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In a timely talk, cultural critic Virginia Postrel muses on the true meaning, and the powerful uses, of glamour — which she defines as any calculated, carefully polished image designed to impress and persuade.

Definition of Glamour, 1913

\Gla”mour\, n.
1. A charm affecting the eye, making objects appear different from what they really are.
2. Witchcraft; magic; a spell.
3. A kind of haze in the air, causing things to appear different from what they really are.
4. Any artificial interest in, or association with, an object, through which it appears delusively magnified or glorified.

Whoa, this is one of the most insightful revelations I have ever heard. Having tendencies of a perfectionist, my whole life have been adoring glamorous things, people, or ideas. I never thought of its delusive and manipulative characteristics. It makes me rethink all about cosmetics, fashion, design, home decor (e.g. IKEA catalogs), posters, photography, movies, high-tech gadgets, Apple Stores, rock stars, pop idols…… etc.

Thinking theologically, it is fundamentally idolatrous.

When humankind loses touch with “the transcendent”, we end up creating our false transcendent experiences.

Postrel says the desire for glamour is to transcend the “everyday”, the common, and the mundane experiences.

I think to put the Incarnation in this context is particularly significant.

The “true transcendent”, does not come in a high-gloss, glittery, and squeeky-clean image,
but is born in a dirty, stinky, crammy stable,
as he hung out with the sinners, the poor, and the oppressed,
celebrating, eating, drinking with them,
chilling, walking, travelling, resting, sleeping,
doing all the “everyday” stuff that we all do.

Now that is truly glamourous,
truly charming and appealing,
because it does not appear differently from what it really is,
and it does not delusively magnify and glorify,
but truly reveals to us the love, the grace, and the truth of the one who comes from above, as St. John puts it in the beginning of his gospel:

“The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.” John 1:14 (The Message)

I think it is time for us to rethink what the church is about and what image it should portray, since I notice a trend in the postmodern church falling into the lure of glamour, vulnerable to its deception. Of course I am not against aesthetics, since I do personally appreciate beauty and design (I took communication and industrial design courses in college). But sometimes it makes me wonder: What kind of church-goers does a squeaky-clean, design-conscious, elitist image appeal to, except the middle-upper class who are mostly professionals and have the luxury of talking about taste and lifestyle? What about the poorer folks who are barely surviving and saving every penny for bread? Will they feel uncomfortable or even intimidated by all the glamour?

I think the church is primarily a place for realism, authenticity, love, care, genuine relationships, and diversity. Everything else is secondary. Excellence and aesthetics are worthwhile, but never at the expense of what is primary. A lot of times conflicts arise when the order of the two are confused.

Last but not least, I think a theology of the sacred needs to be preserved before we throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is such a fine line between what is conveying holiness and what is considered mere glamour (such as the beautiful medieval church architecture Postrel talks about). Much thought needs to be put into this.

Posted in Church, Culture, Posts in English, Theology.

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