The pitfalls of cool February 23, 2010 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone remember that awesome screed against cool?

It was a comment -- a relatively old one, if I'm remembering correctly, I'm guessing +2 years ago -- all about the hazards of "cool." How obsession with coolness can be inhibiting, how it can be destructive to the creative instinct, how it can be sneering and cruel and point to a lot of secret insecurities. Something like that.

Is this ringing a bell with anyone? The comment struck me to my core when I read it, and I could've sworn a million times over I had favorited it, but a search through my favorites on the word "cool" didn't turn up anything.

Plz halp!
posted by shiu mai baby to MetaFilter-Related at 5:46 AM (48 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

I'd like to see this as well. Meanwhile, here's a quote from Bruce Mau: "Don't be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort."
posted by Termite at 5:55 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

This? Or possibly this?
posted by inire at 5:57 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

The allkindsoftime comment was terrific, but it was the pastabagel comment that had stuck in my mind, inire, and you're a friggin' genius. Thank you.

The ironic thing is that I did favorite it, but I was thrown off by the mention of Mr. Rogers. Silly me.

PB, I'd favorite you a thousand times over for that comment if I could.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:13 AM on February 23, 2010

Pastabagel rocks. I almost always disagree with him over things, but he states his side so eloquently that I can understand the logic behind what he's saying.

Both comments linked by Inire are terrific.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:35 AM on February 23, 2010

Yeah I was thinking of Pastabagel's comment in the Mr. Rogers thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:39 AM on February 23, 2010

This comment is related.
posted by pwally at 7:25 AM on February 23, 2010

I knew it had to be a Pastabagel comment before I even finished reading this post.
posted by desjardins at 7:27 AM on February 23, 2010

Oh that nasreddin comment is great.
posted by molecicco at 7:42 AM on February 23, 2010

I knew it had to be a Pastabagel comment before I even finished reading this post.

How? It had properly spaced paragraphs and everything.

I kid because I love.
posted by grouse at 7:48 AM on February 23, 2010

Don't be cool. Make sure you have sprezzatura. Much more chic.
posted by joost de vries at 7:52 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

V. cool screeds. All of them.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:11 AM on February 23, 2010

I had a weird moment a couple of months ago, I was revisiting some of my favorite mefi comments (starting with the Mr Rogers one, actually), and I suddenly realized how many of the most spectacular things written here are Pastabagel penned.

I don't like to gush, but fucking hell, the guy is a great writer.
posted by quin at 8:14 AM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I clicked on all quin's links, and have one thing to say: tl;dr
posted by Grither at 8:49 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Just kidding, I read some of them. But dang, that dude is verbose)
posted by Grither at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2010

You know, that comment on Avatar is the only thing I've read about it which has made me actually want to see the movie.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2010

I'd say that the Avatar comment is the only positive review of the movie that sorta helps me understand why people are so enamored of it. I don't believe that Pastabagel's view is necessarily echoed by all of the folks who are, like, painting themselves blue and going through life depressed that Pandora isn't real, because that level of fan obsession rarely goes hand-in-hand with the level of critical thinking skills that were on display in that comment.

I still think it's a shitty plot in a shiny package, of course, but my respect for it has increased a very tiny little bit.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:02 AM on February 23, 2010

posted by Pastabagel at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2007 [666 favorites +] [!]

Well, I guess I can't favorite it then. Bad mojo.
posted by norm at 9:08 AM on February 23, 2010

Hmm, I thought the exact opposite, and favorited it with all due haste.

Probably because I'm cool.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2010

Oh, I didn't remember the context itself, but I did remember this line:

Something about the counterculture from the 60's is still with us but it has been co-opted into a form of synchronized periodic obsolescence and mockery of that which came before. There is something fundamentally anti-intellectual about this, but I can't quite articulate it.

