What would Fonzie do?Posted: August 14, 2011 Filed under: philosophy 2 Comments
Zak S. from Pornstars wrote a really interesting blog post the other day on some musings about what ‘cool’ was and where our concept of cool might have come from… including ruminations about ‘coolness’ being connected to a kind of otherness that a teacher of his associated with African art and religion. I’m not doing it justice; go and read it for yourself. For clarity, we are talking about ‘cool’ as social currency, not temperature (although I think the premise presented on Zak’s blog connects the two).
The type of cool I am thinking of is calm and collected. Nothing disturbs the composure. Perhaps that related back to the quality of ‘unnaturalness’ that Zak’s teacher saw in some African art. I don’t know. But back in the Pleistocene era, there used to be a show on TV where Henry Winkler played a ‘cool’ dude named ‘The Fonz.’ The Fonz was like a cartoon of cool in a sitcom about the 1950s that never was. For one thing, I don’t remember any racism or cold war paranoia on “Happy Days;” the show mostly concentrated on sock-hops and who was taking who to the high school prom. When it was on the air, I only watched it when my sister had charge of the channel changer because it was a “girl’s show” (like ‘Love Boat’ or ‘Fantasy Island’). I much preferred ‘Batman’ or ‘The Six Million Dollar Man.’
Although I don’t know much about African art and religion, I’m not sure that I’m buying Zak’s former art history professor’s theory about the origin of ‘cool.’ Even discussing it is hard since these days people use ‘cool’ to describe anything vaguely positive… so while many might say the character portrayed by James Dean in ‘Rebel without a Cause’ is a ‘cool’ guy, getting a discount on a haircut or a box of cornflakes might also be ‘cool.’ For the sake of discussion, let’s stick to cool as having a certain social cachet.
It is strange because when I was a youngster, many of the things I liked were considered ‘not cool’ by my peer group… but now they are somehow considered ‘nerdishly cool.’ So spending my Friday nights playing D&D and killing balrogs and orcs was not cool in 1978… at least not in my neck of the woods… so I find myself a bit baffled that these things have become more socially acceptable in some circles. Did and interest in dorkish pursuits like D&D become cool over time? Did it become cool because people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became rich and famous and everyone wants those sexy little devices like iPads and smart phones… so, somehow having ‘nerdish’ interests has suddenly become “cool” because some of those nerds suddenly made a lot of money and people were admiring them in publications like Wired magazine?
If cool is being distant and unemotional, I’ve never managed that.
It's amazing that such a simple concept as getting together with your friends in the same room to play a game that requires the participants to be active and creative is considered kitsch, retro and therefore cool. Heck, nerds like us have been doing that for over 25 years.
To quote Anthrax from their song “Strap It On”, “I change by staying the same.”
Hmm. When I lose track of what cool is — like for a person to be cool, more so than a thing being cool — I go to Miles Davis, a guy who could legitimately title an album “Birth of the Cool”. While not my favorite jazz musician, there's no denying that he embodied the cool. Next to him, ironic retro hipster coolness is less than nothing, not even a pose. Put those little twits in the same room with him and he'd probably knife them all (or he would in my upcoming jazz-themed urbancrawl, anyway).