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This post is supposed to be uncool, for effect--really!
July 28, 2008 12:19 AM   Subscribe

Who decides what's cool? And what is the effect that it is having on our society (previously linked to metafilter on multiple occasions). An interview with the author of Birth of The Cool, and articles on how Conglomerates and Countries are trying to increase their "cool" quotient. Finally, a look at how coolness is experienced in different cultures.
posted by hadjiboy (73 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Boing Boing. (Or so they would like you to believe.)
posted by public at 12:23 AM on July 28, 2008


Birth of the Cool
posted by afu at 12:37 AM on July 28, 2008


I get "cool" sent to me by e-mail, from my mother.
posted by clearly at 12:43 AM on July 28, 2008


Cool is America's code, and I really do think this is an American problem, because cool is propagated mainly though mass media, and there is no greater media saturated culture on earth than America's. Will I look cool wearing this? Will I sound cool saying this, or reading this or doing this. We're committing mass murder in other parts of the world because somebody figured out how to make violence cool and tough-talk politics cool, and then they combined the too. Swagger is cool. Cowboys and fighter jets and JDAMs and war porn are cool. So that's what we have. We are the Kingdom of Whatever.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:07 AM on July 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


Cool is also not a word that is appropriate to use when describing a new feature on a cell phone; the correct word in that context is "neat" or "spiffy."
posted by clearly at 1:11 AM on July 28, 2008


Buying things is not cool.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:15 AM on July 28, 2008


Just as "Made in Japan" went from being a mark of shoddy workmanship to a symbol of refined art and fashion, "Made in China" is also morphing into something with more panache and glamour.

But still not cool.
posted by three blind mice at 1:18 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cool is keeping the background blue, the links puke yellow, and the conversation interesting.
posted by clearly at 1:32 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury at the Oakland Museum.

Your rebellion is their marketing scheme.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:26 AM on July 28, 2008


Cool is the worst thing that ever happened to me. Trying to be cool stopped me from doing things I loved, having genuinely interesting people as friends while growing up, learning crazy things and living a fuller life. I wish I could go back in time and do everything I could to be as uncool as possible. Being cool is like choosing to be handicapped. You cut of a part of yourself when you act like nothing touches you. Fuck cool. Corporations have it.

I want to be warm.
posted by srboisvert at 2:41 AM on July 28, 2008 [16 favorites]


adbusters: the Reconquest of Cool
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:29 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Cool didn't ruin your life. There exists such a thing as personal choice. It may be fun or comforting to dwell on a lack of inspiration or purpose, but certainly cool did not drain that from you. Live for yourself.
posted by clearly at 4:13 AM on July 28, 2008


Having lived my life almost entirely on the flip side of cool, what I want to know if why the fuck everything that got me branded uncool and a social outcast as a kid has become so damned mainstream? Comic books superheroes are the top grossing movies? Roleplaying games are big, multimillion dollar computer products? Ratty looking hair and thick glasses are a fashion statement?

I mean come on...if these things were going to be cool, why couldn't it have happened about 30 years ago?!?
posted by JaredSeth at 4:15 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is not what cool means. The idea that words will mean what you want them to makes me want to pencil telephone hourglass diamonds candle candle flag and ready my asbestos catcher's mitt. I think the word everyone seems to be grasping for is 'hip'.

Cool, however, is the opposite of hot and it has nothing to do with physics. When you heard a leather-jacketed James Dean or Henry Winkler say, "Be cool", what they're talking about is your demeanor, not the cultural perception others have of you. Being cool means you possess unflappable calm, you're "cool under pressure" in violation of the gas laws. It also means you don't bring on the heat - you know, the fuzz, five-o, the Man. If you're carrying a switchknife or a bag of dope and someone says, "Be cool," you're not supposed to strike a pose or show off. You're to act as though you're Joe Nobody and lay chilly. Make like you belong to the locale like the wallpaper does, look bored or slightly irritated like any other mook would. That stereo in your cousin's trunk or the pharmacy where your pal gets his illicit Oxycontin could be hot, so you need to be cool.

Saying that someone is cool because they have the right shoes or the right gadget is something that children do on playgrounds because they hear the older kids talk about how cool so-and-so is with respect or admiration and they don't get it. Although, with English being a living language, it sounds more and more like the children are taking over. On the plus side, hipsters seem to have abandoned the word for the inscrutable "deck" - honestly, who can I thank for that?

