Craig October 31, 2013 at 9:16 am

“Leonardo” – Da Vinci, Dicaprio or both?

“Spock” – Mr., Dr. or both?

29 dead serious October 31, 2013 at 9:48 am

I LOLed.

Pretty sure it’s the former for both.

30 Tyler October 31, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I thought she was talking about Ninja Turtles!

31 Amos D Wright November 2, 2013 at 11:09 pm

He was Charismatic. Raphael was the glamorous one. If you think about it, it’s because he was hot-headed and emotional. That’s not the kind of thing you build charisma on, but the kind of thing you can build glamour on.

32 Rich Berger October 31, 2013 at 9:19 am

I associate her with a period of excellence at Reason magazine. That being said, it seems like Nick Gillespie has upped his game in the last year or two. Nothing like Barack Obama to concentrate a libertarian’s mind.

33 critic October 31, 2013 at 9:42 am

Lincoln -no carisma, no glamour
Eisenhower -no carisma, no glamour

34 Thor October 31, 2013 at 11:42 am


There is indeed something missing in Postrel’s otherwise fascinating account of what seduces people. Perhaps it is brute power that is missing? I.e., the dubious “charisma” of force. Take gangsters or gangstas. Most lack charisma and glamour, except to doofus underlings. They are just intimidating, and it is their success, nothing more, that seduces. They lack glamour and have only the glamour of success.

I read Bowden’s book on taking down Pablo Escobar. And I thought, why did he have such followers? He was ugly, short, base and stupid. He was there at the right time.

A bit like Warhol.

35 Errorr October 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Lincoln seems to have been amazingly charismatic in person. His speeches were renowned for their ability to convince people. I think he became glamorous after death as people used his greatness and mystery to symbolize all that is great.

Eisenhower seems like mildly both. “I like Ike” is as pure an appeal to charisma as is possible. Yet his deification as a war hero was using glamour to gain transcendence.

36 Daniel Dostal October 31, 2013 at 4:06 pm

This is how I’m reading it too.

37 Renee October 31, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I read those lists as “aspirationally attractive” vs. “approachable”. People who seem somewhat unapproachably or intimidatingly cool vs. the kind of person you’d feel comfortable walking up to in a bar or having a beer with.

38 Errorr October 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Watching the Ted talk helped solidify it for me. Glamour is hiding the mundane, editing out things allows people to project idealisms onto people or objects. Charisma is the ability to convince people to move beyond the mundane.

I thinl the vital thing to remember is that glamour is about how an audience percieves something. Charisma is convincing the audience to see something different.

I really get the Obama v. Clinton dichotomy as a more liberal person. Clinton’s greatness was his ability to convince others to view the world in his own way. Obama is often too vague. He allows democrats to project their hopes and ideals onto him. Maybe that is why I never really thought much of Obama.

I remember talking to someone who was comparing meeting Clinton and Obama. Obama projected a sense of coolness and seemed bigger than anybody else in the room. That is glamour. Clinton made it seem like YOU were the most important person in the room. That is charisma.

39 Errorr October 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Another problem I have with Obama is that I think he believes he is charismatic when he is actually glamorous.

40 dead serious October 31, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I don’t see him as either. I don’t even see him as a great orator. What he is is a very good debater.

41 I agree October 31, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Debater? I think you are right. In certain circles, he’s referred to as the “master”.

42 Virginia Postrel October 31, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Thanks, Tyler.

On glamour and charisma, if you can’t wait to read the book, you can read blog posts:

The TED talk is from 2004, long before I started researching the book. It was based on a single essay, so the ideas in the book are much more developed and somewhat different. Also, I should note that in those days TED talks were for the people in the room, not the Internet, and involved none of the on-stage rehearsal or extensive coaching they now do. The production values, in other words, were much lower.

43 FredR October 31, 2013 at 3:27 pm

But would higher production values make the performance more glamorous, or more charismatic?

44 Alejandro Salazar October 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Glamour: Krugman

Charisma: Ostrom

45 Larry Rothfield November 1, 2013 at 12:51 am

The principal difference between glamor and charisma is that glamor dazzles, arrests, mesmerizes and charms, whereas charisma grabs, pulls, converts, commits. Glamor is essentially a theatrical mode of sociability, charisma an existential one. But glamor and charisma are just the tip of the iceberg. Other existential modes of sociability include egalitarianism, traditionalism, self-expression; other theatrical modes of sociability include neighborliness, transgression, exhibitionism, and formality. One interesting and important feature of both glamor and charisma is that neither necessarily has to involve authenticity — though charisma is sometimes abetted by a sense that one is experiencing the real thing via the charismatic individual. It is easy to think of authentic locales, quasi-sacred places or activities that do not involve charismatic seizure: the historic battlefield site, the music club where South Side blues continues to be played, the bookstore where Joyce and Pound hung out, etc. (Google “A Theory of Scenes” for more on all this.)

46 Matt November 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Glamour is “cool”, “calm”, “self controlled” and “far” while Charisma is “warm”, “excitable / passionate”, “self uncontrolled” and “near”.

Glamour is the quality of “introverted”, “organised / focused” impressive people while charisma is the quality of “extraverted”, “freewheeling” impressive people.

47 Joy McCann November 2, 2013 at 6:17 pm

It’s hard to summarize Virginia’s arguments, but it’s important to note that her subtitle mentions “power.” The power of glamour can be used for good or for ill, but what it *is* . . . that’s an interesting dissection. That is why I recommend the book, which I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of.

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