Being cool is as taboo to speak about as being a slut is. The moment we talk about ourselves as being cool or valuing coolness we are viewed as arrogant, pretentious and narcissistic. But nothing could be further from the truth.
I take great risk in writing about cool as a fine art. Many will see this as ridiculous and anger provoking. But the very fact that they do not understand cool as an art form gives immediate sign that they themselves are not cool. We know if we are not cool just like we know if we are immoral. The person who receives the declaration of cool as a fine art as a provocation, is a person who understands that they are not cool. Hopefully they can be helped by this essay to understand what cool really is.
What is cool? What does it mean to be cool? What is coolness? Who is cool? We can start with subcultures made up of cool people but I will not go into it here. There is much historical information about cool subcultures to be found on-line. There were the Dionysians, the Libertines, the Decadents, the Dandies, the Greasers, the Beatniks, the Krautrockers, the New Wavers, the Goths, the Punk Rockers, the Post Punks, the Grunge Rockers, the Hipsters. The list of cool subcultures goes on and on. But what does cool really mean?
I am not sure I know for certain. I suppose it is not cool to judge and define anything at all. I am sure there are many people who would have a much more thorough definition of cool than I could. Maybe this is because I am not yet cool enough. But let me try.
Cool is an attitude. It is an attitude that stands against the mediocrity and conformity of the status quo. Cool is countercultural and designed by anger, resentment and indignation against the banality of the norm. Cool is a way of creatively saying “fuck you” to normalcy, complacency, laziness and conformity. Cool is normally refined over years of dissatisfaction with the ordinariness and monotony of everyday life. This is why cool is a fine art- it takes a lot of time and practice.
Like any fine art there are gradations of quality. Some forms of cool are of a lower gradation. Other forms or manifestations of cool are of a much higher and more refined gradation. You can not necessarily explain these gradations of cool. It must be experienced. Like any form of art, you know its quality and depth when you see and hear it.
Coolness is a verb. It is a quality of being that one carries throughout their daily life. Some people are cool all the time. They practice coolness from the moment they wake up and get dressed. Other people are cool when they go out on a Friday night. It is up to the individual’s dedication to coolness to make up how cool they are. The thing about someone who is dedicated to the practice of coolness is that you know it right when you come across it. Nick Cave comes to mind. At the same time you also know when you come upon a person who is not concerned with coolness at all. Donald Trump comes to mind.
Coolness is an attitude of refinement and regulation. It is an attitude of standing against. Coolness is practiced and not automatically acquired. Coolness is visible in a person’s posture, articulations, walking style, dress, drink and food choice. The way they sit, laugh, turn their head, listen to music, read, use the bathroom and drive a car. Coolness is a measured response to chaos. Coolness is control over impulsive outbursts, stupid behavior and the pull towards sloth. Coolness is organized and designed. It is planned. Coolness is not messy and disorganized but well thought out. It is never a given. Coolness is composed, aware and cautious. Coolness is never loud, vulgar and overly excited. Nor is coolness ever hyperbolical and overly emotional. It takes effort to be cool. It takes restraint to be cool. It takes an awareness and skillful management of one’s own tendency to mindlessly give themselves over to laziness, sloppiness, emotion and reckless abandon. Few things are worse than an uncool person who wrongly assumes they are cool.
Cool takes time and patience. Like any art form it is refined and mastered over time. A person who has mastered the art of cool is the most intimidating and admirable person in the world. Don’t take my word for it. Just hang out with a person like this for a few minutes and see how you feel.
This is why cool is often met with such disdain. It is a serious threat. It yanks us out of our mediocre routines. We are afraid to think of ourselves and talk about ourselves as cool for fear of being arrogant, pretentious, conceited or narcissistic. But authentic cool is anything but these things and this is why an authentically cool person would not think of themselves as cool. There is nothing cool about arrogance, conceit, narcissism and pretension. These personality states are much more commonly found in the status quo (and most people who think of themselves as cool are really just the status quo dressed in edgy clothes) than they are found in the person who is authentically cool. This is why the masses tend to see any talk about cool as being a negative thing. They are projecting their own messed up inner state onto the thing that threatens them.
In the same way it is also taboo to speak of oneself as a slut. The slut is seen as a woman who is bad, sexually degenerate, immoral, deceitful, unethical, disease ridden and a failed human being. But often this could not be further from the truth. We are projecting our own insecurities, fears and views of promiscuous sexuality onto the woman who is more sexually liberated.
Why do we project our own insecurities and fears onto a person who threatens us? So that we can get control over them. So that we can conform them into the person whom we think they should be. So that we can make them more like us, thus eradicating the threat.
This unfortunately happens all too often with coolness. This is why there are no longer too many authentically cool people left in the world. A person who is cool has to stand against and willfully oppose this continual pull to be “just like them.” In order to resist this pull they must continually be practicing and refining their art. They must remain inspired by reading books, watching films, looking at art, reading articles and essays and listening to music made by other cool people. This can give the cool person who most often feels very alone in the world the strength, guidance and inspiration needed to carry on. Without continually seeking out these external reinforcements of cool it is too easy to become slovenly, disorganized, discouraged, lazy, fantastical and uncool. The norm is all around, continually seeking to suck us in.
Cool is a necessary thing. Without it all of our lives would grow ordinary, dumb and flat. Alternative standards would be lost and there would only be the standards of the norm. All the things that provide any real imaginative and alternative flare to our lives are often created by someone who is cool. Cool people are the very thing that keep our neighborhoods from becoming sterile and dull. The very presence of a cool person can prevent us from growing too hopeless in our complacent normalcy.
A cool person continually reminds us that there are more refined and unique ways to live life than the status quo we have had forced upon us. A cool person is a continual reminder to us of all the ways that we have given up and grown dull.
Without the cool person, most potential for new ideas, visionary inventions, radical subversions, anarchistic imaginations, and refined sensibilities would be forever lost (by the way social media is the greatest threat to the evolution of cool). This is why I refer to cool as a fine art. If art does not serve the above purpose, it just becomes yet another form of status quo entertainment. Another way to scroll through our lives rather than actually living life in a cool way.