The Glamour Of Jihadi Terrorism


No sooner had Rolling Stone put Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, looking doe-eyed and rock-star disheveled, than critics denounced the editors for "glamorizing terrorism."

"The cover of Rolling Stone is meant for glorifying rock stars, icons, and heroes NOT murderers!" protested a typical reader in the article's online comments thread. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino decried the magazine for its "celebrity treatment" of Tsarnaev and for sending the "terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their 'causes.'"

Unfortunately, Islamist terrorism doesn't need Rolling Stone to make it glamorous. For the right audience, apparently including Tsarnaev, it already is. Understanding the nature of that glamour could offer clues to discouraging future terrorists. But first we have to acknowledge that terrorist glamour exists.

The novelist Salman Rushdie recognized the connection in a 2006 interview. "Terror is glamour--not only, but also," he said, arguing that many terrorists "are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic ... The suicide bomber's imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other people's lives."

The interviewer was flabbergasted, but Rushdie was correct. Glamour is about much more than celebrity, sex appeal or shiny dresses. It's a product of imagination--and a powerful form of persuasion.

Glamour gives its audience the feeling of "if only"--if only I could belong to that group, wear that dress, drive that car, date that person, live in that house. If only I could be like that. By embodying our longings in a specific image or idea, glamour convinces us, if only for a moment, that the life we yearn for exists. That dream can motivate real-world action, whether that means taking a resort vacation, moving to a new city, starting a band or planting a bomb with visions of martyrdom. What we find glamorous helps define who we are and who we may become.

Janet Reitman's Rolling Stone story on Tsarnaev points to several sources of glamour that have nothing to do with celebrity: the allure of military action, utopian causes and a lost homeland and identity. All these things speak to desires that go deeper than fame. "It is not uncommon for young Chechen men to romanticize jihad," Reitman writes, describing "abundant Chechen jihadist videos online" that show fighters from the Caucasus who "look like grizzled Navy SEALs, humping through the woods in camouflage and bandannas."

To be a jihadi warrior, these images suggest, is to be a man. Martial glamour is as ancient as Achilles. It promises prowess, courage, camaraderie and historical importance. It offers a way to matter. The West once recognized the pull of martial glamour--before the carnage of World War I, the glamour of battle was a common and positive phrase--but it ignores at its peril the spell's enduring draw, especially for those who feel powerless and insignificant.

Read the rest at

Political Glamour: Why Mitt Romney May Be Handsome, But He Isn't Glamorous

Mitt Romney sign Gage Skidmore

I've often written and spoken about the power of Barack Obama's glamour in the 2008 campaign and how glamour is a great help to a candidate but can actually make governing more difficult.

 So, my friend and occasional DG contributor David Bernstein asks, What about Mitt Romney? He is, Dave points out, a "presidential candidate who looks like he was sent from central casting," with a "young photogenic energetic VP candidate who performs extreme exercise program (who's matched against graying hair-implanted gaffe prone old guy)." He might also have mentioned that Romney even made People's 2002 "Most Beautiful People" list. That sounds like a prescription for glamour.

But, at least in a politician, it isn't enough. To quote from my forthcoming book (which, before a significant reorganization at the publisher, was called The Power of Glamour and scheduled to be published September 3, 2013--stay tuned for updates):

Glamour is not the same as beauty, stylishness, luxury, sex appeal, or celebrity. Glamour is, rather, a form of nonverbal rhetoric, which moves and persuades not through words but through images. Glamour takes our inchoate longings and focuses them. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It makes us feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more. We recognize glamour by its emotional effect—a sense of projection and longing—and by the elements from which that effect arises: mystery, grace, and the promise of escape and transformation. The effect and the elements together define what glamour is.

Most of us would like to be or be with physically attractive people. So beautiful people who make their beauty seem effortless, and who maintain enough distance and mystery, can be glamorous. Their beauty makes us long to inhabit the world they represent--to be like, or be with, them.

Mitt Romney is good-looking, but he does not have that effect on most of his supporters. Barack Obama in 2008 did, not because he's good-looking--that's necessary, but not sufficient--but because his persona tapped people's deep longings for the country.

Unlike movie stars and models, whose professions encourage audience projection and allow them to take on multiple personas, politicians belong to a specific realm of life. Although most presidential nominees are physically attractive and many are charismatic, only very rarely are they glamorous. It's too hard to maintain the requisite mystery and grace and, as President Obama has discovered in office, to represent the disparate and idealized yearnings of millions of different supporters.

[Mitt Romney photo by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license.]

"Terror Is Glamour" (Originally Posted 9/11/2008)

Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows.  All invite us to imagine escape and transformation. 

From Achilles and Alexander to "national greatness," the glamour of battle is remarkably persistent. So is  the glamour of martyrdom, as any trip through a Western museum or perusal of a Lives of the Saints (or its Protestant equivalent) will demonstrate. Nor is martyrdom's appeal to Christians merely historical, as Eliza Griswold reported in this 2007 TNR piece.

