Ialways wanted to be cool but reading The Origins of Cool in Postwar America, I have to concede I never was; worse, I never will be and, if I may say so, neither will most of you. You don’t have to read too far into this seminal book to discover that cool is over. It may have defined the counterculture for decades after World War II but it’s as dead as a butt in a non-smoking bar.
The author, Joel Dinerstein, puts its death knell at the moment Gordon Gekko declared “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” in 1987 movie Wall Street. After that, we were working for the man; we were supping the Kool Aid of consumption and no one aspired for the insouciance of Casablanca, Clint Eastwood, Albert Camus, Patti Smith, James Dean and the generation of teenagers who tried to mimic them.
If you doubt the death of cool or if you think your rolled-up skinny jeans qualify you, let’s look at modern culture through the optics of cool and see how we’re faring.
Cool people don’t do selfies and they don’t like others taking their photograph. They have never photo-bombed anyone. If a cool person is captured in a photo, they will be just visible in the background, a beret slouched across their face. They’re wearing shades — couldn’t tell you what brand.
Cool doesn’t request friends. Or count them. Or comment on their daily lives. They prefer not to have too many friends, unless you count the artist they share a studio with or the barista they nod to as they walk in around noon for a double shot, short black with too much sugar that doubles as breakfast fare.
Cool people don’t have careers. As the author put it, “you don’t own me, you’ll never own me”. They have gigs and that mostly means music sessions or readings but it can be supplemented by writing for a capitalist outfit that pays too much for content peppered with oblique put-downs only obvious to those au fait with the semiology of dissent. They wouldn’t use the term “au fait”.
Cool people don’t exercise. The last time they ran anywhere was to escape the spouse who arrived home early. They walk — a lot. Mostly they amble because they never feel the need to rush. They are flaneurs, although they wouldn’t use that word either. If you tell them about Fitbits, they’ll wonder why you’re making it so easy for authorities to track you, and if they spot someone with barbells, they’ll fear it’s the spouse bent on revenge.
Cool does not need cosmetics, or cosmetic surgery — even the day-clinic sort. They wear their life on their face, and if they glance at you from beneath their bushy brows, you will feel the need to explain yourself. And those lips.
Cool is a doer, not a sayer. They speak with their art, their software, writing, performance or with their absence. You won’t find a review from them, a link, a like or even an unrequested comment. Not that they always disapprove. They’re just not that into you.
Cool doesn’t get riled by politics. They’re interested enough but their ideas are drawn from sources few have heard of and demand solutions few are brave enough for. They might vote for Jeremy Corbyn or for Donald Trump, but not for the reasons you think.
Barring the beret, you never remember what a cool person wore. This is because they wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear them. You’ll try to remember what they wore so you can buy into their signature style. You won’t remember and, frankly, nor will they.
Cool wouldn’t have a clue about a Kardashian, or Brad or Angelina, or a breakfast TV host, or a musician whose name sounds like a tickle. Jay-Z and P Diddy are not on their radar.
Cool is not hot and today everything is hot. Women are smoking hot, winners are on fire, we love the burn of a witty aside, and we haven’t even got to the Twitter of Trump. Cool is quiet and today everything comes in CAPS.
If there is cool today, it’s out the back, sneaking a smoke. It’s making music that will never make it to Spotify. And, frankly, it doesn’t give a damn. Nor, it seems, do we because nobody wants to be cool now. gmail.com