Monthly Archives: October 2014


Q: Who’s that in the picture?
A: Renée Zellweger.
Q: What? It looks nothing like her. That’s her in the picture below.
A: Trust me: it’s Renée herself. She’s been off the radar a bit lately, but she’s back in the news now, largely because of the transmogrification.
Q: Eh?
A: It means a surprising, even magical transformation.
Q: Everything about her seems different; what happened?
A: She attributed the change to “living a different, happy, more fulfilling life.” Most people assume she’s had some plastic surgery: a blepharoplasty, or upper eyelid lift, possibly forehead lift and some injectable fillers that have widened the planes of her face. She might also have had some laser or ultrasound procedures that tighten the skin. In her case, everything seems to have gone relatively according to plan. She doesn’t look much like the “Bridget Jones” we all know, but she’s OK. Which is more than we can say for the British woman who died in Thailand a few days ago. She’d already had some plastic surgery done at a Bangkok clinic and had returned for some more work. This time, it went terribly wrong and she stopped breathing after receiving the anaesthetic.
Q: So why is everyone going crazy to have their faces changed? Is it the search for eternal youth?
A: In the 1960s and perhaps until the 1980s cosmetic surgery was a luxury reserved mostly for stars and elite white women. Now there is a much more access. The surgery is still expensive, but many more people are prepared to pay whatever it costs to effect the modification, and, if they can get it cheaper in Asia or elsewhere, they’re prepared to travel. The reason for this is simultaneously simple and complex. People are increasingly unhappy, frustrated or in some way discontented with their own bodies. Why otherwise would they want them changed? That’s the simple part. What isn’t so clear is whether they have become more — or less — dissatisfied in recent years and why they are opting for what can be discomforting and dangerous procedures, which are usually followed by a painful post-op period. The late American writer Christopher Lasch wrote about what he called The Culture of Narcissism that emerged in the 1970s. One of the most pronounced tendencies to emerge from this climate was “the therapeutic outlook,” in which, as Lasch put it, “the individual endlessly examines himself for signs of aging and ill health, for tell-tale symptoms of psychic stress, for blemishes and flaws that might diminish his attractiveness.” Youth has a special value in today’s culture: no one wants to grow old, but there are prescribed ways we can slow down the process. Exercise, healthy eating and stress-free living can put the brake on for a while, but ultimately the physical appearance needs more drastic interventions. What’s new though is the number of young people who are opting for surgery. The woman who died in Bangkok was only 24. As of now, we don’t know what kind of procedure she was due to have: it could have been some facial work or maybe breast augmentation. Either way, she wanted to change her physical appearance and the lengths to which she was prepared to go suggest how much emphasis we all place on this.
Q: Have we always been narcissistic?
A: It’s a good question — by which I mean: I don’t have a ready answer for you. I think the very fact that we are self-conscious animals means we are aware of our physical presence and, as we interact with others, we become conscious of the fact that other people make evaluations of us based on physical qualities. In that sense we have always been narcissists. I agree with Lasch that, since the 1970s, we’ve placed more and more stress on our appearance, at the same time making every effort we can to maintain a look that we find agreeable. I also believe celebrities have an impact: we tend to look at their faces, bodies and clothes and want to emulate them. We can approximate their appearance quite closely now, thanks to plastic surgery.
Q: You mean we’re all trying to look like our favourite celebs?
A: No, I don’t mean we deliberately set out to look like someone else, although there have been many cases of people striving to resemble JLo, Brad Pitt and others. But celebrity culture has brought with it an even greater accentuation on physical appearance and we’ve responded by paying closer attention to the way we look to others. I don’t necessarily think this is a destructive trend. But every time we look at Renée, we should also remind ourselves that less fortunate enthusiasts of plastic surgery are dying in their efforts to look good.

Why the Rooney Rule won’t work in England



Chris Powell, manager of Huddersfield, is one of only two black managers in England’s 92 league football clubs. How can we change this?

Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about this Rooney Rule lately. What’s it all about?
A: The Rooney Rule was introduced by the National Football League (NFL) to address the shortage of African American head coaches in American football. The playing staff of most NFL teams was dominated by black players, yet there were so few head coaches, that it became an embarrassment. In 2003, Dan Rooney, the owner of Pittsburgh Steelers at the time, came up with the idea of stipulating that, when clubs interviewed candidates for head coach jobs, they should always include a black candidate on the short list.
Q: And did it work?
A: To a large degree, yes. It surprised me that there was little resistance from the clubs and, over time, African American head coaches began filtering through. So, while there were — and still are — critics, the results were evidence that it was effective.
Q: It sounds similar to the British Labour Party’s policy of including at least one woman on shortlists when they were considering political candidates to contest elections. That worked too. So why haven’t we already road-tested the Rooney Rule over here?
A: First of all, many people don’t think there is an underrepresentation of black managers in football over here. If you compare the handful of black managers with the number of black players, there is a problem. But, if you look at the picture in terms of the wider population, then the minority seems a reasonable reflection of the number of black people in British society generally. Second, the NFL is a much stronger organization than the Football Association and runs the league very strictly. Clubs are not allowed to negotiate their own sponsorship and kit deals and there is no transfer system; clubs recruit players through the yearly draft, which is strictly controlled. The amount of independence clubs have over here would be unthinkable in the US. This means that Premier League and Football League club owners would almost certainly resent the FA’s intrusion into what they regard as their business.
Q: But Uefa is imposing Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, so that’s interference, isn’t it?
A: It is and, already, clubs are fighting it. I think FFP is a good idea and would, if implemented, prevent the perpetuation of a small elite of European clubs. But I fear it will face bitter resistance from club owners, who just don’t like being told how to spend their money. Similarly, I think they would resent being told whom to interview for managerial jobs.
Q: All the same, their arms could be twisted, couldn’t they?
A: I’m not sure. You can bet club owners would engage their legal teams to challenge the legality of the Rooney Rule. Even if they didn’t have the stomach for a legal fight, they could simply pay lip service and include a black candidate on short lists. This would be a form of tokenism.
Q: Surely, when managers are appointed, they are often approached privately and there aren’t interview panels as with regular jobs.
A: And that would also rankle: imagine telling club owners like Roman Abramovich or Sheik Mansour that they have to convene interview panels.
Q: If you don’t think the Rooney Rule would work, what would?
A: It depends whether the corporations that pour money into clubs think there is a problem or not. If the likes of Chevrolet, or Samsung or Emirates decided that there is genuinely an under-representation and don’t want their names associated with the traces of racism that this suggests, they could put pressure on the big clubs to try new initiatives. That would make a big difference because clubs will do anything rather than upset the corporations that feed them.
Q: So you’re saying a form of positive discrimination would be possible?
A: I think so, but I doubt if clubs would declare it openly. If, for example, Chevrolet, which has its headquarters in Detroit where 83% of the population is African American, decided United should take some action, my guess is that the club would respond. Chevrolet pays United £47 million per year to have its logo displayed on the players’ shirts.
Q: As usual, you think money talks in football, right?
A: No doubt about it. The FA will have no joy if it tries to push the Rooney Rule on clubs. But the sponsors with the big money can gently suggest a change and chances are it will happen. But the Rooney Rule, for all its effectiveness, would prove very unpopular with English club owners. They will please themselves no matter what the FA or anybody else decrees.
Q: Finally, I’m getting the impression that you don’t see this as a huge problem. Am I right?
A: I don’t see it as a monstrous problem because I don’t think football management is much of a career path for the vast majority of people. What’s the average reign of a football manager? Twelve months is the answer. Like sport itself, we tend to look at the conspicuously successful figures as typical. They’re anything but: football management is an inherently unstable, unpredictable and often precarious job. Maybe black players, when they’re approaching the end of their playing careers, look elsewhere rather than automatically switch to coaching or management. My guess is that they have their heads screwed on and are not queuing up to be managers. Perhaps the more pressing problem is the over-representation of black people in professional football: again, the small number of successful players disguises the dozens of thousands of other young people who plough all their energies into pursuing a career in football, only to have their hopes dashed. The high number of black players suggests that black people are finding alternative career opportunities harder to come by.