Glamour appeals to our desires, whatever they may be, and Jihadi glamour offers something for everyone: from historical importance to union with God, not to mention riches and beautiful women. Consider this excerpt on the glories of martyrdom from the Egyptian cleric Hazem Sallah Abu Isma'il (transcribed and translated by MEMRI, my ellipses, video here):

The martyrs are the ones who have changed the course of history. They are the ones who have changed the course of human life. The course of human life proceeds this way, until a martyrdom-seeker collides with it, changing and diverting it. Whenever a martyrdom-seeker collides into it, he restores the course of humanity to the path planned by Allah....

The [martyr] does not lose anything. He does not die. All of a sudden he ascends to the angels and lives next to Allah. He pleads on behalf of 70 of his family members....The Crown of Honor is placed on his head. The gem in this crown is more precious than the whole world. He is married off to 70 black-eyed virgins. If one of these virgins were to descend to this world, her light would extinguish the light of the sun and the moon. That's how beautiful she is.

It's a compelling vision. Of course, traditional martyrs--Muslim or Christian--don't deliberately blow up innocents (though religious wars are hard on civilians).


Watching the excellent new movie Traitor, I was struck by another aspect of terrorist glamour: how much it resembles, at least in fictional portrayals, the glamour of heist movies. (Don Cheadle is an explosives expert in both Traitor and the Ocean's 11 movies.) In both, you have a secret and intricate plan in which every team member is important and the goal is to outwit authorities and commit a crime. It's not hard to imagine how appealing that might be to a bored and impressionable person.

As Rushdie suggests, of course, glamour always leaves something out, in this case the literally gory details of the act (and I wouldn't bet on eternal life or crowns and virgins). And in most of its incarnations, glamour proves perishable. Either aspirations change, entropy and boredom set in, or the audience learns too much, destroying the mystery and grace on which glamour's beautiful illusion depends. The question for this September 11 is, How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.

DG Contest: Sothys Home Spa Products

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Editor's Note: We Get Paid (a Little)

DeepGlamour is an Amazon affiliate. Virginia Postrel receives a percentage of the purchase price on anything you buy through one of our Amazon links, including purchases you make while on Amazon that we did not link directly to.

The Federal Trade Commission demands that we tell you this—they think you're idiots and are violating the First Amendment with their regulation of what bloggers publish—but it's also a friendly reminder to Support DeepGlamour by starting all your Amazon shopping here.

We also get money or in-kind compensation from places that have ads on the site, our contest prizes are donated, and Virginia receives review copies of lots of books (most of which never get mentioned on the site and end up donated to the Westwood branch of the L.A. Public Library). But you could probably figure that out on your own.

Now that we've complied with federal regulations, how about a little shopping?

Is California Still Glamorous?

With the state’s never-ending budget crises, jammed freeways, and high cost of living, California dreamin’ is out of style. “We are now the state that can’t,” Stephen Levy, the go-to guy for quotes about the California economy, told the NYT earlier this week. Calling the state “increasingly ungovernable,” the WaPost's Dan Balz writes:

The rest of the country has long looked to California as the future. It was once a leader in developing public infrastructure, and it created the most enviable system of public universities in the nation. Now the nation sees California and worries that its economic and political troubles will infect other states.

So the answer to the question at the top of this post would seem to be NO WAY!

But consider the Ferrari California, released last year. Why would Ferrari name its hot new car the California if California symbolizes traffic jams and screwed-up government? (For a higher-resolution version of the video, directed by Michael Mann, see the Ferrari California site.)

And why would Apple label all its products “Designed by Apple in California”? (This unaffiliated Apple reference site even adopted the slogan as its domain name.) Ferraris and iPods are both glamorous products. Why connect them to an unglamorous place?

In a post from 2007, Joel Spolsky gets the psychology exactly right:

Designed by Apple in California

You think of California, not the actual state, with its endless dismal boulevards full of muffler shops and donut stores, but the California of memory: the Beach Boys, the Summer of Love, and the beatniks, a utopian land of opportunity, an escape, where you go when you leave behind the cold winters and your conservative parents back in Cleveland.

And “Apple” in California is, of course, on the literal level, a computer company, and not a very nice one, but put those words together and you think of apple orchards, and the Beatles, and you think of how Forrest Gump got rich off of Apple stock. And “designed in California...” It's not made. It's designed. In California. Like a surfboard. Or a Lockheed XP-80.

And, of course, it might distract your attention from the fact that we no longer make things like this in America. We design them, but they pretty much have to be made in China.
Either way, the iPod slogan Designed by Apple in California triggers a flood of emotional responses that just make you happy to have selected this MP3 player.

I think there’s something else operating as well. California may seem too familiar and troubled to Americans in other states, but it still has glamour abroad. The UCLA student store attracts Asian tourists stocking up on souvenirs. The Ferrari California is aimed particularly at buyers in China and Russia. Is the Golden State still glamorous when seen from afar? And, if so, does distance explain the glamour, or is there something more?

