Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Rise of the Hollywood Nice Guy

Nice guys finish last, as Leo Durocher’s aphorism goes, and that may seem especially true in Hollywood, where the ruthlessly ambitious jockey for fame and fortune. But Jason Kennedy is proving that success in that world doesn’t necessarily require compromising one’s values.

Kennedy, the 33-year-old cohost of E! News and E! News Weekend, may be heralding the rise of the nice guy in Hollywood. As a Glamour profile notes, he is so cleancut that he drinks in moderation, doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t frequent strip clubs. His dad is his hero. He apparently even told his E! producers that he refused to say “tit” on the air. “That’s just disrespectful to women,” he explained. “And my mom’s going to be watching!”

Hollywood isn’t known for having a Christian-friendly atmosphere, but that doesn’t faze Kennedy, who leads a weekly Bible study group – that’s right, a Bible study group in the belly of the secular beast – so large that it had to move from his Hollywood Hills living room, where it began two years ago as a monthly meeting of about 10 people, to a hotel ballroom (the Glamour writer claimed that the gathering she attended in March of last year numbered more than 600).

That gathering’s guests have included Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Justin Bieber, so it’s not just a bunch of networking wannabes. Admittedly, shallow celebrities are notorious for proclaiming themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious,” so some of the attendees may simply have latched onto the Bible study as another spiritual fad (see: “Madonna and Kabbalism”). But for Kennedy and no doubt most of the others, the group “is where I come to survive Hollywood,” as he told Glamour. “Being here reminds me of who I want to be—just a better man. It makes me a better boyfriend too.”

Striving to be a better man would seem to make Kennedy an oddity in a town that too often tolerates, if not actually rewards, outrageous and naughty behavior (think Charlie Sheen’s Winning! ways). But Jane Buckingham, founder of a trend-forecasting firm called Trendera, believes that bad boys are becoming culturally unfashionable and that nice guys are in. Women, she says, “are tired of the bad behavior, the men who cheat, the guys who go out and get drunk all the time... We want guys who make our lives better, not guys who are going to make our lives more chaotic.”

The gentlemanly Kennedy agrees. “Girls—if I’ve learned anything—want good guys,” he says. “I don’t think it pays off being the jerk anymore. Women, at least in my life, are getting tired of that. You can’t get away with that stuff today. Everyone’s paparazzi, and everyone’s on Twitter.” As for the bad boys of the sort that dominate reality shows and tabloids, he dismisses them with a simple, “I think we have moved on to a new era.”

Asked by Glamour if his squeaky-clean image isn’t cool enough for the town that is infinitely more popularity-conscious than any junior high school, he replies: “Not at all. Never entered my mind. I’ve never heard someone say, ‘He’s too nice. I don’t want to be around him.’ I mean, look at Tom Hanks. He’s like the male Oprah. Everybody loves Tom. He’s still going strong.” He continues:

And you know, when I sit down to interview the biggest actors in Hollywood, the true A-list guys like Matt Damon or a George Clooney, the most successful ones seem to be the nicest. I’ve met a lot of famous people, and douchebags out here are a dime a dozen. But those guys, they understand that being nice pays off. And I think that’s starting to spread.

Not only has his goody-goody reputation not hindered his opportunities, but “being a so-called good boy has paid off for me. I’ve got my dream job. And I’ve found my dream girl.” He was referring to fashion blogger and former model Lauren Scruggs, whom Kennedy wed last month. Scruggs had lost her left arm and eye in a ghastly plane propeller accident three years before; she has since said that Kennedy’s love and devotion made her feel beautiful again.

“What if we could get people to talk about guys for doing the right thing, for being gentlemen?” he says. If we could, that would be a much-needed course correction for a pop culture desperately in need of upstanding role models among its stars. The E! host denies that he is such a role model. “But guys need better influences today.” Indeed they do, and if Jason Kennedy can become a successful and highly visible symbol of that aim, then more power to him.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 1/28/15