First post - I can't believe this is what finally made me cough up the sawbuck.
posted by Appropriate Username at 4:19 AM on July 28, 2008 [24 favorites]


My dogs think I'm cool.*

* I bring them home dog cookies pretty regularly.
posted by maxwelton at 4:19 AM on July 28, 2008


Dr. Roger Spain: Wow, I thought you'd be the last person to have a problem with nonconformity.
Dr. Gregory House: Nonconformity; right... I can't remember the last time saw a twenty something kid with a tattoo of an Asian letter on his wrist. You are one wicked free thinker! You want to be a rebel; stop being cool. Wear a pocket protector like he does, and get a hair cut. Like the Asian kids that don't leave the library for a twenty hours stretch. They're the ones that don't care what you think.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:27 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Being cool means you possess unflappable calm, you're "cool under pressure" in violation of the gas laws.

I pretend like I haven't got any dog cookies, even though they suspect I might. That I can do so for any length of time while they regard me with their earnest and pleading little faces shows I've got it.*

* In the canine world, anyway. It's kinda a dog superhero thing, The Guy Who Holds Up Empty Hands And Then Pulls Cookies From His Pockets. Pretty close to top of the heap, I reckon. I only use my powers for good.
posted by maxwelton at 4:28 AM on July 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


Kool is a smoke and Cool is so yesterday
posted by Postroad at 4:29 AM on July 28, 2008


The way I use the word has always been as a synonym for acceptable, as in, "You're getting pepperoni on that pizza? That's cool [with me]."

Companies chasing hipsters (people concerned with fashion and how it relates to their identity) so they can figure out what's "cool" and extra marketable seems like nothing new, it's all just capitalizing on fashion. We are the goon squad and we're coming to town.

beep beep
posted by palidor at 4:34 AM on July 28, 2008


Cool, however, is the opposite of hot and it has nothing to do with physics. When you heard a leather-jacketed James Dean or Henry Winkler say, "Be cool", what they're talking about is your demeanor, not the cultural perception others have of you.

Not sure why exactly, but I feel this requires a reference to Kerouac's essay: America's New Trinity of Love: Dean, Brando, Presley.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:48 AM on July 28, 2008


The idea that words will mean what you want them to makes me want to pencil telephone hourglass diamonds...

First post - I can't believe this is what finally made me cough up the sawbuck.

FAQ

Since you just paid it, you can't have forgotten or been unaware that it was $5, not $10. Rather, you must be using "sawbuck" to mean what you want it to mean.
posted by DU at 5:21 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Analyzing cool destroys cool.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:30 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the plus side, hipsters seem to have abandoned the word for the inscrutable "deck"

No one actually uses this word. It was invented by the authors of the Hipster Handbook, along with the other slang in that book, in order to tweak the uncool reader.
posted by nasreddin at 5:37 AM on July 28, 2008


"cool" has become a measurement of success in the american consumer economy as any mystique will be corporately co-opted today. i have a friend in the fiji islands who has never owned a pair of shoes in his sixty years, can climb 50 feet into a palm tree to knock down coconuts for fresh rum drinks, sculpts his afro into an elvis-like pompador and named his canoe "sexy lady". i've always thought of him as cool.
posted by kitchenrat at 5:37 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The concept of "cool" has always interested me, mainly because it seems to be entirely a product of mid-20th century American youth culture. How would you have possibly described "cool" to someone in the 1700's? I don't think you could -- we needed ostensive examples of it like Presley, Dean, the Stones, Dylan, and Miles Davis for the emergent concept to have solidified into its nearly universally recognizable but ineffable form that it exists in today. Moreover, off the top of my head, I can't think of any other distinct modes of being, like cool, that simply didn't exist in earlier eras, or didn't at least have an earlier analog (though you could probably argue the Romantic poets were the early precursors of "cool"). Yet now it's a very dominant and seemingly permanent way of thinking about the world -- how we judge others and ourselves, what we aspire to -- for a large subset of the population. A great example of culture, language, and thought looping back on themselves and permanently changing one other.
posted by decoherence at 5:40 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


this is cool
posted by infini at 5:41 AM on July 28, 2008


Rather, you must be using "sawbuck" to mean what you want it to mean.

I guess I'm vanquished.
posted by Appropriate Username at 5:47 AM on July 28, 2008


I guess I'm vanquished.

Welcome to MetaFilter.
posted by DU at 6:03 AM on July 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


I guess "sawbuck" just sounded cool.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:05 AM on July 28, 2008


Cuil is not cool, I can tell you that.
posted by fusinski at 6:25 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's cool to be a daddy's girl. It's sad to be a momma's boy. When women buy a vibrator it is cool. When men buy a blow up doll it's pathetic. Men's clothes make women look elfin and cool. Men look like total dorks in women's clothes.

Guys, we have work to do on the cool scale.
posted by netbros at 6:25 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


@JaredSmith

They're cool exactly because you were doing them as part of the fringe. Novelty plays a huge portion in the migration of 'cool' across the landscape of fashion.
posted by Phalene at 6:34 AM on July 28, 2008


I'm pretty sure that Grampa Simpson has the final word on cool.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:46 AM on July 28, 2008


"Crazy!" "Cool!"
posted by kirkaracha at 6:55 AM on July 28, 2008


(though you could probably argue the Romantic poets were the early precursors of "cool").