That really stood out to me.
posted by brundlefly at 9:16 AM on February 23, 2010

I'd favorite it, but I really don't want to fall in with the cool kids.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2010

posted by Sys Rq at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could have sworn I wrote another anti cool screed but maybe I was too cool to actually post it.
posted by loquacious at 10:08 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A second Pastabagel cool comment.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:25 AM on February 23, 2010

Wow- I never realized all those were pastabagel's. Nice work, Dude!
posted by small_ruminant at 10:37 AM on February 23, 2010

Cool, over-rated for decades, now seems to be getting a bad rap. Fair enough but please let's not go throwing out babies with the bathwater.

For me (a suburban 1960s pre-teen) cool was at first an affectation that teenagers put on to intimidate. And it worked ... until I was as big as them and, of course, trying to be cool myself. But it never worked. That is, I might've fooled a few pre-teen kids but never myself. I just wasn't up to what life was throwing at me. I kept losing my cool.

Psychedelics found me around the end of high school, an "education" I pursued with far more passion than anything the organized world could conjure, and man was I fucking cool ... until I took things way too far, fell off the psychedelic mountain, got lost in Chapel Perilous, got raped by the gods (choose yr analogy).

No I never checked into a psyche ward, never even mentioned it to a friend or family member (though I did bring it up with a few strangers), but for a good year and half of my early 20s, I was more or less confused all the time ... until slowly, inexorably and, most important, EFFECTIVELY, the pieces of my everyday psyche-personality-attitude slowly reconnected/recombined and stronger, tougher, more resiliently than before, because now, having not just walked the EDGE but fallen off the damned thing, I had a grasp on how truly bad shit could get and, to massively oversimplify, had learned not sweat the small stuff.

Which is my roundabout way of clarifying what I think "cool" is (note that it's not capitalized). It's not a pose, not a fashion, not a look, just the very useful ability to keep one's head when all (some anyway) about you are losing theirs ... and other stuff that Rudyard Kipling put to paper a long, long time ago.

And ummm, don't underestimate the value of the right pair of cheap sunglasses.
posted by philip-random at 10:56 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a great thread.
posted by box at 11:08 AM on February 23, 2010

philip-random, I agree. Part of being "cool" is a series of good, useful character traits, just as part of being "uncool" is the same. Each has an overlapping series of undesirable traits, like hostility, exclusivity, and closedmindedness, which if you really hammer down into the roots of it all I think turn out to be based largely in thoughtlessness.

At some point young in your life you do something or other without totally knowing why you do it, and you realize in part that you don't get why you're doing this, and the reaction tends to be insecurity and a little bit of anger directed toward people who are doing something different, because you're worried they know something you don't know, or that they're going to be just as violently supportive of whatever thing they do that you are of your thoughtless things.

Particularly with things like Abercrombie (as the one thread linked here was about), which offer an attractive if somewhat obnoxious aesthetic, at the cost of a lot of diversity of look and durability of clothing. There are some fashion circles that let the people in them look like a hell of a lot of things; Abercrombie's not one of them. So it's a younger, shallower sort of cool, which is the sort being railed against. But I'd argue that "uncool" is just as young and shallow. People who wear t-shirts all their lives and have a kneejerk hate for people willing to button shirts in the morning, they're just as guilty of avoiding deliberation as the other dudes. They're paying less for their clothes, which I guess is a plus.

The other sorts of cool exist too, however: The circles that are a little more sophisticated and mature and self-aware. Because I'm on a music bender right now, the first example that comes to mind is a musician like Tom Waits, who, in my opinion, is cool as fuck. Dresses snappy, writes sexy music, has a chill sense of humor. But he's the kind of cool that, the first time you hear him, you've got to stop and think about him for a little while, because on first listen he's not instantly accessible. He demands a certain maturity from his listeners, because he refuses to stick to surface.

The problem with Abercrombie and kin is, as Craig Fergusen says, that they're selling the idea that young people are cool, and we all know that's a lie. Young people suck. Hopefully soon young people start getting cooler, or they start realizing what dweebs they are. Then cool can stop being something we have to look down upon.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:23 AM on February 23, 2010

Confession: "Pastabagel" is actually a middling cohort of MechTurks, supplied with a constant stream of cents per hour, and, more importantly, little care packages of good cocaine melted safely into the interiors of scented candles.

