Iconic Glamour Images From Blade Runner And Basic Instinct

[This post is by new DG contributor Cosmo Wenman.--vp]

Virginia recently tweeted and posted on Facebook asking, "What photos should absolutely be in a book on glamour?"

While putting together this collection of recommendations from pop-culture, I sought out the two photos below, of Sean Young in Blade Runner and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. But it wasn't until I saw them side by side that I realized how similar they are. Not only do both women know how to hold the hell out of a cigarette, but the images' contexts are nearly identical.

Both are from interrogation scenes in which the women are suspected of concealing their true natures. Both characters are extremely poised and confident, and both become romantically involved with their interrogators. There are several other parallels as well. I put together a comparison:

These twin scenes are following the same formula and mix of glamorous elements: smoking (even the question of permission to smoke), composure and confidence, deception, emotional distance, and danger. Is there an older film noir scene both these movies are paying homage to?

BTW, Virginia told me she thinks the Sean Young photo "is a little too calculatedly retro for my purposes. It lacks sprezzatura. It's more like an imitation of glamorous photos from the '40s." I think it evokes glamour, but I know what Virginia means - Sean Young's character does look almost artificial...

Relationship Cues: Sensing The Unspoken

Yes_or_no The couple at left have turned to face each other. This small detail is actually part of a pattern of cues that reveals that this couple has formed or is in the process of trying to form a relationship.

A few nights ago I observed a mother and father taking their college-age daughter out to dinner. (The mother and daughter had identical noses.) Also at the table was another young woman, perhaps the daughter’s roommate. After observing them briefly, I told my wife that I suspected the two young women might be more than roommates. Just as my wife glanced over, the two young women seemed to casually decide to compare hand sizes, but the particular way they touched their fingertips together certainly looked like a gesture of affection. My wife thought so, and the mother studied that gesture closely. The father seemed oblivious.

We remain, inescapably, biological creatures. We take in some information through our senses that we process unconsciously. A recent article in Psychology Today discusses some studies which support the “leaky cues hypothesis” that a woman would find it difficult to fully conceal all signs that she is currently fertile. Simply smelling a T-shirt recently worn by a woman in estrus caused a spike in men’s testosterone levels. A study done of lap dancers revealed that they earned almost twice as much in tips while in estrus. There are also subtle changes to a woman’s voice, face, and figure during her fertile days. Subjects shown photographs of the same woman taken over the course of a month pick the photo taken during her fertile period as the most attractive. The article also discusses subtle changes to women’s behavior during their menstrual cycle, including what type of men they may find most attractive.

Interactive visual cues, like the one I described between the roommates, can be studied by observation. In Sex Signals: The Biology of Love, biologist Timothy Perper published research based on thousands of hours spent observing interactions between men and women in places like bars and dance halls. His observation teams discovered that women used predictable patterns of visual and tactile cues to signal a man that they would be receptive to his attention. These “contact-ready” cues were so subtle most men weren’t consciously aware of receiving them, even when they responded to them. 

Perper’s research found that about 90% of women were aware that women sent such cues and could spot other women giving them, whereas only about 5 to 10% of men were consciously aware of them. To eliminate gender bias in their observations, Perper’s observers worked in teams of one man and one woman. Perper discovered that some men could not be trained to be attentive observers because they would avoid seeing women do anything that challenged the common belief that men initiate most male/female relationships. These reluctant trainees would manage to glance away at just at the moment a woman sent a subtle cue—such as touching the clothing that the man was wearing, a gesture that other teams had observed was a cue that she would accept a reciprocal touch.

Perper notes that a woman sends such cues with the unstated provision that at any point she can indicate that she is no longer interested in the man’s attention. He is then expected to withdraw (which most men seemed to understand and respect, even though a few became unwelcomely persistent). The research teams observed something similar in the pattern of male responses. When a woman began to give a man a pattern of cues, they discovered that even if he showed initial interest, if at any later point he failed to make an appropriate reciprocal response to her cue, she might as well give up on him. For example, the turn to face the other person (illustrated by the first photo) is usually initiated by the woman, and he is expected to turn toward her in response. If he doesn’t, any further efforts to engage his attention will usually fail. 

Much human behavior goes unnoticed. In his book Stein On Writing, Sol Stein recounts a lesson in observation he received from playwright Thorton Wilder:

He [Wilder] took me to watch a country square dance from an unoccupied balcony in a recreation hall, and pointed out things that writers are supposed to see. The New Hampshire folk came to dances in families—mothers, fathers, and adolescent children. As we watched from the balcony, Wilder pointed out the barely noticeable sexual interplay between fathers and daughters and mothers and sons as they danced the evening away....Wilder taught me that what a writer deals with is the unspoken, what people see or sense in silence.

