The power to make someone else feel that both of you are “wonderful” is the Thinking Man’s Dictionary’s definition of charm. It takes talent to accomplish mutual wonderfulness without high fat, sodium, condoms, or financial risk. Feeling wonderful is a gratifying thing, in moderation. Unfortunately, gold diggers, salespeople, con artists, pushers, sexual predators, and corporate climbers have used charm to manipulate others to such a degree that many people are now suspicious of charm. A poet once said to me of a warm, supportive writer, “I never trust a charming man, and he is very charming.” Perhaps the level of acceptable charm corresponds to the amount of control involved.
Charm has also developed a bad reputation due to attitudes toward co-dependency. The Thinking Man’s Dictionary also stated, “All charming people have something to conceal, usually their total dependence on the appreciation of others.” Sounds like 99% of entertainers, yet we’d missed the charm of Eddie Murphy’s contagious laugh, Martin Short’s confused grin, and Mel Gibson’s sultry smile should they learn to get along without our admiration.
There was a time when the charms of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara were emulated. It was shallow and pretentious, but, oh, they had such style. The Gone With The Wind lifestyle did not bring happiness, but at least it brought the occasional heart flutter. Not so with the “in-your-face” attitude of the 90s. Heart flutters today are based on the fight or flight response.
Throughout history there have been those who lacked intangible charm, or sought to strengthen it with other means. Tangible charms have been used for as long as the wink and the compliment. A rabbit’s foot is a charm still used today to bring good luck. Obviously, it wasn’t very lucky for the rabbit or he wouldn’t have been caught in a trap. Lucky pennies are still used, though you’re hard-pressed to find anything for that price. Crystals and gems, considered New Age, have been around since man first dug his first hole with his first sharp stone.
Men, especially athletes, seem to prefer their charms grubby. Apparently the amputated foot of a small, fluffy, vegetarian is not close enough. On the TV show Coach, Luther had all the football players rub his lucky jersey in order to ensure their winning streak. Kelly Gruber refused to clean the grub off his helmet during the 1992 World Cup series for fear washing away the luck.
While many people will admit to using good luck charms on occasion, few admit the opposite. Voodoo dolls and potions are denounced charms used to control others. Miniatures have often been used in the occult as a method of charming someone. It was never acceptable to charm someone into sickness, unless it was love sickness.
Charming someone into nausea became a fashion statement of the late 60s and early 70s. Remember when everyone owned at least one silver or gold charm bracelet? If you think about it, isn’t it strange that women would cart around a pound of precious metal shaped into sports equipment, pets, and buildings that she often saw every day?
Those with gold bracelets selected their expensive charms carefully but those with silver were as insatiable as 12-year-old boys collecting baseball cards. I learned never to comment on the 35 miniatures strung on a woman’s wrist. It was tantamount to asking her life story.
Charm bracelets gave license to stories of poodles who had to be put to sleep, grandchildren who were potty trained early, knitting needles that represented one of her many skills, and hula dancers who invited the owner onto the stage in Hawaii eight years previous. It was as bad as a tour of spoons. Home video seemed exciting by comparison.
These charms have not disappeared. Nowadays, women and men wear one or two on a chain, usually gold, around their necks. They can be a conversation starter without leading into a therapy session. Quality has replaced quantity.
Marion Zimmer Bradley, award-winning writer, wrote a futuristic novel entitled The Shattered Chain. She may have developed the idea from an old charm bracelet. Women were completely subjected to men in her story. What an unusual idea! All females past adolescence wore wrist chains, similar to handcuffs. They were connected by a longer chain that threaded through the woman’s belts, enabling her to work, but not lift her arms over her head or fling them in an outstretched manner. This would make hurling a drink impossible, allowing men to abandon any guise of charm. “Pampered” women had solid gold wrist chains decorated with gold and jewels. Scarlett O’Hara would’ve garrotted herself.
As sick as the idea is, Bradley may have been onto something. Not as a method of subjecting one gender, but as a deterrent and punishment for lawbreakers. Instead of offenders wearing handcuffs, they could be subdued by charm bracelets weighted down with all the symbols of their crimes.
The criminal could be forced to explain the significance of his “guilt charms” to a designated number of citizens. Part of the punishment is in the struggle to get people to listen. This might also negate the interest in the sadistic docu-dramas of murderers and rapists freeing television for better things. In order to complete his sentence, the criminal would have to file the names of the required number of listeners. How would he find people willing to provide the time? I guess he would have to develop some good, old-fashioned charm.
Published Sunday, November 21, 1993 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-news.