Rick Perry’s op­tics

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - MEGHAN DAUM mdaum@la­timescolum­nists.com Twit­ter: @meghan_­daum

There’s a mo­ment in sea­son eight of the HBO com­edy “Curb Your En­thu­si­asm” when the char­ac­ter Larry David (played in duly neu­rotic and can­tan­ker­ous fash­ion by the real Larry David) dis­cov­ers the trans­for­ma­tive power of eye­glasses. When his friend Leon, an African Amer­i­can with a pen­chant for baggy pants and gold chains, is barred from an event be­ing held in a snooty ho­tel, Larry sug­gests that white ac­cep­tance might be sim­ply a mat­ter of the right ac­ces­sory.

“I’ve no­ticed that white peo­ple re­vere black peo­ple in glasses, go out of their way to do stuff with them,” Larry tells Leon. “A black man with glasses goes out for a job against a white man, glasses get the job. No glasses, no job.”

Sure enough, Leon puts on a pair of smart-look­ing specs and, even though the event is sold out and Larry him­self is turned away, he’s im­me­di­ately ush­ered in.

“This is bet­ter than any­thing the civil rights lead­ers have ever come up with!” Larry ex­claims.

“I have over­come,” says Leon earnestly.

Is Rick Perry try­ing to pull off a sim­i­lar trick with his glasses? Ever since the for­mer Texas gover­nor an­nounced his can­di­dacy for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion last week, there’s been much talk about whether Perry 2.0 will be dis­cernibly smarter than the can­di­date we saw back in 2011. His fa­mous “oops” mo­ment — when he an­nounced dur­ing a de­bate that he would shut down three ma­jor gov­ern­ment agen­cies but couldn’t re­mem­ber the third one — sealed his rep­u­ta­tion as a some­thing of a good-old-boy air­head.

But to­day, wear­ing dark­rimmed, nerdy-cum-arty frames, Perry looks, if not ex­actly pro­fes­so­rial, at least like he wouldn’t stand out at a gallery open­ing.

In fair­ness, the Jean La­font glasses, which Perry says his wife picked out, may not be overtly part of his cam­paign strat­egy. For starters, he’s been wear­ing them since 2013. What’s more, it seems likely that Anita Perry chose this style sim­ply be­cause it’s of­ten re­mark­ably flat­ter­ing.

Ob­vi­ously this is sub­jec­tive, but I’ve long no­ticed that when even the plainest per­son puts on a pair of dark, rec­tan­gu­lar frames, he or she looks at least 60% more at­trac­tive. For in­stance, ac­tor Paul Gia­matti, not known for hav­ing an es­pe­cially tra­di­tional Hol­ly­wood look, can thank his eye­wear for kick­ing him up sev­eral notches in the ap­pear­ance depart­ment. Perry, who was al­ready a rea­son­ably good-look­ing man, could pass for an aging male model in his glasses (the kind of guy you see in print ads for geri­atric vi­ta­mins or re­tire­ment in­vest­ment funds). At least if he lost that gi­ant Ag­gie ring.

Perry’s frame style has its own tax­on­omy. The domain is Buddy Holly; the king­dom, Elvis Costello; the phy­lum, Tina Fey and so on. Per­son­ally, though, I like to call them Ira Glasses. Not just be­cause they’ve al­ways been in­te­gral to the sig­na­ture look of the host of NPR’s “This Amer­i­can Life” but be­cause the style seemed to gain cul­tural trac­tion in the late 1990s and early aughts. That’s when the pro­gram’s edgy, al­ter­na­tive vibe went from be­ing some­thing that only cool peo­ple knew about to some­thing that (much to the dis­tress of the cool peo­ple) ev­ery­one was hip to.

The glasses frames had a sim­i­lar tra­jec­tory. For­merly avail­able mostly at vin­tage stores or high­end ur­ban bou­tiques, by 2001 they could be found at any Lens-Crafters. Sure, their sharp lines and dark color still qual­i­fied them as “state­ment eye­wear.” It’s just that the state­ment ba­si­cally amounted to “I’m dif­fer­ent in ex­actly the same way ev­ery­one else is.”

Though there might be some truth to the the­ory that Perry’s choice of eye­wear rep­re­sents an at­tempt to look smarter — or at least less dumb — I sus­pect there’s an even sub­tler form of mes­sag­ing in play. By sport­ing Ira Glasses, Perry may also be try­ing make him­self more palat­able to mod­er­ates and young peo­ple.

That’s be­cause the glasses don’t say “I know per­fectly well what three gov­ern­ment agen­cies I’d shut down” as much as “I may sup­port gun rights and not gay rights but that doesn’t mean I’m afraid to skew a lit­tle met­ro­sex­ual” (there’s an­other late ’90s/early aughts term for you). They don’t say “I’m smart” as much as “I’m not a red­neck.”

Which is all well and good. Though, as Larry David would point out, Perry still wouldn’t stand a chance against a be­spec­ta­cled Leon.

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