Royal Flush

Royal Flush

The Perils of Charisma

By Frank Pittman

January/February 2007

When the first space folk arrive from Uranus and ask earthlings to take them to their leader, will they be presented to Kofi Annan or Paris Hilton? Real leaders are genuine to the extent that they can arouse in a population a grander, nobler vision of themselves as a people. But while trendsetters and stylists merely influence people to change their clothes and alter how they perceive themselves in their mirrors, political leaders inspire people to strive toward something beyond their own self-preservation or advancement. But either kind of leader is in danger of falling in love with his or her own charisma and forgetting a simple lesson of history: they'll all come crashing down in due time. (Calling Ozymandias.)

This fall, at a time when competent, sensible leadership seems in especially short supply around the globe, three films appeared almost simultaneously to explore the nature of both leadership and celebrity, especially their pitfalls.

At 14, Marie Antoinette, the youngest child of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, was married off to physically and psychologically prepubescent Louis XVI of France. Sexually constricted by severe phimosis (when the foreskin of the penis cannot be fully retracted), Louis had little awareness of sex or of anything else much beyond his obsessive hobby of locks and keys. He compensated by giving his untouched bride an unlimited clothes budget. With it, she became the world's Queen of Fashion and Extravagance, perhaps the…

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