Crossed-armsAfter reading Perper’s book I decided to train myself to be more observant. I read some other books on non-verbal communication (sometimes called “non-verbal leakage”), and thereafter people watching became endlessly fascinating. In restaurants I could spot a couple across the room having a quiet disagreement from cues in their body language, such as crossing their arms in front of them. At a sidewalk cafe I was amused to watch a poised, sophisticated woman deftly use body language to seem to defer to her less poised male companion about where to eat. In a casual restaurant I became deeply uncomfortable watching a teenage daughter in short shorts stand next to her father’s chair so that he could rub the back of her upper thigh, unseen by his wife sitting across from them.

Occasionally Perper’s observation teams were perplexed by what they saw. If so, and the opportunity presented itself, they might introduce themselves and ask. Seeing a group of women and a man have lunch, one team thought they were picking up signals between the man and one of the women, but weren’t sure. The woman whose signals perplexed them lingered after lunch, and they approached her, explained their research, and asked her about the situation. She laughed and told them that she was having an affair with the man, who was married, and they were trying to keep it secret. It obviously becomes harder to keep relationships secret from people trained to notice small details of interaction.

Some adeptness in reading non-verbal cues is unquestionable useful, and numerous commentators and educators have expressed concern that Generation-Y seems even less adept at it than their elders. Many commentators suggest that a fascination with the wonders of internet social networking has meant that many teenagers are failing to gain enough experience learning to read the information conveyed by subtle facial and body cues. Some people feel they are also less adept at managing their their own non-verbal information. For example, some teachers report that many of their current students are less able to look them in the eye, and often seem less skillful at face-to-face lying. In some face-to-face business and interpersonal situations, it can be important to mask non-verbal leakage. Being too easy to read can sometimes reveal more to others than you intend, and place you at a disadvantage. 

Addendum: 1/1/2011. In response to a request, I’ve listed a few books on relevant topics in the comments.

 [Yes or No? photo by malias. Disagreement photo by Ed Yourdon. Both are use under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]

The Rise And Fall Of Sexy Halloween

Marie-Antoinette-The-Sexy_0496C115 For those of you who don’t know me personally, I must confess a shame: a couple of years ago I gave in to the status quo. I bought a sexy Halloween costume.

Sexy Marie Antoinette took the symbol of decadence and beauty… and added a really short skirt, ruffle panties and thigh high stockings. Brilliant! History rolled in its grave while still getting a boner! Bravo, Halloween industry, BRAVO!

And you know what happened the night I wore that sexy costume? Sexy Marie Antoinette had herself a ball and flirted up a storm! Sexy Marie Antoinette yielded RESULTS. Which is why I am now a true believer in the power of sexy Halloween.

Apparently I’m not alone.

In the last few years the formerly sexy black cat, sexy devil, and sexy French maid have been retired in favor of a bevy of sexy fairy tale characters, sexy sailors, and sexy gangsters (?).

In fact, in the last few years, the effort to sex-up every aspect of Halloween has created an entire niche industry trying its darndest to come up with year’s sexiest and most unusual costume.

Everyone wants to design the next Sexy Marie Antoinette! But in the meantime, the very definition of sexy suffers. Let's take, for example, sexy crayons. Sexy clowns. Even Sexy clown fish.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, sexy golf (P.S. never sexy), sexy Elmo, even sexy Big Bird have pushed the limits on what is considered sexy, what is considered downright sad, and what is just plain disturbing. Badhalloween8

I mean, I get the sexy Catholic school girl--she's the young high school virgin. Classic untouchable sexy. But sexy Brownie troop girl? Guys, that's just weird. Brownies are like 8 years old. WTF? What's next? A sexy baby?

In  a world where sex sells and therefore is everywhere all the time, have we forgotten what sexy is? (You know who we should ask? Sexy Marie Antoinette.)

But as much as I lament the road female costumes are on, I feel worse for the men. Case in point, the To-Do List costume.

It is a sad, sad world we live in where men feel that a square, foam form over their body representing a super-sized desk item is considered hilarious enough to wear in public. Where is my giant stapler man costume? My giant tape dispenser or giant conference call triangle thing?

Look for them to be released in 2011, folks.

The day the music dies.

