The Age of Nice: Back by Popular Demand


“We are now in an age of nice,” said Eric G. Wilson, an English professor at Wake Forest University, who, as the author of “Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy,” qualifies as a professional curmudgeon. But even Mr. Wilson sees no end of smiley faces. He cites as avatars of a new niceness the Obama administration, which has been criticized for being too friendly to some repressive world leaders; advocates of political correctness who still hold sway in many public forums; and the director-writer-producer Mr. Apatow, whose era-defining comedies feature “nice guys who finish first — a great hope for non-threatening puerile males,” Mr. Wilson said.
“There’s more spark to nice — it is really in,” said Graceann Bennett, the director of strategic planning at the Chicago office of the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. She said clients are shying away from the arch and sardonic campaigns that were in vogue when the economy was flush. Ogilvy recently pitched an ad for Truvia, a new sweetener, showing two mounds of white powder meant to suggest female breasts, one more perfectly shaped than the other. The proposed tagline: “The difference between real ones and fake ones is obvious.”
Niceness in the culture spikes when the real world is full of trouble, theorized Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of “Pay It Forward,” the 1999 novel that gave a marketable name to the idea of doing good deeds for strangers with the expectation that they would then do the same for others. (The book inspired a 2000 movie starring Kevin Spacey and a charitable foundation, run by Ms. Hyde.)
OperationNice.com links to news articles about good deeds and asks bloggers to take an oath of niceness. The blog was created 10 months ago by Melissa Morris Ivone, a 28-year-old graphic designer in Cinnaminson, N.J., who was inspired after a stranger held the door for her in an elevator. She wanted to create an oasis of good vibes online.

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