Dead Kennedys, Perfect Models


“Despite what the fashion-magazine cover blurbs suggest, glamour is not a matter of style but of psychology. It is an imaginative exchange, in which an audience projects its longings onto the glamorous object and sees in that person, place or thing the fulfillment of those desires. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning.

“That process requires distance and mystery, because glamour is always an illusion.”

That’s Virginia Postrel writing in Forbes last week on “Politics and Glamour”  — or, why Jack and Bobby Kennedy are and Teddy isn’t. (Short answer: the first two died young, the last one didn’t.)

In Girardian terms, we desire something because it’s desired by someone else, a model or mediator, who seems to have and be what we feel we keenly lack. The “audience” in Postrel’s language is the “disciple” in Girard’s triangle, who projects his or her longings onto an idealised model or mediator and wants what the model seems to have, whether it’s a tangible object (clothes, house, hair, money, friends, family) or an intangible one (status, acclaim, youth, perfection, power, likability, coolness) — and in the end, it’s all about wanting the most intangible aspect of the model, his or her being. We want to be transformed into the other, whose being seems so preferable to our own.

Dead young people — dead Kennedys, in fact — are perfect models for us. Jack and Bobby will always remain, as Postrel says, personas, not persons, “all hope and promise and projection” for anyone but those closest to them. They remain idealised, they remain untouchable and unreachable models who promise us whatever we desire, who seem so different and otherwordly that they can’t evoke much envy from us, and who by virtue of their distance from us in every way will never become our stumbling blocks, the model who becomes the hated rival.


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