I have to prune 99% of their output, God bless 'em, but yeah, when they're on, they're on.

It just seemed easier than taking time to write comments my damn self. You're welcome.
posted by everichon at 11:32 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom thinks I'm cool.
posted by The Whelk at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2010

If you like anti-cool screeds, you might also like Dave Eggers' rant on selling out, from an interview by The Harvard Advocate: "You actually asked me the question: 'Are you taking any steps to keep shit real?' I want you always to look back on this time as being a time when those words came out of your mouth."
posted by cocoagirl at 12:11 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I liked this one the best.
posted by lysdexic at 12:20 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think cool was useful at one point. I mean, the theory is that it originated in Africa, among the by Yoruba and Igbo, where it represented a sort of transcendent detachedness that allowed people to, for instance, stop fights, and lead people to be gentle and graceful in character.

It had a similar meaning for African-Americans, especially jazz musicians. Imperturbability. Grace under pressure. And cool jazz was a reaction to hot jazz -- it was intellectual and wasn't meant as a party music, or a dance music, but instead was something to be enjoyed for its own sake. It was art that existed without any function except its own inherent value, and it was introspective and complicated and based on unusual tonal centers and modal improvisations. Of course, there was a cool lifestyle, too, but it was based around the love of the music and the people who made the music. The original hipsters were jazz fans, digging the music in a cloud of marihuana fumes. Pastabagel talks about the ironic detatchment of the hip, but that didn't exist for these early hipster, which, after all, included Lester Young, who probably did more to popularize the use of cool than anybody up until Fonzi. They unironically loved the music. And it was a genuine counterculture, and a cross-racial one, which wasn't something you saw a lot of back int eh 1940s.

I have a theory about America, and why both "cool" and "hister" have become devalued terms, and the shame of it. And it comes from an earlier American idea, and one that has been similarly devalued, and that's the idea of revolution. We're a country that was founded on revolution, and we've never entirely let go of our revolutionary spirit. But the delirium of the American people is that whatever they are doing they can convince themselves is revolutionary. Latte drinking NPR liberals are just as sure as Tea Beggers that they're the true America revolutionaries. Worse still, it's gone beyond the world of the political. A guy in a pickup truck and a cowboy hat is going to see himself as much as a rebel as a guy in dreadlocks. Frat boys think they're the real American rebels. People with tattoos think they're rebels. People who refuse to get tattoos think they're rebels.

And the worse thing about this delirium is that it's marketable, and our market in omnivorous and unethical. So it panders to this delusion. We let people think they are rebels and revolutionary because they buy jeans, and we let them think they really distinguish themselves based on the way they purchase. Levis are the best, because they're old school. No, wait, designed jeans are the best, because they cost more! No, wait -- the real make to make jeans awesome is to buy a bedazzler and put some rhinestones! No, wait, it's to wear Daisy Dukes ironically, because you're above all that.

We live in a country that has effectively convinced us to define ourselves by how we purchase. And, in this world, any potent phrase that assists in making the sale becomes co-opted. So cool, which used to describe something specific, and something worthwhile, got coopted to describe something salable. And it's become the baseball hat of American language -- people say "cool" when all they mean is "I like it" or "I approve of it" or "I don't know what else to say."

I don't share Pastabagel's digust at the supposed inauthenticity of hipsters. I think they have developed a useful defense mechanism. We are drowned in a world of capitalism. It surrounds us like water, and we can't get away from it. We are defined by what we buy, or, at least, other people define us that way. At least hipsters bring a level of remove from that, a layer of irony that was probably original intended to be protective, but, like all things, eventually got coopted by the market. There's was a lost cause, but that doesn't make it contemptable.

And I don't know what the way out of this is, but awareness helps. An attempt to disentangle the idea of accomplishing something from the act of purchasing something. An awareness that buying something doesn't demonstrate that we have good taste, but rather acknowledges the good taste of the person who actually made the things. And, more than anything, a knowledge that unless we're paying back, in some way, into the well that we draw from in this world, in some way that is more than the imaginay transaction of pieces of paper, we risk becoming locust -- creatures that just crawl on the surface of the earth and devour and breed, until there is nothing left.

