29th December, 2017
READ TIME:18 MINS
IS BEING COOL, REALLY COOL IN 2018?
To explore this idea, we have to look into the history of the word. If you want to go completely academic on the debate, I suggest reading ‘The Origins of Cool in Post-war America’ by Joel Denerstein. I’m only one chapter in and I feel 20 times more cultured. The book gives an in-depth breakdown of the history of the concept, as the word transitions from its simplest form to its full figurative potential. Of course, the figurative context of the word developed centuries beforehand, with a selection of meanings from "calm and dispassionate" to "audaciously impudent". Notable artists used the phrase as a descriptor of attributes, rather than as a reference for an adjective of the atmosphere around us. In Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘, he wrote – “Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend more than cool reason ever comprehends”. However, it was not until the post-war period that the concept gained stick-ability as slag, representing all from individual rebellion to repressive norms and a sign of approval of the ‘it’ crowd.
COOL, a word that gets thrown around a lot. Used to subscribe a whole range of experiences, ideas, and products. It appears on every social feed and is used as an elevating pitch, ‘that my life is way better than yours’. As the word ‘cool’ gets beaten around as social commentary and distributed as a global attitude, now feels like it has lost its once distinct impact. Is being cool, really cool anymore? Or has it just become another cookie cutter phrase for the masses to divulge over. Are you really ‘cool’ or just another mindless Kimmy K pop culture drone that has adopted the cool lifestyle because it’s the right amount of instagramable?
It is impossible to mark a definitive time when the word transitioned to slang but it started in the jazz circles of America in reference to "That's cool," "He's cool," or simply "Cool". In association with notable musicians like Lester "Pres" Young, in the 1940’s, it was jazz music that led an artistic innovation. It hit mainstream media in 1948, when the ‘New Yorker’ reported on the emerging Jazz scene: commenting that "The bebop people have a language all of their own”. The new definition of the word emerged from the intersections of film noir, jazz, and existentialism. That same year, the use of ‘cool’ was coined to describe a new, more relaxed form of jazz, “Hot Jazz is dead. Long live ‘cool’ Jazz!" The reference to the stylish stoicism of the ethical rebellion is where ‘cool’ carved out a new position in the English language. A stylish defiance of racism, a challenge to suppressed sexuality, a philosophy of individual rebellion, and a youthful search for social change.
written by Shaun Lonergan
Through the 40’s and 50’s the emergence of pop culture was born from major cultural and social change with the mass media innovation and the breakdown of official culture. Influencers like Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, and James Dean embodied this attitude of rebellious ‘cool’. This phenomenon was explained when a psychologist named Ilan Dar-Nimrod, set out to “determine what those in a coolness-valuing culture mean when they say cool”. Two comprehensive ideas formed from the research; cachet cool (think Marilyn Monroe) and contrarian cool (think James Dean). Dar-Nimrod found a number of behavioural traits to coolness, including sexual appetite, risk-taking, masculinity, and muted emotion, which formed the precursor for the commercial definition of ‘cool’.
The word maintained its reputation for a rebellious position through the 70’s when it was adopted by hippie culture. Then the unthinkable happened, ‘cool’ slowly but surely made its transition into the mainstream, largely driven by teen culture. As the world has become more commercial, marketers adopted the directive of rebellious culture and use of ‘cool’ as a clever marketing tactic to connect with younger audiences. The context of ‘cool’ can be an exploited, manufactured idea and imposed on a culture through a top-down process. It is a must to watch the ‘Merchants of Cool’ documentary, as it will make you realise how much of a sheep you really are. Of course, this is a portrayal to the true modern definition of ‘cool’, the manufactured version of the word is deployed to drive product to targeted markets, think about everything the Kardashians touch. This theory was tested in 1960 when menthol cigarettes were marketed as ‘cool’ to African Americans. In 2004 Dr. Phillip S. Gardiner discovered that over 70% of African American smokers preferred menthol cigarettes, compared with 30% of Angelo Saxon smokers. The results speak for themselves, right!
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Now that we understand where on earth ‘cool’ came from, can we now answer the question: is being cool, really cool anymore? On the surface, the simple answer is NO. The original slogan definition of cool, as a 20th century reference, is a noticeable deviation away from uniformity and mass-production. Today it is more defined as a global style, referenced to positivity, admiration, and acceptance. Basically, a more youthful version of the word ‘great’. In short, being cool in 2018 is really fucking uncool if you're referring to the pop culture reference. Goddamn American youth culture destroying another great word with teenage angst. However, there is a silver lining; this jargon has the unlikely ability to transform with its audience, having no singlular concept. The true definition of ‘cool’ falls into the eye of the beholder and if you remove the inference of the word being used as a marketing device, it gains creditability as a behavioural characteristic. Cool is a positive trait based on the inference that a cultural object (e.g., a person or brand) is autonomous in an appropriate way. That is, the person or brand is not constrained by the norms or beliefs of others.
If your Insta feed has the #cool or the comment ‘coolest night out ever’, you’re most likely describing the mass consumerism idea of what is ‘cool’. You have fallen victim to the ‘top-down’ process of the ‘Merchants of Cool’. Basically, turn around and walk towards the basic corner and start deleting the tragic party posts.
On the other hand, the truly ‘cool’ people are only cool for so long, as the next rebellion or search for social change moves on, they too, will lose their ‘cool’ rating. But they may have left an imprint on existentialism rather than a trail of empty bank accounts from catastrophic nights out and overly lavish impulse purchases. Be ‘cooler than cool’ lads, subscribe to your own version of cool.
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