The Death of Glamour

In this blog, I am interested in “scripts”. We have covered many here, and there are many more in my book.
see my book
Today, my thoughts move toward “societal scripts”. These can be short “fads” that come and go in a matter of weeks or months, or “eras” that last for years or decades. One that interests me currently is the now lost script of “Glamour”.

We now live in a time that is opposed to “glamour”. Today we embrace grudge. We loathe all that is too facile or too chic. The rich want to look poor. The middle class wants to look like the lower class. (maybe there just isn’t much middle class anymore to make a large impression) High school students look unwashed. College students look worse. Workplaces find it hard to enforce dress codes. Sneakers, tee shirts, sandals, shorts, baggy unpressed pants are the preferred code of the day. (Whatever happened to khakis?}

This trend started in the sixties when high school and college kids wanted to end everything that hinted of class distinctions. I think most of that generation would have been happiest if they all could have been suddenly poor. The collective guilt was overwhelming. All institutions or imagery that sustained comparisons and difference were exiled. The only way to extinguish class difference was to regress to the lowest denominator. Thus was grudge, tattered, impoverished (and tattooed) chosen as the preferred look. Regardless of origin, each student wanted to look poor and non-judgmental. Expiation was everything. Thus…. the death of glamour.

Everything about glamour was abhorrent because it reminded the young of the “bad old days” when class distinctions reigned. Glamour was at its heights in the 20’s and 30’s. The 40’s were war. The 50’s a deep breath. The 60’s, the tumult of change.

The age of glamour had its talismans: martinis, cigarettes, formal dress, shimmy dresses, coats, ties, blazers, loafers, tassels, everything you have seen in the movies of those decades and described in the novels of that age. F. Scott Fitzgerald was the arbiter of that era. Leading men and main characters were handsome in a classic way….Cary Grant, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Randolph Scott…women were all-in glamour, ala Carole Lombard, Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe… Each of these talisman was erased one by one, rendered into useless, unthreatening nostalgia.

The only remaining image of that era alive today is George Clooney. When he goes the erasure will be complete. We are left with pale males ala James Franco and other weasely men given to us, in this negative age, as leading men and the epitome of handsome. Women such as Dunst, et. al. who are given as icons of beauty that pale before any of many who namelessly grace the ad industry.

This culture now embraces the level playing field. No one should stand out. Our icons should be “everyman”. No more glamour. No more hierarchy of beauty. It all starts in kindergarten where everyone gets a ribbon. Everyone “graduates”. Every skill is co-equal to your peers. Everyone is outstanding. No one is the mien. (or maybe everyone is the mien)

Glamour grates today. It casts invidious comparisons. It embarrasses. Ostentatiousness is off-putting, but it is not the same as glamour. We have erased much that was fun, much that added variety to a life of sameness when we eschewed glamour. Cultural cleansing is always calamitous. It cleanses too much. It too often throws out the baby with the bathwater. How long this animosity toward glamour or distinctions lasts we can’t know. But as a guess, I suspect it’s here for good.

Maybe if there is a time when everyone sees themselves as “well-off” people will allow hierarchical differences to re-emerge without guilt or envy. But for the foreseeable future I am guessing that everybody wants to not only look the same, but actually believes that everyone is the same regardless of physical look, clothing, disability, ethnicity, origin, gender, sexuality, income, location, education. To distinguish yourself is a short road. Venture too far down that road and guilt and the finger-pointers will get you. Too far and you’ll have to pretend humility. If you don’t the pc police will point you out and scold. For all of its vaunted egalitarianism, the counter culture of the 60’s is repressive. Little vacillation is allowed in each cubicle. Even impressive talent is tethered that it might not “look” too beyond the norm. The “look police” are everywhere. The script enforcers are legion. This current script of egalitarian sameness is pandemic. Television will show you its presence in every country and culture. There is some good in this script, but its oppressive sameness heaps. Beware its encompassing embrace. Along with glamour it extinguishes the authentic self. You are lost within its opaque sameness. Glamour had it attendant virtues.

Turner Classic Movies is the last pool of Glamour. Watch, enjoy… and like some hidden citizen in a Bradbury novel, secretly envy and privately mourn.

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2 thoughts on “The Death of Glamour

  1. With good reason, this is an emotionally supercharged post that I have had to read many times over the last month and with which I have been carrying on an internal dialogue. I felt the ineluctable shifts of those eras even though I was only aware of and lived through marginally the last incarnation. There is the overarching script of glamour and its demise, but I kept wondering what else, perhaps as important as glamour, got swept away in the cultural purge of the 60s as you so precisely outline. Using your metaphor of the script as a filter, I was trying to peer into those eras to see if there was some sturdier scripted substructure to glamour, some vital component to society that also vanished. I think you are also identifying “propriety”. Maybe propriety, which governs some aspects of human relationships, is the armature to glamour.

    Nonetheless, I am looking at myself and the 60s a little differently. Thank you.

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    1. I would agree….propriety goes hand in hand with some eras of glamour. (see Downtown Abbey) But I would regard the “glamour” of the roaring twenties having little propriety.
      Glamour dwindled in the 30’s, 40’s and 50s. Finally, in the 60’s and beyond, we have dispensed with both Glamour and Propriety. Thanks for your continuing keen thoughts on my blog. (Here’s an addendum thought…Is the “Bling” phenomenon in the Black culture, a vestige of Glamour in our current age?)

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