I don't know if we can ever reclaim cool. But we still can own culture in a way that the market can't -- by making it. When we collective construct something that needs a word like the original use of "cool" to describe it, that word will come along.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:36 PM on February 23, 2010 [14 favorites]

So now that Pastabagel's comment has garnered well over 700 favorites, is it the most favorited comment of all time?
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:03 PM on February 23, 2010

So Cool can mean magical, and some people try to be magical by buying fetishes. No matter, it shouldn't shrug the magical, they're to busy not notice.
posted by The Whelk at 4:51 PM on February 23, 2010

Not that hot Cool isn't magical, it's just different, and if you read history, leads to people getting eaten.
posted by The Whelk at 4:52 PM on February 23, 2010

Astro Zombie, will you marry me?
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on February 23, 2010

Actually, Astro Zombie here has the most favorited comment of all time:
posted by signalnine at 5:11 PM on February 23, 2010

I just read Pastabagel's 9-11 comment. Do you suppose he is secretly Don DeLillo or someone?
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 6:00 PM on February 23, 2010

You are welcome to spouse me, The Whelk, but I think I'm already a MeFi polygamist.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:33 PM on February 23, 2010

When I saw the above-the-fold, I thought of this, instantly.

Also a Pastabagel, naturally.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:02 PM on February 23, 2010

I just read Pastabagel's 9-11 comment. Do you suppose he is secretly Don DeLillo or someone?

I was about to be all, "TV's Horshack?," but that was Ron Palillo.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:17 PM on February 23, 2010

Pastabagel rocks. I almost always disagree with him over things, but he states his side so eloquently that I can understand the logic behind what he's saying.

He (I'm assuming) annoys the living gravelly piss out of me, because I almost never agree with anything he has to say, sometimes even to the point of it making me frown emphatically, but he does say his aggravatingly wrong things with a great deal of eloquence.

*shakes fist, wanders off, mumbling*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:10 AM on February 24, 2010

If you like anti-cool screeds, you might also like Dave Eggers' rant on selling out, from an interview by The Harvard Advocate

I'm sorry, but I can authoritatively confirm that Dave Eggers is a sell-out, at least in one sense of the term. And what's worse - he is the sell-out that he goes to such painful extremes to try to craftily claim he really isn't. (This is a long story, but Eggers was somewhat foundational to my story, so there it is.)

Back when I was living a cush, corporate, jet-set management consulting lifestyle (not that there's anything wrong with it, and I very well may go back some day), a friend of mine in NYC gave me a book one day. Now, I'm not much of a book giver - while I try to live mostly free of "stuff," books are my vice - I love to have them sitting around so that on a random Saturday afternoon when I want to find a passage I read once somewhere for a random blog post I might be writing, I can flip to it. I find comfort being surrounded by a multitude of words, perhaps even more so than people. But that's not the point.

The point is that the book was Eggers' "What is the What." If you're not familiar with the book, its a semi-fictionalized / semi-true biography of Achek Deng, one of the "Lost Boys" of the Darfur crisis in Sudan. The book took a hold of me, at the core of my soul. Somewhere over the mid-east US, I found myself sitting in a first class seat on my way to a wild week of all-day meetings with a few thousand of my management peers and crazy nights out all week long. And it was a tipping point for me - everything came to a head. I could no longer justify living that life. Again, I don't think there was anything fundamentally wrong with what I was doing - but for me, personally, though, there had to be a change. In my soul there was a criminal injustice in living the way I was living while there were boys fleeing scorched earth to starve in the wild or be eaten alive by wild animals. Simply because, by the grace of God, I was born in northern California and not northern Sudan.

So I started to explore how I could help. I was serious about it, but didn't even really know where to start. I started reading books and articles and watching movies to educate myself on the various crises in Africa. I started submitting CVs and networking with anyone I could. And pretty soon I would find, providentially, that there was an acute need in the NGO sector in the 3rd world for people with experience in setting up Supply Chain Management systems and strategy - pretty much the exact thing I had been consulting in the first-world corporate sector. And next thing I found myself living and working in the poorest and most war-torn countries here in Africa.

