Charm, Charming, and Charmed

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home.

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9 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    “I was taught to be charming but not sincere.”-Prince Charming, Into the Woods.

    Charm is great but I think we live in an age that finds it to be an artifice. Did Americans ever really do charm or did we import our charm from abroad. Cary Grant was charming. Did anyone ever describe Henry Fonda or James Stewart as charming.

    What current society is focused on for a wide-variety of reasons is that charm can be used to insidious reasons. It also seems to be very subjective. A lot of people thought Bush “the Pres you could drink a beer with” had a certain kind of folksy charm. A lot of people like me found his faux-Texan thing false and insidious.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I think that irony kills charm. As a society we’re so focused on giving ourselves not just wiggle room (implying a little movement) but room to mean exactly the opposite of what we’ve said. There are other traits that oppose charm, but irony strikes me as a particularly powerful one. The word “charm” calls up an image of magic. It suggests a willingness on the part of the recipient to lower his guard. A culture of trolls isn’t going to be charming.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Pinky says:

        I agree in part and dissent in part.

        We live in the era of Deconstruction, but when there are those who engage able to engage the public sphere with Construction, and do so with wit and grace, and without naiviety or (excessive) saccrinity, the world beats a path to their door.

        This is why everyone loves Tom Hanks, and most people love Oprah Winfrey.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Kolohe says:

          Splash came out 34 years ago, and Oprah went national two years later.Report

        • fillyjonk in reply to Kolohe says:

          I wonder if this is part of the deep nostalgia for figures like Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross.

          I, for one, get very tired of snark, because to me it seems like a cheap way of avoiding vulnerability. (Even though I sometimes do it myself; I get that lots of people – self included – feel the need to protect ourselves from being too vulnerable in a sharp-edged world).Report

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    Charm can make up for a lot. Not everyone is blessed with good looks or athletic bodies, but charm (along with humor and wit) can break ice that would otherwise stay solid.Report

  3. fillyjonk says:

    I think “charm” (or what we used to call such) can be dangerous in a person. I know a few people that, when I was younger, I thought they were charming in some way or other, but have since learned they are actually somewhat predatory. That they used the charm not for warmth and comfort of others, but to get what they wanted. (Mostly men, going after women, but not exclusively so).

    There’s genuine charm (which I think is rare) and that icky false charm – think the glad-handing salesperson type. Some people see through it but apparently enough don’t that it keeps going. (Sometimes I don’t see through it, not at first)

    I try to be kind and as “warm” as someone who is deeply introverted and perhaps-not-completely-neurotypical can be, but I wouldn’t call myself “charming,” that seems to presuppose a certain level of something like comfort with the world and ease in navigating it, and one thing I find is that the world is a damnably hard place to navigate some days.

    “Charm” in terms of nice things in architecture or the public sphere or things just generally being nicer than the bare minimum, though – that’s totally different and seems quite essential to me. I dislike the uglification and functionalization of things. I was sad to learn of the closing of the “Fresh Market” in my parents’ town – now, yes, maybe a lot of that “charm” was artifice designed to get people to spend more money, but darn it was nice to walk into a grocery and have low lighting and quiet and classical music playing from the speakers. To me, the average wal-mart feels kind of assaulting: too bright, too loud, too many hard surfaces, ceilings too high, too much of just a box plopped in the landscape. But it seems as much as brick-and-mortar retail survives, the “big sterile brightly-lit loudbox” model is what we’re going to get. Maybe we deserve it; I don’t know. But it’s unpleasant to shop there some times.

    I spend a fair amount of effort trying to make my house colorful and soft and have pleasant lighting, because I need that. If I can’t live in a world where the outsides are pleasant, at least I can return home to my softly-colored walls and the set of fairy lights I hung around the doorframe to the living room a couple Christmases ago and never took down…Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    Americans are going to have a confused attitude towards charm. Like Saul pointed out, Americans might have liked it but we also saw it as anti-American. We saw ourselves as a plain speaking democratic people while charm is associated with artifice and the upper classes. It used to not be uncommon for Americans of a certain class to teach their children to speak with a posh English accent rather than an American one.

    As Fillyjonk noted, charm is also seen as predatory these days. At least in some quarters. It’s assiciated with Nice Guys, White Knights, and other louts. People who are seemingly pleasant on the surface but not great in the interior. Again, charm is seen artifice rather than something sincere or true in this case.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Thing is, you can be plain speaking and still have charm. Charm is in the delivery, the bearing, and how one treats others and the topic at hand.

      It isn’t that people want to be plain spoken, it’s that they want to be bluntly honest to the point of abrasive.

      A person with charm can be painfully honest and you’ll thank them for the telling.Report