The Value Of Bedrooms

One of the 2008 Cialis commercials portrayed the danger of dropping everything else in order to enjoy impromptu sex at home.

A recent series of Cialis ads has featured domestic places like kitchen islands beginning to overflow with water and then the whole kitchen transforming into a tropical outdoor scene. One ends with a couple lounging in individual claw-foot bathtubs at the beach, a shot that understandably baffles viewers. (Does anyone understand it?)

The only discussion that I have seen about the outdoor aspect of these ads speculates that taking Cialis for Daily Use means that a man can be ready for action if the mood strikes while he’s at the beach or in the jungle.

If the thought of outdoor lovemaking is supposed to be a turn-on, I have to say “no thanks.” In my limited experience there is nothing like being bitten by mosquitoes or horseflies to wreck the mood. Or noticing that the tick that just fell on your blanket is trying to join the party. And even worse than sharing your love nest with creepy-crawlies is spotting three fishermen trying to sneak up for a better view.

That last experience ended my interest in outdoor playing around. Being inside a house or a tent may seem less adventurous, but I find privacy and bug-free environments infinitely more conducive to the mood.

And The Message Is?

Apple-dietWhat’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you look at this image?

I suspect that the ad agency mostly intended it to suggest a heart, given that Valentine’s Day is this weekend. But when I saw the placement of the apple and the model’s hands, my first impression was far more sexual. (Have I read too much about Georgia O’Keefe’s use of flowers and skulls to represent sexual organs?) I might suspect my first impression was an example of a male’s one-track mind, but when it showed it to my wife (an artist), she saw the same thing, as well as blood.

The use of an apple to help create the shape could easily be read as a reference to Eve’s apple, and this model’s abdomen is definitely sexually appealing, right down to the pierced navel.

This image comes from an e-mail from Gaiam Live, and the headline reads, “The AB-solute best diet to flatten your abs.” Right. Surely some of the ad people saw that this image suggests more potential readings than just apples and abs. As the adage goes, “Sex sells.”

Desire And Storytelling

Helen_of_Troy DG’s subheading is “at the intersection of imagination and desire.” In his book Stein On Writing, editor Sol Stein says of both fiction and non-fiction, “All storytelling from the beginning of recorded time is based on somebody wanting something.” When desire is acted upon so passionately that it defies common sense, we have the possibility of an exciting story.

“King’s wife runs off with foreign prince. War is declared.” So a contemporary tabloid might headline the act of passion that triggers the Trojan War, which Homer immortalizes in The Iliad, one of the first great works of literature in the Western world. (Ancient sources differ as to whether Helen left willingly or was abducted.) If we saw this headline today, we would want to know more. We would want to see photographs of Helen, said to be the most beautiful woman in the world.  If we did an Internet search, we might be surprised to learn that Helen is rumored to be illegitimate, the daughter of Leda and Zeus, the philandering God who (in another of his shape-shifting affairs) seduced Leda while disguised as a swan.

Passionate, ill-advised behavior can be the basis of a good story. The creators of fairy tales realized that the stakes needed to high in order to impress children with the consequences of good and bad behavior. This is true of high art as well. In Shakespeare and Opera Gary Schmidgall writes that operas and Shakespeare’s plays are about how not to behave. The main characters are inevitably “slaves of passion,” and those characters who preach common sense are sure to be secondary. The plots of many of Shakespeare’s plays could be reduced to tabloid headlines. “Jealous husband kills wife, then himself” (Othello). “Wife convinces husband to commit murder” (Macbeth). “King forms new church to wed new wife” (Henry VIII).

Stein writes that, “Readers like to experience things in fiction that they would not want to experience themselves in real life.” The Internet allows us quickly indulge our our curiosity when we learn that famous people have behaved badly. We are curious when the news breaks that a beautiful actress is having an affair with the husband of another beautiful actress. Or when it is discovered that a trusted executive has embezzled millions of dollars. Or when it is learned that a supposedly upstanding athlete or politician has commented adultery.

Speaking again of fiction, Stein writes, that “Writers are troublemakers....Their job is to give readers stress, strain, and pressure....readers who hate those things in life love them in fiction.” And to some extent, we love to read about real-life stressful experiences, as long as they are happening to someone else. Regarding nonfiction, Stein comments, “In life we prefer an absence of conflict. In what we read, an absence of conflict means an absence of stimulation.”

