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Henry Kissinger, Angelina Jolie, and the International Politics of “Glam”

- December 11, 2007

Henry Kissinger, called upon to explain his bizarre emergence as a sex symbol, famously quipped that “Power is the ultimiate aphrodisiac.” That quip came immediately to my mind as I read Daniel Drezner‘s article, “Foreign Policy Goes Glam,” in the November/December issue of The National Interest. In the very first sentence of the article, Drezner asks, “Who would you rather sit next to at your next Council on Foreign Relations roundtable: Henry Kissinger or Angelina Jolie?”

Point taken. Celebrities — many of them sex symbols like Jolie, Madonna, or George Clooney — are increasingly emerging as a force to be reckoned with in public and international affairs. Let me suggest that perhaps, given Drezner’s argument, Kissinger’s formulation should be revised: Aphrodisia is the ultimate power.

Drezner’s point is simple:

bq. Increasingly, celebrities are taking an active interest in world politics. … [T]hese efforts … are actually affecting what governments do and say. The power of soft news has given star entertainers additional leverage to advance their causes. Their ability to raise issues to the top of the global agenda is growing.

Even as vice president, Drezner notes, Al Gore “made little headway in addressing the problem of global warming eyond negotiating a treaty that the United States never ratified.” “As a post-White House celebrity,” though, Gore “has been far more successful … than he ever was as vice president. This is the kind of parable that could lead aspiring policy wonks to wonder if the best way to command policy influence is to attend Julliard instead of the Fletcher School.”

Rather than continuing to cherry-pick Drezner’s punch lines, I’ll simply point interested readers to it (abstract here). His interpretation of the causes and consequences of “glam” politics isn’t novel, but it’s an engaging piece that warrants a look.

p.s. Those who aren’t already familiar with Drezner’s international relations-oriented blog should check it out — lots of grist for the mill there.