Dynamist Blog

Glamour vs. Romance: What's the Difference?

One of the things I do in The Power of Glamour is distinguish between glamour and such related concepts as charisma, spectacle, and romance. Here's the discussion of romance (not in the boy-meets-girl sense):

In concealing effort, glamour differs from romance, which often portrays hardship. Think of the training sequences in martial-arts movies, the battles in Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, the artist’s struggling years in the garret, the entrepreneur’s office cot and diet of ramen noodles. Behind- the-scenes reality shows like Project Runway or The Rachel Zoe Project are essentially romances about the creation of glamorous moments, dramatizing the effort behind the effortless appearance of a runway show or red-carpet look. Romance does idealize reality—it omits the tedious, meaningless, and boring—but it heightens the glory of success by showing the struggle that produces it. Glamour is less narrative. It captures not a story but a scene: the dance, not the rehearsals; the still photo, not the film. Glamour and romance are closely related, but glamour is about being, not becoming. We experience the result, not the process.
The relationship between subject and audience is also different. In a romance, the audience feels a range of emotions along with the characters: excitement, fear, anger, love, grief, joy. Glamour, by contrast, remains an outside view, requiring mystery and distance. In the classic versions of the character, we don’t inhabit James Bond’s mental universe. We project ourselves into his setting and talents. He is “all façade.”We do not feel what he feels but, rather, what the idea of him makes us feel. This distanced identification is why anonymous models or even inanimate objects can be glamorous. We do not need to know them from the inside; we fill their images with our own emotions and desires.

John F. Kennedy's moon speech is a good example of the use of romance for persuasive purposes.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

The glamour-romance distinction is relevant to way the current administration sold Obamacare—to itself and to the public. Instead of portraying the program as worth the sacrifices and transition costs, its supporters largely concealed those to anyone outside what Megan McArdle calls Expertopia. Instead of hardships in a glorious and worthwhile cause, their rhetoric encouraged people to imagine a glamorous version of their ideal health care plan, achieved effortlessly and without cost.

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