The epic poetry of The Iliad used a tremendous cast of characters, from common soldiers to Olympian Gods, all of whom were capable of bad behavior. When kingdoms and empires were ruled by monarchs, the desire to rule led to horrendous crimes. Members of a royal families sometimes murdered each other by means ranging from poison to torture and execution.

Cleopatra-colbert Cleopatra VII married two of her younger brothers in succession, conspired against both, and formed successive romantic, child-bearing relationships with both Julius Ceasar and Mark Anthony to consolidate her power. Cleopatra has fascinated storytellers for centuries, witness Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra and several films. (The photo at right is of Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra in Cecile B. DeMille’s 1934 film.) Part of our fascination with Cleopatra stems from her position linking different cultures, but we also are intrigued by her ruthless ambition and seemingly calculated ability to captivate men.

In contrast, the less-well-known 12th-century Welsh princess Nest ferch Rhys was apparently simply so beautiful that men were desperate to possess her, leading to disgraceful behavior on their part. After her father died, King Henry I of England appointed himself her “protector,” and his protection resulted in Nest bearing him a son. Henry then married her to one of his followers, Gerald de Windsor, and she bore him five children. Then her cousin Prince Owain met her, was smitten, attacked Gerald’s castle, and carried her off. This led to a local civil war which cost Owain’s father his lands. She bore Owain two sons. Eventually Gerald killed Owain, and Nest was returned. After Gerald died, another man took her as his lover, and she bore him a son. Imagine the tabloid headlines for various stages of that story.

There are no photographs of Helen, Cleopatra, or Nest to feed our curiosity; so for centuries artists have portrayed such women using their imagination and the standards of beauty in their time. The painting shown above of Helen of Troy is from the 19th century; the one below is from the 17th. Look at the admiring gaze Italian painter Guido Remi gave to Paris.

Helen-Guido-Reni In films directors cast a beautiful actress in the role of Helen and hope that in onscreen action she proves charismatic. In the Renaissance, Helen’s beauty was captured in words. In Christopher Marlowe’s play Dr. Faustus, Faustus sells his soul to Mephistopheles. Before he is dragged to Hell, Fautus asks to see the legendary beauty, Helen of Troy. His wish is granted, and Faustus is captivated. Here is the beginning of his enraptured speech:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.

“And all is dross that is not Helena.” To a “slave of passion” consumed by an overwhelming desire, everything else can seem worthless. If such people risk everything else to pursue their desires, stories of their reckless actions may become the stuff of legends and artistic portrayals, or, more likely, tabloid headlines.

[The first Helen of Troy painting by Evelyn De Morgan. The second by Guido Reni. Both images are from Wikimedia Commons.]

MadMen Contest: Where Were The Secretaries?

Mad-men01 Banana Republic sponsored a photo competition for people dressed in the style of the TV show MadMen. The prize is a walk-on role for an episode of the show, and the semifinalists and now the winner have been announced. Among the semifinalist photos we see portraits of wives and airline stewardesses, but secretaries (now titled “administrative assistants”) and interns seem underrepresented.

In imagining a walk-on role, a temporary secretary or someone interviewing to be an intern would seem to have great potential. Such a walk-on role could be little or no dialogue, and a lovely young woman could provide eye candy for the show’s viewers. Surely a lot of contestants felt this would be the case and submitted photos of themselves as secretaries. One of these is shown at right.

An attractive, unattached female is inevitably the focus of considerable male attention in an office, even if it is limited to looking and fantasizing. The image at right captures such a moment marvelously. The woman who is the subject of her boss’s admiring appraisal no doubt realizes that he will study her figure as she walks away, and she accepts it, though from her expression we can’t tell whether she welcomes it or not.

Back before issues of sexual harassment made office relationships more hazardous, secretaries were often involved in affairs with their bosses or other men in the office. So I find it surprising that photos of secretaries didn’t turn up in the semi-finalists. However, the semi-finalists and winners were determined by public voting, which always make the outcome of a contest unpredictable.  A long-standing issue for the TV show Dancing with the Stars has been how its predominately female viewers vote. After the first few seasons the producers feared that no woman contestant would ever win because so many women viewers seemed to simply vote for the man they would most like to have as their dance partner.

Porter Hovey Mad Men The winning MadMen photo is shown at left, and an interview with winner Porter Hovey can be found here. Hovey is a freelance photographer, and she and her sister staged the photo. She portrays a well-dressed suburban mom, sunglasses and all, who is sitting on the steps next to her vintage stroller. One of the questions her interviewer asks is whether she sees herself as a Marilyn or a Jackie, though there doesn’t seem much doubt which one she emulates in the photo.