At one point, I found myself back in NYC for a friends' wedding or the holidays or some such thing, and my friend who had first given me that book was excited to go with me to one of the 92nd Street Y book readings, where one of the two readers would be Eggers, reading from "What is the What" - I think the other author was a Rwandan woman reading from her experiences with the genocide in her homeland.

At the end of the session, they had a time for Q&A. The audience was facilitated to submit questions on note-cards, and so I wrote something fairly simple - along the lines of "The book and the issues it brings to light are excellent. But what can your average Eggers-reading, NYC 92nd-street-Y-going listener actually DO to respond to the issues, to get involved?"

They got more questions than they had time to go through, so the moderater flipped through them as he went, picking the interesting ones that he did have time for. Eggers handled them all with ease, until they got to the last question of the evening - "a good one to end on," the moderator commented. It was mine, and Eggers seemed completely taken aback. Apparently nobody, in his years since writing the book, had ever even bothered to ask him a question like this. He hemmed and hawed and ended up mildly suggesting people get involved or donate to various causes, none of which he could even cite by name.

Now, I wasn't asking this question to test whether Eggers was, in fact, a sell-out. I was asking because for me - the stars kind of aligned and I ended up finding a fast track to really digging in and getting involved. I know it can't be that way for most people who have a normal life with a steady job and 2.5 kids and whatnot - but still, people can find ways to help. I have a passion to help facilitate that in my friends, family, and community - that's why I was asking.

I took my book to the signing, afterward, and told Eggers that I had been the one who had asked that question. I wanted to give him a second chance, I guess, to convince me that he hadn't just found a convenient subject to write about, and milked it for all it was worth, rather than really writing about something he cared about. I mean, hell, the kid the book was based on even has a school in Darfur he could have cited at the very least. But he didn't even seem to be aware of even that. He handled my in-person questions with even less grace than he had handled the one on stage.

Granted, its the only interaction I've ever had with Eggers, and - granted - I had pretty high expectations. But I decided before I got out of the Y that I wouldn't be bothering to pick up any more of his books. I'm still glad he wrote "What is the What" and that it changed my life, I just wish it had done the same for him.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:11 AM on February 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Heh. A bunch of nerds railing against the idea of cool. Wrap me up in surprised and throw me into the sea of shocked.
posted by i_cola at 9:16 AM on February 24, 2010

posted by lysdexic at 9:28 AM on February 24, 2010

allkindsoftime: They need any ex-journalist types in the NGO world?
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 9:44 AM on February 24, 2010

Pastabagel unknowingly played a not-insignificant role in helping me make over £10,000 a couple of years ago, thanks to the only MetaFilter comment that I have ever saved an off-line copy of.

At that time I was already half-considering selling off some or all of the pretty hefty retro videogame collection I had accumulated over the previous decade, but that comment struck a real nerve at the time and helped me turn the corner into thinking "well, actually, while having one of the most extensive collections of Sega games & hardware in Europe is neat and all, there really are more important ways I could be spending all my time, effort & money than accumulating a room full of *stuff*, 90-odd% of which will just sit gathering dust, no matter how much I try and kid myself that I'll eventually get around to playing/researching/cataloguing/documenting it all".

It took about another year to clear it all through eBay, but by the end what I pulled in exceeded my initial expectations by a factor of 2-3 times, setting the eBay record for a PAL MegaDrive game in the process, and I have not for the slightest moment regretted the decision at any point since.

So, um, thanks man. I'll buy you a drink or something if you're ever in Newcastle.
posted by anagrama at 4:02 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

They need any ex-journalist types in the NGO world?

They need all types - grant writers, conflict journalists, marketing / communications officers, you name it. While I am fairly unimpressed by Eggers, he has started some domestic programs in his hometown of SF that I've read about that do seem to be pretty beneficial to the communities there. I think he could really have capitalized upon his ability to set up such organizations to drive significant on-the-ground change in Sudan, but as far as I can tell his activism doesn't extend much beyond his writing.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:34 AM on February 25, 2010

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