Decadent, but still not cool.
posted by three blind mice at 7:25 AM on July 28, 2008


when you heard a leather-jacketed James Dean or Henry Winkler say, "Be cool", what they're talking about is your demeanor, not the cultural perception others have of you. Being cool means you possess unflappable calm, you're "cool under pressure" in violation of the gas laws....First post - I can't believe this is what finally made me cough up the sawbuck.
posted by Appropriate Username at 7:19 AM on July 28


Welcome. What you are describing isn't new:

"If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; . . . If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same . . . Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it." - Rudyard Kipling.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:27 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not cool to ask "where did you get it?"
posted by muckster at 7:36 AM on July 28, 2008


Back in 1989, somebody asked me why I liked Japanese things so much. I came up with something about fashionable mechanization, but this Foreign Policy article on Japan's Gross National Cool is IMO the definitive analysis.
posted by yort at 7:38 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


heh heh heh

GROSS national cool ;p
posted by infini at 8:25 AM on July 28, 2008


The last paper I wrote as an undergrad was about Mario's soft power and cited heavily Japan's Gross National Cool.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:37 AM on July 28, 2008


How would you have possibly described "cool" to someone in the 1700's?

You're kidding, right? You could have gone to Versailles. Or perhaps to London. Fashionistas are not a product of the 20th Century.
posted by spicynuts at 8:48 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're kidding, right? You could have gone to Versailles. Or perhaps to London. Fashionistas are not a product of the 20th Century.

Being "cool" and merely being fashionable are very distinct things. I'd argue that what's fashionable now proceeds from what's cool, e.g., leather jackets and blue jeans became fashionable because they were the preferred outfit of a couple of the original icons of cool. And of course, striving too hard for fashionability (striving for anything, really) is an automatic disqualifer for being cool. It's an attitude more than anything else. I think it arose concomitantly with the growing importance of youth in modern culture. In 1700, being a surly rebel would've been pointless, unless you were independently wealthy and could afford to go against society's grain for the hell of it; but over the past 50 years, it's become a ticket (one of them -- a very big one) to social cachet and increased cultural relevance.
posted by decoherence at 9:03 AM on July 28, 2008


Surly rebels are so deeply uncool.
posted by Artw at 9:24 AM on July 28, 2008


Oh, and you need to look up Dick Turpin. Or possibly Adam Ant.
posted by Artw at 9:26 AM on July 28, 2008


I don't know what "cool" is, but I do know that arguing about what's cool ain't cool. THAT is a job for nerds.

(Stand back people, we're nerds, we're here to help).
posted by yoink at 9:28 AM on July 28, 2008


A fiver is a savbuck.
posted by cortex at 9:38 AM on July 28, 2008


Steve is the prototypical cool American male. Y'know, I'm talking about Steve McGarrett, alright? Steve Austin, Steve McQueen. Y'know, he's the guy on his horse, the guy alone. He has his own code of honor, his own code of ethics, his own rules of living, man. He never, ever tries to impress the women but he always gets the girl.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:43 AM on July 28, 2008


You know what's not cool?

Using people to viral market for this.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 9:48 AM on July 28, 2008


On the plus side, hipsters seem to have abandoned the word for the inscrutable "deck"

That's well weapon!
posted by Artw at 9:49 AM on July 28, 2008


I just exude cool. People often stop and stare at me when I'm walking down the street, sometimes they point, and even scream. I know this is just their reaction to my cool vibe. Once in a while the cops get called, and they pull out their guns. Clearly they fear my awesome coolness. They shout witticisms like "Freeze!" and "Get on the ground!" and "You sick fuck!" but I pay them no mind; they don't know how hard it is being the coolest guy around. Sometimes, just because I'm that kind of guy, I'll set down the chainsaw, wipe the blood off my face, and smile, just so the photographers can get a nice shot of me for the paper... I can see the headline now... Damn He's Cool!...

But I've got places to be, so I pick up my tools, grab the body and the head, and just keep walking to the river.

And the headline is right, Damn. I am cool.
posted by quin at 10:43 AM on July 28, 2008


When I go on a picnic, I keep my beer inside of quin.
posted by cortex at 10:47 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Being "cool" and merely being fashionable are very distinct things.

You are using a 20/21st Century definition of 'cool'. The concept of cultural leaders who set tone and define trends existed back then, certainly in the court of The Sun King.
posted by spicynuts at 10:48 AM on July 28, 2008


I don't care if it rains or freezes cuz I got my plastic Jesus sittin on the dashboard of my car...
posted by spicynuts at 10:51 AM on July 28, 2008


Coolness is nice, but coolness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to.
posted by hellbient at 10:57 AM on July 28, 2008


Either you is or you isn't. You don't get to decide for yourself.
posted by Sailormom at 11:00 AM on July 28, 2008


Analyzing cool destroys cool.

