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What Is Cool?

Did you know that there are hierarchies to cool? In a brilliant and incisive (not to mention hilarious) essay over at the Sydney Review of Books, Chris Fleming breaks it down for us:

The Velvet Underground are probably cooler than the Ramones, but the Ramones are much cooler than Pink Floyd; Pink Floyd are cooler than Coldplay (the name is misleading), and Coldplay are cooler than Nickelback. And there are bands even less cool than Nickelback, although I can’t bring any to mind right at this minute.

He also knows a thing or two about the “Aspiring Cool of Instagram,” whose “Romantic Injunction” is “Watch me not caring about whether or not you watch me (but please do watch me).” And then there’s the humblebrag: “Look at me being incredibly successful even though I’m surprised and amused by this attention and – believe me – I’m not even slightly invested in it – even so, check me out. (Repeatedly if you have to. I do.)”

Cool, it turns out, is elusive. “We can’t reliably predict its path,” writes Fleming, “because it never announces its itinerary.” So I guess Tower of Power was on to something way back in 1973:

You done even went and found you a guru
In your effort to find you a new you
And maybe even managed 
To raise your conscious level
As you striving to find the right road
There’s one thing you should know
What’s hip today
Might become passé

Finally, a warning: “To compound difficulties…cool is largely an unspeakable art and its artisans will rarely admit to practicing it – to being cool, that is. Yet the converse isn’t necessarily true: denying that you’re cool doesn’t make you cool.”



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