You won't believe the new ‘cool'
Globe and Mail Update
It's hip to be square, according to the new study out of the University of British Columbia.
Researchers have found that the iconic image of the rebel, embodied by the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando, is no longer what people identify with the term "cool."
The new cool is a friendly, good-looking, industrious person, who dresses well, fits in and is trendy; someone "your mother would want you to be," according to Ilan Dar-Nimrod, a researcher on the study.
He said fewer people identify with the classic image of cool than one would expect. For most, the new cool is someone who possesses more "socially desirable" characteristics.
"I don't know if I can blame marketers, or if there is even anyone to blame, but the mainstream got a hold of coolness and turned it into a mainstream version of coolness," he said. "People now identify passionate and warm as cool, which is almost oxymoronic."
According to the research, roughly 60 per cent of survey respondents now say cool is someone who possesses socially desirable characteristics, while roughly 15 per cent identify it with the classic image of someone who is mysterious, aloof, and dangerous.
Mr. Dar-Nimrod, along with his colleagues, have run a series of studies to try to identify the characteristics people now define as cool.
The first experiment was to ask people to define for themselves what they thought was cool.
"We found common themes in it, and we found that people associated coolness with things that they liked," Mr. Nimrod said. "It was very idiosyncratic, but the theme that came out was 'I like it, therefore it's cool.'"
The researchers then took a list of 90 common characteristics -- like friendly, wealthy, aloof, mysterious -- and asked 800 mostly twenty-somethings to rank the words on a scale of one to seven on how cool it is. They then asked the same group to go through the list again and rate those characteristics on a scale of social desirability.
"We found that they are not completely synonymous, but at the same time, it seems that social desirability is a dominant part of what is Western-Canadian cool," he said. "It appears that first and foremost it (something cool) is social desirability, but lurking in the back of people's mind is still this Marlon Brando, rebellious character."
Mr. Dar-Nimrod describes it as a "schizophrenic construct," he divides cool into what he calls a "Type-1" cool, which is the friendly, industrious, well-adjusted type, who helps in the community. The other, a "Type-2" cool, is the classic rebel.
More people, he said, presently identify cool with Type 1 characteristics.
"Historically, coolness was a marginalized construct, so if you're oppressed or marginalized, coolness is a way for you to deal with the situation by being detached, or by being aloof, keeping a facade of rebellion and toughness. That was cool," he said. "Not any more."
The study also ranked celebrities, and while Johnny Depp, an iconic rebel, still dominates the list, he said the majority are now more trendy.
Perhaps not surprisingly for the twenty-something crowd, George W. Bush and Adolph Hitler ranked on the bottom of the coolness scale.
"I didn't do that on purpose, I would never put George Bush and Hitler in the same category," he said. "But they are both very high on the uncool scale."
In a related study, greasy hair, bow ties, thick glasses & lab coats are the new hot.