‘Cool’; (adj.) from PIE root *gel- “cold, to freeze” (see cold). Applied since 1728 to large sums of money to give emphasis to amount. Meaning “calmly audacious” is from 1825. Slang use for “fashionable” from 1933, said to have been popularised in jazz circles by tenor saxophonist Lester Young.
These four letters, a juxtaposition since their 30s re-conception, encapsulate more culture, counter-culture, yearning and disdain than any other. The word with its many connotations still holds legions of angst ridden youths in its dogmatic thrall, propelling them to endlessly re-evaluate themselves and their worth against a label that in itself signiﬁes the wearer’s disregard for such nonsense.
Yet there comes a point in every slightly insecure, Sartre quoting, coffee quafﬁng teenager’s existence where they ponder the tribes of youth cultures on offer in society and either adhere to some form of them or attempt to construct an individuality through their opposition. Their choice is invariably governed by the ‘Cool’ vogue of the moment. There is signiﬁcant buying power to be found here, especially in the hands of those teens who feel suffocated by the cliché clad cultures and sub-cultures they feel society is permeated with; because today they are more than willing to pay up to avoid them. ‘Hip’, ‘trendy’, ‘cool’ et al. are labels that not only preoccupy every fashion conscious youngling but also dominate the agenda in boardrooms across the developed West. This agenda stringently dictates that if you want to sell society something, start selling it to them young.
The mid-90s saw the height of their struggle to imbue their products with meaning and resonance in this ﬁckle and fast-changing demographic, spawning American advertising agencies and consultancies with their very own ‘Cool Hunters’ who promised to deliver the newest fads and trends as fast as they could be thought up. I’m reminded of Nicolas Cage in Lord of War trying to stress the importance of speed when delivering his weapons because ‘some revolutions blow over before you can even ship out the merchandise’. We are armed to the teeth and most revolutions aren’t even sparked by us anymore, but by the arms dealers.
Stealth marketing tactics are thriving and have perfected delicately incepting not only products into youth cultures, but even role models and opinions. The powers that be have become so very efficient at manufacturing ‘want!’ in youth that every movement borne in opposition to them is quickly swallowed and turned into a proﬁtable marketing angle. Punk? Check. Anarchy? Check. Eco-awareness? Check. Irony? Check. Even post-irony? Double check.
The little book of rules every hipster plays by has been usurped, re-packaged, re-branded and sold back to them for a proﬁt. Even good old, laid-back Liberalism hasn’t remained untouched; the night a hipster boy called my black friend he was osculating with ‘cool’ because she was ‘a commodity in our scene as we can do with the diversity’ is forever etched in my memory.
Just think back on the last ﬁve things you felt compelled to buy- examining my own list I come to the stark realisation that almost all of my choices in dress, hobbies and music all serve the twisted worship of the false idol of Cool some marketing agency somewhere has constructed.
Of course, every generation laments the fact that ‘everything has already been done’ (think: Richard E. Grant’s frustration at Hippie wigs being sold in Woolworth’s in ‘Withnail and I’ or that iconic article on hipsters)’. Nevertheless, our lament seems a little more poignant because not only has everything seemingly been done already, complete with someone peddling the accessories for it, but entire attitudes and ideals have become mere clichés.
However, just because something has been done before and the symbols that represent it have been usurped, is it fair to say that it has lost all value? I would disagree. Today not even originality is safe from hackney, with hordes of teens swarthing themselves in their grandparents clothes and dyeing their hair rainbow colours, desperately hoping for someone to notice how unique they are.
Alas, it does seem that by some road or another we will all end up a stereotype on Cool’s altar. But if we are all to be stereotypes, it stands to reason that not all stereotypes can be created equal. So, after so much consideration there really is only the one question left; if we are all doomed to be ready-made clichés, why not at least aim for a cool one?3 Comments