[Designed by Apple photo from iPod Nano by Flickr user ume-y under Creative Commons license / CC BY-SA 2.0]

From The Archives: North Of 60 With Sarah--New Reality Show?

Editor's note: Kate originally published this post on October 16, 2008, but recent events make it worth a new look.

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic speculated about a Sarah Palin reality show, but you can tell he's not really familiar with the parameters of the genre. (Ophelia Swims came closer.) For a really successful series, you need an attractive protagonist (because they come into your home, every week), a lively and diverse supporting cast, and a location or situation in which conflict, resolution, and emotion can bloom.

Spreality_2 North of 60 with Sarah

In this new reality series, former candidate for Vice-President, Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, a forty-ish, flirty mother of 5 (!), juggles affairs of state, lost homework, disgruntled constituents, injunction-waving lawyers, wedding planning, and putting meat on the table. Think docu-drama meets C-Span, shot on location in the wilds of the frozen north.

In the first episode, spunky Sarah vetos anti-gill net legislation and an extended curfew for Willow with equal aplomb. Piper stows away on a float plane, but a quick thinking state trooper has her home for dinner.

Future episodes include a show-down between Sarah and Putin over fishing rights that's soon eclipsed by the furor raised by Bristol's determination to have a vegan wedding buffet.

Later, French premier Sarkozy shows up for a fly-fishing lesson--without his wife! Thanks to an emergency international call, the First Dude saves the day.

Sounds almost real, doesn't it? Have your people call my people. (Looks like cameras are rolling!)

(Apologies to the CBC.)

Interior Design And The Lust For Licensing

This Reason.TV video pokes some serious fun at state laws requiring interior designers to be licensed in order to work or, more often, in order to call themselves "interior designers" rather than decorators. The attempt to justify such laws as consumer protections is lame. The video sums up the obvious motive behind them in a pithy quote: "You make more money if you have less competition." Ah...the glamour of restraint of trade.

Over the past decade or so of observing designers of all sorts, however, I've come to believe that there's more to the lust for licensing than pure economics. Designers crave respect--note the video's derisive references to throw pillows, even as it makes the case that good interior design requires talent and experience--and many imagine that a license will buy it for them: Hey, I'm a professional! Even if it doesn't, more money makes a nice consolation prize.

Does This Barbie Make Me Look Fat?

Thumb6 Happy birthday, Barbie! The hot, plastic blonde has turned 50 and was feted with her own fashion show at NY Fashion Week. (It took me a minute or two, but I do believe that is a real human model in the link's photo, not a giant Barbie doll. Uncanny, though!)

Ah yes, but if you watched the vid of the fashion show and thought, those dresses are great but Barbie was much more buxom than the runway models, maybe you need to be introduced to the newest Barbie... Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie.

The cheerleader has smaller bosoms, skinnier legs, a more vapid stare (perhaps hunger?), and hip bones that portrude from her frame. In other words--she's just like a real model! AT LAST!

Unfortunately, the wet rags over at Commercial Free Childhood don't agree. They have given the   new Barbie their TOADY award saying:

"The Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Doll teaches girls Barbiecheer  to focus on their appearance, to aspire to an eating-disordered body, and to play at being sexy before they’re even capable of understanding what sexy means."

Look guys, I think we all need to see the silver lining on this new cheerleader Barbie. A) She's obviously overcome a lot of physical limitations to be able to stand--let alone dance!-- on those bird legs, so good for her! and B) she's somehow still got energy even after the tape worm has ravaged her once hourglass figure. Poor girl. She's obviously in the special needs category, let's leave her alone.

Or not:

"In collaboration with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, Mattel created a Barbie Doll that makes standard Barbie look like a clerk at Wal-Mart. Complete with toothpick legs and shorts that don’t qualify as shorts on several levels, Cowboy cheerleader Barbie will surely inspire thousands – perhaps millions – of little girls to vomit their cafeteria pizza so they’re still sexy in their P.E. shorts."

Well, there's one thing she's good at-- Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie made the real NY fashion models look fat, for that alone she definitely deserves an award!  Congrats!


Does The Same Rule Apply To Furniture?

P020909JB-0191_Shawl_Laughter Cathy Horyn thinks it's bad that Michelle Obama works with a mere retailer, rather than individual designers, to develop her wardrobe as first lady:

Designers should have direct access to the first lady, and not have their work and ideas put through the filter of a retailer.

Yes, I'm sure they'd love direct access--as would a lot of other people. But there's a tradeoff: You can either have one or two designers with direct access or a lot of different designers edited by a specialist who isn't also trying to be a public figure.

Besides, nobody applies that standard to furniture designers or upholstery fabric designers. Everyone thinks it's perfectly normal for the Obamas to employ an interior designer to make the White House suit their style. Maybe we need a "designer" term for stylists--costume designers for playing yourself.

As for the photo, that's no stylist. That's an Interior Department official, wrapping the first lady in an Indian shawl.