Let’s Talk About ‘Cool’

I live in Brooklyn, which these days seems to be classified as one of the world’s epicenters of ‘hip’ culture. Sometimes, walking down the street, it may seem everything one does is encouraged to embody a certain characteristic of ‘cool’ in order to be accepted. Meanwhile, anyone with any eccentricities or strange hobbies is written off as a hipster. It’s a bizarre dichotomy.

Hipness derides mainstream culture as pandering and catering to the lowest-common-denominator impulses in people. ‘Coolness’ essentially says, “I’m better than that. Watch me make something better than that.” Sometimes it does make something better than that; sometimes it just stands around brooding in dark sunglasses. Then whatever’s considered cool is appropriated back into mainstream culture in a tidy package.

I’ve come to love my community, its seemingly endless array of pretensions aside. I love it for its honesty; most of the people I talk to recognize the absurdity of relying on a negative norm to create something new. Hip culture, these days especially, tends to cynically poke fun at popular culture, utilizing the also-popular classic weapon of ironic detachment. This involves recognizing what one does not like, and rebelling against it through sardonically deriding it and detaching from what it represents.

While criticisms of popular culture are often valid, there is another variable. What is popular is often popular because it appeals to our emotions. The sappy TV dramas, the cutthroat reality competitions, the sensational cable news– these mediums are so hugely popular because they stimulate us emotionally. They’ve been engineered to do so. We enjoy deep emotional stimulation, and so we tune in.

Subsequently, when what is Cool becomes directly oppositional to what is Popular, an emotional level of detachment ensues. Cool people think that just because something is popular, it’s bad, and mainstream fans think that anything fringe or unusual is hipster nonsense. That’s just not how the world works.

Within certain cultures and subcultures, this movement has begun waging a war on sincerity– a generation of cool kids detached from what it means to have real, unironic and uninhibited emotions. This involves a mocking sensibility responsible not for reinstating real human emotions in opposition to manufactured Corporate Canned Emotions, but instead a sarcastic removal from that which is often very real, and very human. It requires one to divorce oneself from all platitudes, all cliches, all declarations of sappy emotionality unless they are to be mocked. Then it’s perfectly alright.

It’s ok to be cool. In fact, being cool could be viewed as imperative. Rejecting normality has been one of the major agents for positive change throughout history, and must be cultivated. But it should not be cultivated at the expense of sincerity.

Coolness does not require the rejection of sincerity. It may appear to within certain cultural paradigms involving the rebellion against that which is emotionally popular. But a rebellious spirit can be cultivated outside the confines of ironic detachment. Isn’t the rejection of popular culture the rejection of fakeness, or inhumanity? If so, then what could possibly be more human than raw, uninhibited emotional honesty? To shroud oneself behind a blanket of sarcastic removal renders the rebellious quest for truth and digression completely inhumane.

We must not fear our emotions for the sake of the aesthetic ends of being cool. If we fear our own humanity, guess who wins? The panderers, propagandists and agents of cultural dumbing-down. How ironic.

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