Contests in which the winner is whoever crosses the line first are easy to understand. The same with sports like basketball where points are scored when the ball goes through the hoop, and the team with the most points wins.

Contests involving subjective judgments are often puzzling. Looking at the photos of the men who are semi-finalists, only the first had a suggestion of narrative. The rest seem like straightforward photos—no feeling of story. Some of the women’s photos are more interesting in a narrative sense, particularly the first, the last, and the winner. In these, the women are seen in staged action. Surely that made a difference in how voters were able to relate to photos.

Perhaps the majority of voters in this contest were women, and if so I can imagine them relating to a wife with responsibilities who is forced to wait for someone, perhaps her late-as-usual husband. A scene like this invites us to imagine what the story is. The photo looks like it could be a genuine street shot, and people were actually stopping and peeking in to see the baby (which turned out to be camera gear).

It would be interesting to know the demographics of the voters. Did women vote for images of women that they identified with? Returning to the lack of secretary photos among the semifinalists, were women voters  less inclined to vote for images of women who look as if they might put a married man’s fidelity to the test? I didn’t vote, but as a male I confess that I understood why the man in the first photo was mesmerized.

[Photo of the woman in blue is from Suchacyn’s Flicker Photostream, and is used by permission.]


Imagining Red-Hot Sensuality

The-red-dress I just purchased a book by Kim Addonizio that contains a poetic response to Freud’s question, “What Do Women Want?” Her poem begins:

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath.

I suspect there are many women who sometimes fantasize about what it would be like to be boldly uninhibited about their sensuality. I know my wife sometimes does, and one of the fictional characters who fascinates her is Carmen (whether in the opera or the flamenco film). This story of a lustful gypsy who shamelessly seduces whatever man she chooses fascinates a lot of people—it has been the basis for more than 50 films, musicals, and dance works.

We plan to travel to London in October, and I discovered that Bizet’s Carmen will be playing at the Royal Opera House. So I located a dress-rehearsal video of Elïna Garanča, the mezzo soprano scheduled to sing the title role. My wife loved the red and blue costume and the staging. Here is that dress rehearsal video (not of the production we would see):

Carmen takes as her lover whatever man interests her at the moment, and then abandons him when he begins to bore her.  Similarly, later in her poem Addonizio writes:

I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want.

Poor Freud. I wonder if he ever imagined that this is what women sometimes want, even if perhaps temporarily, or even if, for most women, perhaps only in fantasy. (Here are links to Addonizio’s whole poem, as well as Virginia’s earlier post on red dresses.)

[Red dress photo by inottawa, and used under the Flickr Creative Common's license.]

The Pleasure Of Double Entendres

While driving recently I heard The Who’s Mama’s Got a Squeeze Box on the radio and began reflecting on the pleasures of double entendres. This song has long been controversial. Some feel that the lyrics are straight-forward (about an accordion), while others feel it can be read two ways (the second involves sex). (There is also controversy about whether Peter Townshend wrote the song, or recorded a song that had been around for many years.) The live performance shown below argues for the double meaning.

We rely a great deal on double entendres in everyday communication. Understanding puns, irony, sarcasm, and much risqué humor depends on catching the double meaning or interpretation, and, when we do, we derive pleasure not only from “getting it,” but also from being an insider, someone capable of enjoying the double meaning.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea that the meaning of a statement or a work of can be contingent on how it is interpreted. In The Scandal of Pleasure Wendy Steiner writes that:

Artistic meaning, like all meaning, is a matter of interpretation....Conservatives wrongly believe that a work of art has one universal, unmistakable meaning, which they are certain they understand.

Yet, for most of us, catching double entendres can be one of the great joys of language. In one sense, the poem by Robert Herrick given below can be read as simply being about seeing Julia wearing an attractive hairnet, and his desire to see her let her hair down.

Hairnet-b17-worker Upon Julia's hair, bundled up in a golden net.

Tell me, what needs those rich deceits,
These golden toils, and trammel-nets,
To take thine hairs when they are known
Already tame, and all thine own?
’Tis I am wild, and more then hairs
Deserve these meshes and those snares.
Set free thy tresses, let them flow
As airs do breathe, or winds do blow:
And let such curious net-works be
Less set for them, then spread for me.

