What Is Cool? (Frankie – 2011)
Computer says that Cool began in Africa in the 15th century when a tribal leader began wearing an expressionless mask not only during times of stress, but also in times of pleasure. It was dubbed “mystic coolness”. This “artistically conscious interweaving of serious and play” evolved through the African Americans who brought it to the U.S. in the 1940s via Jazz clubs. It was dubbed Bohemia. Followers followed, copiers copied and scruffy preppies with half a novel now had an excuse to talk to women. Later, James Dean smoked a cigarette, Elvis moved his hips, The Rolling Stones got out of bed and white Cool was born, or more accurately, adopted. This borrowed swagger was on-sold to capitalism, who paraded it to sell slacks and dull movies.
Today, Cool is a homogenised pop culture buzzword used by the West to attribute social power. Humans are tribal by nature. In caveman times tribes became powerful by carrying the best clubs. Now, young people become powerful by attending the best clubs. Cool is a superficial class divide, based on popularity rather than material wealth. Instead of the upper and lower classes, there are the cool and the uncool. Ironically, while Cool appears to transcend money concerns, it is more often than not a direct descendent of economic status. Cool is a commodity.
When I was in High School the popular kids all had the same Air Jordan shoes and Billabong jackets. These items were expensive and carried with them social capital. In College, the hipper members of my group were skaters, graphic designers and musicians. They wore designer cargos, used high range computers and instruments (double garage rock) and took overseas trips. They were well groomed and relaxed, often due to the cannabis they could afford. Their carefree ‘bohemian’ attitude could be directly attributed to a financially sound home environment. Cultivating your own artistic profile takes time. Time is a luxury that money affords. Poorer kids tend to be too busy struggling with home stress and working to check in with the latest fashions and gadgets. (But who wants to peak at high school?)
In recent times, the Hipster movement has become the face of modern Cool, stirring up an unprecedented level of venom and reawakening class divides. For many, the images and attitudes portrayed in Vice Magazine of young thin people dressing ironically and making out in bathtubs pokes at old school wounds. Unlike the Punks, Indies and Emos that came before them, Hipsters have embraced irony as their chief political code. The worshipping of pop trash icons, coupled with a nihilistic celebration of porn culture is so pseudo-anti-faux that it cancels itself in. Their self-appointment at the top of social food chain is felt by many as an attack. In caveman times, such a threat to our territory would have had us bellowing war cries. Today, we type “douchebag” in capitals.
In the online feedback to my satire song ‘Northcote (So Hungover)’, the target was identified as “private school inner-eastern suburb white boy wankers who haven’t left home yet.” The common thread of resentment stemmed from an economic class debate, with the blue collar attacking the ‘trust fund’ art students, reflecting Australia’s working class roots and distrust of intellectualism. One commenter sent me an elaborate ‘Hipsters vs Bogans’ maths equation. It showed that while Hipsters make less money than their trade working counterparts ($25K vs $75K) they invest more of their income in gaining social capital (Fashion, music gear, socialising. 67% vs 33%). Bogans spend their money on cars, mortgages and families and are generally time-poorer than Hipsters, a concession they resent.
While Cool may have evolved organically from the black Jazz scene, it is now part of the Honda Jazz scene. It has for so long been exploited as a social currency; forcing youth to play off against each other, that it’s wise to take it with a grain of organic sea salt. Perhaps mankind’s desire for Cool has existed since caveman times, where an ignorance about the latest trends in cavewear prompted the saying ‘have you been living under a rock?’