Monday, January 26, 2009

Thoughts about the "Cool Continuum"

In class last week we were introduced to the many faces of “cool” and its history. I’d never once though of slaves as cool, but I changed my mind after our discussion. Keeping up the cool façade in the midst of pain and humiliation was probably all that kept some of them alive. And that idea of detachment certainly still holds as cool today. Growing up, some of the coolest kids in school are those who goof off, get in trouble, talk back to the teacher, etc. and then shrug it off when they’re called down for their actions. Another classic example would be The Fonz from the family classic Happy Days. In the first few episodes Fonzie is a true rebel outcast who is far too cool to care what people say and think of him, and even after he becomes the hero of all the young teens in town, he remains the cool, untouchable guy he once was. Words and attitudes couldn’t touch him.
The “cool continuum” we discussed in class was also rather thought-provoking. The spectrum went from Dissident Cool on one side to Transcendent Cool on the other. In class this was compared to a PacMan screen where you could travel all the way across and then just disappear off the screen and maybe later pop up on the other side of the spectrum. What the cool continuum reminded me of in that respect was the political arena. You have your two main parties, Democrat and Republican, on the left and right sides of the spectrum respectively. Those who fall into one of the two categories are mostly respected for having an opinion about politics, so in some way they are cool. In fact, while the two parties are different, if you look at it from the view of the average American, you probably couldn’t name all the platform differences between them. In much that same way, most people never look at cool as a spectrum; they just see it as cool or uncool, with no variation in the type. To further my political comparison here, much like a cool icon, you can go too far with your opinion and become the opposite of cool. When politicians get too radical and out of control for the mainstream, they are considered nuts and no longer respected, listened to, or considered as viable candidates. Ralph Nadar and his Green Party pals are pretty good examples of this, or perhaps the radical film maker Michael Moore. They become “uncool” and fall off the cool continuum, as well as loosing their political footing and respect in many people’s eyes.
Along that same line, yet in a completely different direction is another idea I had about the cool continuum. Within each type of cool there are the subcultures such as geek and punk that have their own ideas of cool. While each group has their own opinions and versions of cool, each also has its own group of uncool outcasts. This proves that even the overly devout transcendent cool guys such as Bruce Lee can take it too far and fall off the cool continuum. An example I thought of was within the “geek cool” subculture. Geeks were some of the original transcendents because they defied societal norms and focused their lives on technology and all of that “uncool” stuff. Now with society as technologically focused as it is, their services are needed constantly so they are cool and respected in most people’s opinions it seems. However, there are those who even take that too far. If you’ve ever watched Monday night comedy on CBS, you’ve probably seen the Big Bang Theory. The nerds on that show redefine nerd, and hardly fit in with their own kind. They’re too geeky for the geeks they work with, thus being too far off the charts for normal people to even understand. They’re like the hot new song that gets played one time too many and becomes hated rather than loved. Sheldon, Leonard and his their other geeky comrades are misunderstood and rejected by most rather than looked upon as cool for their nostalgic love of comics and high IQ scores. So I guess they prove that even the coolest and most useful of traits can be taken too far for the mainstream.


  1. Is there a way that you can redeem yourself once you fall into this extreme uncool place you talk about these sitcom stars being in?

  2. The "uncool" place I was referring to was primarily within their own group of geeks. To many in the mainstream they are cool in their own right; if they weren't, why would their show be the number one sitcom on Monday nights? For real world geeks of their caliber it's not quite so easy though. While they are the true hardcore, geeks, most people don't respect that, much less call it cool. Chances are those people aren't the ones in the public eye either; they aren't fixing computers or selling high tech gear. The geeks like those on "Big Bang Theory" are in the labs researching so others can sell their creations and findings. So to be considered cool, their work has to become widely known or they have to solve a huge world problem.

  3. I wonder who is defining cool though? Do we go by society's standards or our own? It seems to me that the truly cool don't care about what the rest of society says, and in time opinions can change. However, I do agree with you about that "new song that gets played one time too many" business. I think that is what kills the chances of something becoming cool. It is too in your face and screaming for you to like. Ha, kind of like those car commercials that scream at you; you know they are happening and can get annoyed by them, but you can also with time tune them out. The ideas that become cool seem to be the ones that have always been there and sneak up on us...

  4. Great example about politics. In a way, you're very much on target with your analysis of the outliers - though the outliers (far left and far right radicals) on the cool spectrum would fall in between (at least, using FJohn's model).

    Very interesting example. And a pretty well written blog entry. Remember to space between paragraphs, as it is the standard for online writing.