Cuteness And Glamour: Can They Coexist?

Last week, I attended the Princeton conference "Too Cute: American Style and the New Asian Cool" and gave a brief, informal talk about glamour and cuteness. The two rarely coexist, since they entail contradictory qualities. Mix them, and the cuteness tends to win out, canceling out the glamour altogether or producing something disturbing or comical.


In preparing for the conference, I did find a possible exception to this rule, the big-eyed doll called Blythe. An adult-targeted recreation of a doll produced for one year in the early 1970s, Blythe is endlessly customizable. Out of the box, you can change her eye color by pulling a string on her back. You can change her face, her hair, her body, and, of course, her clothes. All of the Blythe dolls below started as the same model.

Customized blythe dolls

I took this picture (actually three different pictures) in the studio of photographer and video producer Gina Garan, who rescued Blythe from obscurity, giving her a starring role in a 1999 TV commercial for a Japanese department store and publishing a book of photos, This is Blythe in 2000. Gina's then-agent, Junko Wong, brought Blythe back into production, licensing Asian rights from Hasbro. Today, there is a worldwide network of Blythe fanatics, including many people outside Asia who must rely on secondary markets like eBay to buy the dolls.

Like Gina, many Blythe collectors enjoy photographing their dolls, often posing them in scenic real-world environments. Though Blythe has the classic big eyes of a "cute" figure and is often photographed accordingly, she sometimes takes on glamorous personas. Here are three such renditions: Blythe planning a heist, Blythe as a glamorous seaside celebrity, and Blythe on a glider wearing aviator goggles.

Glamorous blythe 

Although the dolls are still cute, they manage to pull off glamour without falling into either comedy or weirdness. In part this is because the adults who collect and photograph them treat them as alter egos, not children. In part it is because Blythe is shown as active and adventurous, rather than dependent and vulnerable. And in part it's because glamorous Blythe tends to look to the side or wear shades, giving those giant eyes an essential element of mystery. [She plans the heist! by Flickr user Sugaroni, Celebrity Sighting!!! by Flickr user The Dolly Mama, We'll go flying so high! by Flickr user rockymountainroz, all used with permission.]

Quentin Tarantino On His Filmography: “I Don't Want To Make Rio Lobo”

Last month, American Cinematheque sponsored a special double-feature of Pulp Fiction andInglourious Basterds, followed by a Q&A with Quentin Tarantino. I attended and recorded the conversation, which was moderated by Variety’s Todd McCarthy. (Read McCarthy’s review of Basterds here.) Thanks to the diligent work of DG intern Crystal Hubbard, we now have a transcript, which Tarantino fans can download here, with the caveat that we make no guarantees of 100 percent accuracy.

In one portion of the interview, Tarantino talked about why he plans a short career:

As far as an artist is concerned in this business, it’s about the filmography. That’s what it’s about. It’s about every one being of a piece. And that’s why I want to get out, at a certain part in the game. I want to live or die by that filmography. And you know—we all know—if anyone knows it in this room, it’s you as well—is, the most cutting-edge artist, the coolest guys, the hippest dudes, they’re the ones that stay at the party too long. They’re the ones that make those last two or three movies that are completely out of touch and do not realize the world has turned on them. And they have no idea how corny they are. And I’m really talking about the hippest film makers who ever existed in Hollywood. But you know, you can’t expect these guys to know that life has changed and they’re out of tune or that they’re corny. And I just don’t want to be corny.

I just remember how I found Howard Hawks. I went to a Film-X 32-hour marathon—comedy marathon—and I saw His Girl Friday, which was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had with an audience this big, in my life. I mean—it was just—I had never laughed that hard, it was like an orgasm. It was just so great....And so I then wanted to see everything that Howard Hawks did. And the next thing on television that I watched was Barbary Coast. Well that was wonderful! That had great dialog, wonderful characters, and that fed in to what I liked about His Girl Friday....

