The Birth of Cool was the Death of Mankind -- Pt. I Cool Hunters

It seems that that every time I turn on the portentoscope these days, I hear more and more about cool-hunters. This has been a difficult concept for me to recognize and digest, because for the greatest part of my life, something was cool only if it was somewhere between luke-warm and cold on the thermometer.

If you don't know what a cool-hunter is then, goodness gracious, are you out of the loop. A cool hunter is someone who is paid by an advertising company to stay ahead of the curve; some young hipster who finds the next big thing even before the early adopters get there and explains it to corporate big wigs. Many of the characters in William Gibson's excellent new book "Pattern Recognition" are cool-hunters. In fact, you are so behind the curve that PBS did a show on the topic FOUR YEARS AGO! Ouch, it must be pretty flat on your part of the line.

Wherever you are located vis-a-vis the curve, I highly recommend that you watch the program online. The documentary was put together and narrated by Douglas Rushkoff and it aired on Frontline in 2001. In my well-aged opinion, the best part of the program occurs when one analyst compares media mega-corps to the British Empire and teens to the mysterious Africa that it set out to colonize and exploit. When I think about picking up my great-grand-nephew from his school dance a few years back, it does remind me of my days in the dark continent. It was terrifying, for sixteen malaria-ridden months I was more interested in the tonic than the gin.

Oh how lyrically I digress, but my point here is about cool-hunters and what they imply about our culture. Cool is not something we want to go out and find! I have lived through the rise of cool and I will tell you that cool ought to be our enemy. Cool is not something we should be hunting, cool is something that hunts us. While I never blanched in the face of those ferocious demons who kill men and wear their skins as clothing, I am terrified of cool. I am terrified because cool is just the reverse of those pompous hellions.

Cool is a chimerical, surface-flicker skin that hides in plain view. Cool can cover a man from head-to-toe, sealing him in and cutting him off, suffocating him even as he seems to breath with manful vigour. Coolness can turn a man into a walking-corpse and all those that see him will still be green with envy. Cool will cling to your face and eat you alive while you dance and jerk and carry it around, feeding it, even as it digests your inner substance.

In the eighteenth century, when I may or may not have been a child, there was no such idea as cool clothes. There were beautiful clothes and, while they were to be envied, no one believed that these clothes improved their wearer in any sphere other than appearance. Admittedly, expensive clothes did make a socially significant statement -- by demonstrating a person's class and wealth, these clothes represented real power. Nowadays though, things are all out of whack; I can spend three thousand dollars on a handsome pair of beaver-fur trousers only to have some street urchin laugh at them. How is it that a three-thousand dollar pair of trousers is deemed less valuable than a twenty-dollar tshirt which displays a particular logo or witticism? This is something I shall never understand. Cool clothes cast some kind of inexplicable stamp of approval on their wearer granting them unearned social status and respect.

Although it may surprise you to hear me say this, there is something that concerns me more than cool's ability to devalue class distinctiosn and raw currency. I am frightfully frightened because, not only does cool devalue the class implications of clothing, it seems to have displaced all of our other hard-earned cultural values. Cool is a devastatingly powerful semiotic vampire which signifies nothing!

Every since 'Rebel without A Cause,' young kids have been willing to lie, cheat and steal to be just like James Dean. And, unless I am deeply out of touch with this young 'baby-boomer' generation, James Dean is still the ultimate arbiter of coolness today. For example, we spent centuries inculcating a well-earned respect in teachers and scholars. When I went to school, the headmaster hovered under an aura of authourity comparable to a greatest Borinian gurus. Students were kept in line not so much by the strict discipline as by the bankable respect which teachers had accrued, a respect which was reinforced by the way parents and society as a whole treated teachers. But today, parents are not cool and thus cannot lend any cool to desperately dorky teachers, and our children run amok in the classroom and the schoolyard because they can instantly attain cool be 'dissing' the uncool teachers.

Cool is an irrational, fleeting thing which is more highly prized than morality, ettiquette, bravery, prestige and intelligence combined. Cool could only occur in our media-saturated, over-populated modern world. Cool is a value which would appeal only to our high-paced, time-obsessed society.

The allure of cool is two-fold; it can be attained quickly and it is instantly recognizable. While it takes a life of effort to, for example, win the nobel prize (or in my case at least a few years and a clever pseudonym) you can become cool overnight by dying your hair and buying a leather jacket, just like Sandra Dee (who has recently and tragically succumbed to a long and excruciating death by cool). What's more, even once you've won the nobel prize, no one knows it by looking at you! A nobel prize won't get you in to Studio 54 (the hottest new club if you didn't know). On the other hand, the presence or absence of cool can be seen immediately. Cool is the only value, besides beauty (which is devilishly hard to fake), which is apparent in an instant even to the naked eye. This is why cool has become the ultimate currency of our instantaneous, image-obsessed, information super-culture.

Cool also has an important tertiary appeal in that, while the rich can certainly buy cool, one can also become cool without being rich. For this reason, cool, like the lottery, holds a certain disturbing sway over the hopes and dreams of the entire population.

And yet cool's very assets -- its transience and consumability -- are what make it utterly worthless in the long-run. Just look at the things that were cool five years ago -- the Frontline program holds up Dawson's Creek and Limp Bizkit as examples of cutting-edge cool. God, what insipid, mind-numbing crap it looks like now.

Oh, woe is we! Look, how we were blinded by cool's ephemeral veneer! Cool is the only cultural value that is inherently fleeting. Works of genius, acts of heroism and legendary beauty live on through history, but cool lasts only until the sun comes up the next day and exposes your over-sized, vomit-encrusted, fun-fur raver pants for the garbage that they really are.

I pray thee dear reader, forsake the demon cool and all that it tries to sell you. Coolness is a deceiver of the most elevated form and it will only ever sell you worthless rubbish lacking real moral fibre. It is because of my moral aversion to cool that I still wear a monocle and use a field radio, which is attached to a perpetually slovenly low-ranking officer, in place of a cellphone. Matteus von Mustard is completely uncool and proud of it. Unless perhaps, these things are so uncool that they are cool again. I really don't care either way because I'm rich, brilliant and fiendishly handsome.

This post is part one in a probably three-part series about cool. The next installment will focus on the bang-bang, bling-bling world of 50 Cent.

If you are interested in this post I have also touched on this idea of the displacement of genuine good before in my rant about how pathetic, snivelling celebrities are deified in the place of real heroes.


Blogger Latigo Flint said...

That is an epic post Von Mustard.

You know, one of the things that makes Dwight Yoakam cool is that when people started saying he never went out without his hat because he was ashamed of his baldness, Dwight went and acted in a bunch of movies without it.

And now when he's on stage he still wears the hat and he says "Hey we all know I'm bald, but since I like the way the hat makes me feel I'm gonna wear it, and you all who like my music or else you wouldn't be here, are gonna have an even better time because of it."

12:00 a.m.  
Blogger Matthew Lie - Paehlke said...

Yes, it's true that post even exceeded my own tendency towards long-winded-ness. Perhaps it is not the greatest introduction to my oeuvre.

2:27 p.m.  
Blogger justin said...


Sorry, But I seen this and had to forward it to yas:

3:13 p.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home