Maybe cool needed to die, then?
posted by Weebot at 11:12 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know what's cool?

Being somewhere other than on my lawn.
posted by GuyZero at 11:17 AM on July 28, 2008


I guess "sawbuck" just sounded cool.

That attempt at coolness just cost you a fin.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:02 PM on July 28, 2008


Cool is so devalued that I refuse to use it anymore. Instead, I just call things Coke, because, if it's all just a merketing scheme, I might as well just use names of corporate products to describe things.

I hope everybody is Coke with that.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


This thread would be well-served by a reference to this thread on quirk.
posted by eclectist at 12:18 PM on July 28, 2008


Who decides what's cool?
I do. Period. Believe it.

Also, the correct term for a $5 bill is finsky.
posted by no1hatchling at 12:50 PM on July 28, 2008


You are using a 20/21st Century definition of 'cool'.

Of course I am. But my whole point was that the concept of "cool" didn't exist before the middle of the 20th century. And a concept with a different definition is, well, a different concept.

The concept of cultural leaders who set tone and define trends existed back then, certainly in the court of The Sun King.

Yes, but nobody thought the Sun King was "cool" in any way. Cool isn't just a generic catch-all term for anyone who happens to be influential or a trend-setter. It has specific connotations of rebelliousness, anti-authoritarianism, and youthfulness. It's more of an attitude and a position vis-a-vis the mainstream of society than it is any sort of designation of influence. Being cool buys you influence and trend-setter status, at least over the past half-century or so; but the concepts are certainly not synonymous.
posted by decoherence at 12:59 PM on July 28, 2008


It has specific connotations of rebelliousness, anti-authoritarianism, and youthfulness. It's more of an attitude and a position vis-a-vis the mainstream of society than it is any sort of designation of influence.

Where does that put the young & wild-eyed Romantic poets, flipping the bird at Enlightenment rationality & scientific progress?

Lord Byron raising a private army to liberate Troy? Definitely cool. Brando as Kurtz is the only thing I can think of that even comes close from the anaemic 20th Century version of cool.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:24 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a far better thing to be a dork. Cool people all have to be cool the same way. They have to wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, even have the same body shape if they can. Dorks nerd out in their own varied and amazing ways.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:45 PM on July 28, 2008


The Hellfire Club - not just something from the X Men!
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on July 28, 2008


"They use the word 'cool', it is their favourite word...thinking is rubbish, and rubbish isn't cool...stuff and shit is cool..."
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:06 PM on July 28, 2008


My 90 year old granma is the ultimate authority on cool. If she doesn't think you're cool, you are not cool. If you don't know her, too bad, you can never be cool.
posted by nax at 3:07 PM on July 28, 2008


Oh man, Artw beat me with the Nathan Barley reference.

That's cool totally fucking Mexico.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:18 PM on July 28, 2008


BEING COOL: A How-to Guide

The concept of coolness was founded on the following axioms:
  1. Only cool people can determine if people are cool.
  2. Uncool people do not understand the concept of being cool.
  3. It is uncool to discuss what makes people cool.
From these axioms we can conclude the following: [via]
posted by Rhaomi at 6:46 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course I am. But my whole point was that the concept of "cool" didn't exist before the middle of the 20th century. And a concept with a different definition is, well, a different concept.

And my whole point was that the 'concept' very much did and all you would have to do would be to go to Versailles with Ben Franklin. Just because the word 'cool' didn't mean then what it means now does not mean the concept wasn't there. Someone up above mentioned Byron, et al.
posted by spicynuts at 6:50 PM on July 28, 2008


A Cunt Compendium, for Nathan Barley fans and the curious (NSFW in title text only). Taken from TVGoHome, you need to read a couple couple for the bile to really kick in.

[reads a little/]

Ahh... I remember Sleazenation magazine - do they still do that? Closed in 2003, apparently. Good. Wallpaper* is still going though.

* bunch of cocks
posted by Artw at 6:58 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I think Bryon, I think cool.

Club foot? Three-way with Mary and Percy Shelly? Oh yeah. Mary was pretty cool on her own rights, too.
posted by porpoise at 8:16 PM on July 28, 2008


To be fair Wallpaper* really isn't all that bad and probably shouldn't be put in the same category as Sleazenation. I guess it's the asterisk that gets up my nose. I guess vice would be the proper modern equivalent, but I quite like that (probably meaning I retain vague traces of horrible hipsterdom or something, despite the ravages of leading a Proper Grown Up life)

* The Stuff That Is Inoffensive Actually
posted by Artw at 10:32 PM on July 28, 2008


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