So, I just have this scenario of 30 years from now, some girl or boy is 16 years old and they see one of my movies. And they dig it. They don’t know who the fuck I am, they’ve never heard my name, but they think, “I dig this guy. Who is he? Tarantino? Well, let me find another Tarantino movie.” Now they don’t know about my filmography, they don’t know which one to watch. They don’t know if this one came here or that one came there, they just randomly—like I do with Barbary Coast, thank God, if could have been Rio Lobo—they grab the next one they get their hands on. And I want them to come from the same place. I want all my movies to have some connection to Reservoir Dogs. And I just don’t want to make Buddy Buddy. And Fedora and—what was the Marthe Keller [movie], Fedora, yeah. Sounds like a hat. But I don’t want to make Cheyenne Autumn, I don’t want to make Rio Lobo.

A Romantic Moment: Something To Savor Or Broadcast?

We-ignore Ingrid’s recent post on the Barbie with the video camera built into her body is thought provoking. One reason I find the doll’s image disturbing is that many people are already having issues sorting out their increasingly mediated lives. Rather than savoring here-and-now moments, they are often busy photographing or video-taping themselves, or using their smartphones to tell their friends what they are doing. And if they are communicating with their friends about what they are doing, that itself is what they are doing. Noticing this, street-scene photographer Ed Yourdon titled this photo, “We ignore the people who love us, in order to carry on conversations of dubious value.”

I first starting thinking about how connecting with a smartphone can disconnect you from the moment after I witnessed a particularly charming marriage proposal. We were in Santa Fe, dining at a romantic restaurant, when I noticed a young couple a few tables away. Both were dressed up for a date, and I suspected something was up when several of the staff came out to bring her dessert. They were in on the surprise, which was that her dessert came with an engagement ring. The young man dropped to his knee and proposed to her, she accepted, and everyone one around them began to applaud. He had worked hard to create a really lovely moment for her, and it was charming to witness.

The-ring I could understand her wanting to take a picture of the presentation and the ring, but I could not understand her spending the rest of their time there sending the image out to her friends and relatives, text messaging them, and calling them. I felt sorry for the young man.

She had abandoned the moment he had worked so hard to create. Surely her excited phoning could have waited long enough to share more of this romantic moment with him, rather than distancing herself in order to announce what had happened to the rest of her world.

I felt sure that the magic of the moment would have lasted longer for him if she had stayed connected to it. His expression changed when he realized that her attention had shifted to her smartphone, and the sense of romance looked lost as she focused on broadcasting the news. I’m not sure if  it was disappointment that I saw, or resignation.

As I thought about the Barbie with the video recorder pendant, I imagined a wedding ceremony in which the bride decides she wants to record the experience from her perspective, so she wears a video camera pendant. If so, where would the bride want the groom to look? Should he look into her eyes, which would cause the camera to record his face from a strange angle? Or should he look down into the camera lens resting on her sternum? Which perspective would she prefer to have as a memory? A mental one of him looking deeply into her eyes as he says, “I do,” or a taped one where he plays a role with his gaze directed at her video camera?

[The couple photograph is by Ed Yourdon and the ring photograph by Meemal. Both are used under the Flicker Creative Commons license.]

There's Something About Paris

At a dinner party last night, I had a conversation about glamour with someone I’d just met. As is almost always the case in such conversations, two names came up: Grace Kelly, the exemplar of glamour, and Paris Hilton. Paris is rich, famous, sexy, and photogenic, but pretty much everyone I've ever talked to about glamour has volunteered her name as an example of someone who is not glamorous. She’s the counterexample people use to tease apart the difference between glamour and celebrity, wealth, fame, sex appeal, or beauty. Paris may be glamorous to some people, primarily young girls, but—in my experience at least—most adults find her anything but. Instead of admiration, Hilton evokes scorn and derision. Even people who think she’s hot don’t find her glamorous.

Her latest venture, this beer ad, has even attracted condemnation in Brazil. AdRants reports:

No less that three investigations into the ad have been launched. It's too “sensual." It encourages excessive consumption. It’s sexist and disrespectful to women. All of this from Brazil. Where booty is supposed to reign supreme. What gives?

There’s some protectionism at work in the Brazilian beer market, but Paris is also an easy target. As Kay Hymowitz observed in a smart 2006 piece in City Journal, “hating Paris Hilton is fun.”

Yet in Glamour: A History, Stephen Gundle writes that Hilton is “indisputably glamorous.” I think that shows he has the wrong definition of glamour. But maybe I’m missing something. Is Paris Hilton glamorous? Why or why not? To whom? Please weigh in on the poll, and comment below.