Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Origins of Glamorousness

Sunday's New York Times Review of Books has this interesting article on the history and origins of that ubiquitous G-word. Apparently there is more to it than what Fergie told me:

According to Gundle, a film and television studies professor at Warwick University in England, glamour first came into being in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the French revolutionaries and Napoleon Bonaparte dealt a series of crushing blows to fixed social hierarchies and entrenched class prerogatives. During this period, an increasingly powerful bourgeoisie began “contesting many of the hereditary privileges of the aristocracy” and arrogating to itself the nobility’s onetime “monopoly over style, beauty, fashion, luxury and even fame.” Abetted by a burgeoning news media and consumer culture, the middle class succeeded in reinventing the attractions of the aristocratic lifestyle as qualities that were imitable, not innate — as products one might acquire, not inherit. For this reason, Gundle explains, “the advent of bourgeois society did not result simply in the aura of aristocracy passing intact to the new class or even to selected members of it. Glamour was a result of the release on to the market of the possessions, heritage, styles and practices of the aristocracy and of the appropriation and manipulation of these by commercial forces and other actors in the urban environment.”

So just as James Burnham taught us that the ascendency of managers as opposed to owners within the means of production since the postwar era is a result of historical forces progressing towards the lowest possible social elements within the capitalist-created hierarchal framework, the same rules apply to style. Just look at Hollywood movie stars from the 50s and 60s to the 70s. In the early and mid half of High Modernist film you have Katherine Hepburn with her true New England accent to Cary Grant, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn (blood relation to Katherine, parents BUF members). While Grant and Wood may not have been as upper class in their upbringing as the Hepburn women, they represented an achievable middle class version of the same ideals: unpretentious intellect, class, dignity, and a sharp-as-razor fashion sense that would be welcome at any cocktail soiree or backyard BBQ with friends and neighbors. With the victory of the New Left after '68, these ideals, even on a purely aesthetic plane, were seen a definite no no. So with the 70s comes face time for New York based, working class 'ethnic whites', mostly Jews and Italians. Hence we are treated to such actors as Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Elliot Gould, Robert DeNiro and Woody Allen. In their films, glamour is seen as something quite superfluous and thus only for the women folk, and even there it is severly sudued when compared with the previous decade. This position is not without warrant as many of these films, Taxi Driver and Arkin's Little Murders, in particular, showcase the reactions of ordinary (white) folks to the societal breakdown fostered by the no-standards-by-any-means-neccessary crowd. Fast forward to now and the revival of glamour, having fallen from the grace of the middle classes and the clean cut subtly of the working classes, it now lies soley in the hands of the lumpenized nouveau riche. Gaudy, tacky, classless, and rude. Now this word is most often associated with Negro hop hop 'artists' bedecked in shiny stones dug up by their 'brothers' in Africa, luxury trucks, cheaply made/expensively sold McMansions and waifish or obese white trash popsters (never a body type in between) in the limelight. From New Left to New Class, don't it all look ugly?