Herrick was a 17th-century Anglican cleric, so Alfred T. Palmer’s glamorous WWII photograph of a woman working on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber in Long Beach, CA is obviously anachronistic. But seeing how pretty she looks, with her hairnet matching her jacket, it is easy to understand Herrick’s desire to see Julia set her tresses free. Seeing her hair bundled up makes him long to see her let it down.

With Herrick, things are complicated. Julia was just one of Herrick’s many imaginary mistresses, though she was his favorite. Whether there was a real woman that inspired his Julia poems has long been debated. If Herrick saw a woman wearing a hairnet, it would have most likely been a snood, a hair covering that she perhaps wore to his church for modesty. The factory worker in the photograph is wearing a hairnet for safety, but the choice of color is clearly for adornment. And hair coverings can be both religiously modest and attractive. As Devorah declares about her head coverings, “modesty does not mean frumpy!”

Elaborate-snood Indeed. Elaborate snoods such as this one from Melanie Moore Designs are sometimes worn with wedding gowns and other formal gowns.

Herrick was one of the Cavalier poets, a division that roughly divides the worldly poets from the metaphysical poets of 17th-century England. Herrick wrote religious poems, but they are far fewer in number and much less esteemed than his secular poems. Cavalier poems often made use of double coding.

“Hair” was one of these possibilities. Herrick’s contemporaries would likely have assumed that the above poem might also make sense if “hair” was sometimes taken to mean something more likely to be viewed in private than in public. In this case, doing so radically transforms the meaning of the final line. Which is the correct reading? Likewise, what is the purpose of the snood pictured here: modesty or adornment? Half the pleasure of double entrendres is going back and forth between the two possible readings.

[Bombardier worker photo from Library of Congress 1930s-40s in Color collection on Flickr Commons.]

The Entourage Effect

Both men and women seem to recognize that a valuable fashion accessory can be the company of an attractive, well-attired member of the opposite sex. And if one item of arm candy helps proclaim one’s attractiveness, what about the effect of a bevy of them? 

Musical theater has long understood and exploited this notion. In the 1957 film Les Girls Gene Kelly works with a troupe of 3 beautiful dancers. In the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy James Cagney sings for a bevy of 16 belles wearing matching costumes. (See image number 22.) And in the same film Fay Templeton is admired by 8 nattily attired men. (See image number 37.)

Costuming one's bevy of admirers in matching outfits helps mark them as your entourage. In a 2005 Salzburg production of Verdi’s La Traviata, Anna Netrebko,  in a red dress, is surrounded by a large chorus, all of whom wear black suits. If you look closely you can see that many of those wearing suits are women, which only adds to the implication that she is attractive to all.

Epowellbm38 This image from Broadway Melody of 1938 suggests even greater sexual ambiguity. Thirty-two men in black top hat and tails kneel in admiration of Eleanor Powell, who is dressed in masculine, gray-blue top hat and tails. She stands in a feet-planted, legs-apart stance that body language experts call a crotch display. It is common stance for tough guys, but is seldom used by women (except superheroes). Of the 32 women whose eyes admire her, half already seem to have swooned, their dresses forming a lovely pattern. (See a superb large scan of this image here.)

Such over-the-top images almost parody themselves. By the time music videos came around, the entourage effect was ripe for post-modern reworking. In Robert Palmer’s  Addicted to Love video his band consists of five women who seem made up to resemble the stylized prints of Patrick Nagel. Clad in provocative versions of the simple black dress, these women wear neutral expressions. This leaves the tie-clad Palmer as the only person free to show facial emotion, his sexual attractiveness firmly established by his glamorous band.

Shania Twain parodied these images with her Man! I Feel Like a Woman! video. Her male band is strangely clad. Wearing what appears to be latex from the waist down, their upper bodies are showcased in thin stretch fabric. Better matched facially even than the women in Palmer’s video, they all wear swim goggles atop their forehead, perhaps a reference to a particular image of Nagel’s. The men seem to be stoic soldiers of glamour who know and accept their role as accessories. For brief periods they even disappear from the video. (And be sure to note Twain's stance.)

[Click to see YouTube video.]

Twain begins the video wearing a top hat and long black dress that suggests a tuxedo. By the video’s end she has stripped down to long black gloves, thigh-high boots, and a black corset. This costume has enough dominatrix overtones to reinforce her commanding role in this group, and, like Palmer, she is the only one allowed to show facial emotion.

As a stage device the entourage effect can seem part of an entertaining fantasy. But perpetuated over time in real life (à la Hugh Hefner surrounded by living Barbie Dolls), it can devolve into a caricature that becomes unflattering to everyone involved.