Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Cool

While I have great respect for the Person of the Year franchise, the editors here at TIME have picked some real dorks. Kenneth Starr? Dork! Ben Bernanke? Dork! Mark Zuckerberg? Dorky dork dork! The computer? Major dork! And remember how dorky you were in 2006 with your tunic and your black nail polish and your incessant need to high-five like Borat? That's exactly when we picked You as Person of the Year.

That's why, last year, to save this magazine from dorkdom, I invented a new franchise: the Coolest Person of the Year. Its success has been astonishing. There has been talk of a special issue, a television event, even an awards show. Though all that talk has been by me, it's still a lot of talk.

Admittedly, mine is not the only Coolest Person of the Year award. NME, a British music magazine, picked Azealia Banks, a 20-year-old Harlem rapper who doesn't even have an album out yet. But anyone can seem cool by picking niche things no one has heard of. Watch: My favorite magazine is NME.

Our Coolest Person Committee was determined to pick someone whose cool was tested and pervasive, obvious even to the dorks who work at this magazine. We defined cool in the classic Marlon Brando way an unshakable calm mixed with a confidence that comes from not needing others. Cool is more how than what; we considered world leaders, singers, hackers and a newsmagazine columnist who one of us thought was an obvious pick.

Our first choice was the members of SEAL Team 6, who seem insanely badass. But they are also very secretive, and there is the slim chance that one of the 24 who raided Osama bin Laden's mansion does something totally uncool like that Borat high-five thing. We also rejected Melissa McCarthy (too energetic), Julian Assange (too 2010) and Zach Galifianakis (too beardy).

So the 2011 Coolest Person of the Year is a man who is tough but emotional. A movie star who broke up a fight on the streets of Manhattan and was also caught walking down a Manhattan street playing a Strumstick, which is like a ukulele only ukulelier. An Oscar nominee who also smokes, tags graffiti and has a predilection for posing with a fist to the camera but makes dioramas and takes public ballet classes alongside little girls too. He's the only actor since Andy Kaufman to work as a waiter after making it in show business. One who has a rock band that spent a month accompanying a children's marionette show in Los Angeles. He is a man who caused a protest outside our very own Time & Life Building when People magazine chose Bradley Cooper instead of him as the Sexiest Man Alive. I doubt Cooper is cool enough that his fans would object to his loss of Coolest Person of the Year by protesting in front of our building and blocking foot traffic with an annoying publicity swarm (Sixth Avenue and 50th Street, northwest corner most visible).

Ryan Gosling, the 2011 Coolest Person of the Year, is so cool that he refused to talk to me about this honor. Faced with this problem, other magazine franchises might back down and pick someone willing to play ball and be their publicity monkey, but the Coolest Person Committee is committed to the truth. Also, it was getting really close to deadline, so it just seemed a lot easier to stick with Gosling.

Yes, he was a Mouseketeer alongside Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. And yes, he puts on a weird Brooklyn accent even though he's from Canada. Yes, he was homeschooled and sometimes hangs out with magicians. But he's so cool, he wears all of that proudly. Even more impressive, he found time to be cool while having to constantly explain to people that, no, the guy they're thinking of is Ryan Reynolds. Gosling was in four movies this year, yet he didn't seem overexposed because he was always so different. In Blue Valentine he was desperate, in Drive he was scary, in The Ides of March he was slimy, and in Crazy, Stupid, Love he was six-packy. (The committee saw just the trailers.)

"There is not a genre he is not comfortable in," says Coolest Person Committee member Henry Winkler. "Cool is being comfortable in your own skin. Everything stems from that." Coolest Person of the Year Emeritus James Franco says, "Ryan is the true king of cool. You got it right this year." Let's hope that Gosling doesn't wind up hosting the Oscars.

We have no idea how Gosling will deal with this honor. A tattoo seems like the obvious way to go, though a commemorative diorama would probably be good enough for a spot on Access Hollywood. But that's not why we pick a Coolest Person of the Year. We do it for the journalism. And because after 15 years of service to this magazine, I'm still not allowed in the Person of the Year meetings. I think it's because they don't like my suggestions. Though, honestly, yet again, I really did have an amazing year.