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Decoding Zooey Deschanel

There’s an old saying folks use when sizing up a man’s appeal: “Every woman wants him, and every man wants to be him.” The first time I heard that phrase, someone was talking about James Bond. But the logic is messed up in that case. See, I only ever want to be Bond when he’s onscreen with Daniela Bianchi, Claudine Auger and Jane Seymour. And Eva Green. Carole Bouquet, too. Can’t leave out Barbara Bach. Might as well say Halle Berry.

But I (happily) digress. In that context, the old saying really should be, “Every man wants to be him because every woman wants him.”

That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about how, when applied properly, that old phrase nails the essence of widespread appeal. Apply it to a product and you see what I mean: “Every person wants one, and every tablet wants to be one.” No one denies the iPad’s appeal.

But, man, widespread appeal is one tough nut.

Then along comes the person who has effortless, endless appeal—the hot knife to everyone else’s butter. Irresistible.

Right now, that’s Zooey Deschanel. Every man wants her, and every woman wants to be her. And we’re using the phrase properly. Why? You could drown in adjectives describing her pan-gender appeal. To men, she’s hot, funny, girl-next-door. To women, she’s independent, smart, relatable.

But the core of her appeal? She’s unconventional, similar to the character on her hit Fox show, New Girl. In fact, if you compare her to the most popular example in a given category, she is the antithesis of that example.

Her beauty: ethereal skin tone, blue eyes you can see from space and toned-down sexuality. She’s the anti-Aniston. Her characters: bemused, intelligent, vaguely nerdy. She’s the anti-Cameron Diaz. Her singing: restrained, thoughtful, mellow. She’s the anti-Idol (American, not Billy. Although… yeah, Billy, too).

She is unconventional in her very appeal—the opposite of all things logically popular—yet we are still drawn to her.

And that’s something interesting to think about. Perhaps we could all do with a little unconventionality in our delivery, our appearance, our air. A little, no doubt, goes a long way. And it has to be authentic. It’s too easy to cross over into calculated cool or even, ugh, quirky. Maybe it’s as simple as allowing that one trait you bury to breathe again. You know the one I mean. In our quest to stand out, we all try to be something a little different than what we really are, which ends up making us exactly what everyone else wants to be: unintentional clones.

Just watch. The Zooey clones will come off pop culture’s assembly line soon. And you know what? We’ll tune out.

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