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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Comment

What is Cool?
Aaron Falloon

Can we pin point what it is to be cool? What is it that makes something in and another, which may be quite similar, out? Do idols work at their image or were they born humming the tune of Sympathy for the Devil and sporting a tonic suit?
It could be said that cool depends solely on relevance.

Who would care to take the slightest bit of notice of something that does not strike a chord with the general thinking of its followers? Post-World War Two western society longed for liberation from the depression that the war had provide and left behind. Then in the early 1950s came "cultural phenomenas" such as The Beatles, Elvis and Monroe, along with a young actor that specialised in rebellious-youth roles, James Dean. All bore some relevance and symbolized liberation from their fore-fathers way of living. All were representatives of their fans; voicing their opinions to the adult world through their chosen art, whilst living a completely new lifestyle.

Of course, soon enough everything associated with their world became cool too. Teenage boys had quiffs and wore tight trousers, whilst young ladies went peroxide blonde and skirts got shorter. Rock ‘n’ Roll. Jack Daniels. Fast cars. The Movies. And most tragically, the now famous maxim of "living fast, dying young".

However, as with most things cool they are only temporary, flavours of the decade. A sense of exclusiveness is essential and once something becomes too popular it is in danger of losing its charm and moving into the realm of the uncool, though the cool tag can still be associated with some elements. Coolness is forever-changing and fresh, thus someone who aims to stay cool needs to constantly have one hawk eye cast upon the social landscape, and be ready to change with the times at the drop of a trilby hat. This may explain the success of Madonna and her multiple personalities, who in her long career has shown she has the undeniable ability to change with the times with credibility intact (though this credibility has floundered somewhat since turning 50).

An icon, it could be argued, that many of the points above bare significant relevance to, is Paul Weller. Though he has been a successful musician for over three and a half decades, his popularity has been limited to The United Kingdom.; thus giving him a sense of exclusiveness. Along with this, his earlier lyrics were extremely politically driven and were somewhat a summary of what many British working-class men were thinking in the late 1970s. Weller has also shown, with a foray of different bands, he can remain relevant and modern. Furthermore being heavily associated with cool musical and cultural movements, Mod and Britpop, has not hindered his reputation as a cool man.

Although all these points contribute hugely to his cool tag, what makes Weller truly cool is that he is tangible. Fanatics like to think that one day their idol may just wander into the local, where they could buy them a pint and chit-chat about nonsense. Weller’s gruff tones and deep pride in his home town of Woking, allow his followers to believe this.

Times have changed. Once upon a time, cool icons were put on a pedestal and worshipped in a god like manner; there was an essence of elitism that meant the Average Joe could never match his idol, no matter how thoroughly he practiced their look and mannerisms. However, due to the influx of blogging and social networking sites, there is much more interaction between the modern fan and the hero. Nowadays, the idol is no longer an idealistic creation sent down to reign supreme from The Lord Almighty himself, but a beautifully flawed human being with an obtainable coolness.

Take for instance, celebrities such as Noel Fielding or Lily Allen; both are neither threateningly good-looking, nor do they have a personality as flamboyant as, say, Elton John. They are real people with interesting opinions on the world which they share with their Twitter followers more often, than they do with national newspapers. A relationship is established, where the worshipper feels valued by the worshipped.

Alas, there is another side to the coin that is modern coolness. These cool people walk a much trodden and well-weathered tightrope of cool, forever weary of falling into the pit of the uncool; where lays the crackling bones of many a 1990s pop star. The idol must stay relevant and keep a close relationship with their fans, but they must also keep an aura of mystery. Just like a good quality novel writer, they must keep their audience interested by revealing intricate details about their character, but not bombard them with every single piece of information, so that there is no need to delve deeper. It is, therefore, a necessity for the cool to create an interesting and well layered character. George Clooney plays the lothario, whilst Johnny Depp; the laid-back artistic type. A fan of one, I doubt, would not be a fan of the other.

What someone finds cool is entirely subjective; and there lays the impossible obstacle in my quest to sourcing out what is cool. With all its complexities and contradictions, cool is a tag that cannot be obtained through a set of rules. Coolness depends on many different variables; timing is essential, how you resonate with the fan is too and an absurd ability to move with trends is crucial. However, it all comes down to one imperative and uncontrollable element; preference. Thus my aim to find the true meaning is rendered useless and beyond the bounds of possibility. Simply because, one could not judge whether another finds Brand cooler than Brando.
Brando, of course...
© Aaron Falloon Nov 5th 2009

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