Then something calling itself “science” appeared to offer me an in. Alas, what most “studies” really “show” is that most “studies” are crap. This latest one proved the rule that “social science” is to the real thing what Anna Anderson was to the Romanovs.
The Week promised to teach us “How To Be Cool, According to Science,” relying upon the findings of one Olivia Fox Cabane. Ms. Cabane is not, however, a scientist (of either the “social,” “hard,” or even “Christian” varieties), but an “executive charisma coach for Fortune 500 companies.”
So shame on you, The Week.
Scientific or not, does Ms. Cabane’s grand unified theory of “cool” withstand scrutiny?
At first, she’s persuasive, if prosaic. “Cool,” she declares, “doesn’t try too hard.” In everything — words and deeds — less is more.
Cabane insists that robotically calm, collected mannerisms and Zen master body language are the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual cool.
A cool individual, Cabane continues, exudes confidence. James Bond, she points out, neither fidgets, nor does he plead.
Tellingly, Fleming’s 007 is the only “proper noun” example she serves up, maybe because a moment’s reflection on other archetypes of cool reveals the flaws in her theory.
Placed side by side, James Cagney fits Cabane’s criteria for cool far better than Humphrey Bogart. Even when merely striding cockily down a sidewalk (then dodging machine gun fire), Cagney’s background as a professional dancer was evident in almost every film he made, not just in Yankee Doodle Dandy. His sharp, frugal gestures and bits of business also live up to Cabane’s bonsai tree ideal. (When you learn that Malcolm McDowell based his performance as “Alex” on Cagney’s screen persona, you never watch A Clockwork Orange the same way.)
We are often surprised to discover how short certain charismatic performers really are, or were. (I still refuse to accept that Freddy Mercury was anything less than 6’ 1”.) The bantamweight Cagney, on the other hand, always seemed short — but it didn’t matter. That alone places him in an even higher stratum of cool, one occupied by a very few, including Cagney’s rival, Humphrey Bogart.