Admit it: you want to be cool. You want to be “that girl” or “that guy” who everyone looks up to and aspires to be. You want to walk the cool walk, speak the right slang, think the cool thoughts and say the cool things. You might also want to wear the cool brands and hang out where the cool kids do. But as you might have realized, being cool is a full-time job. Like the characters in Alice In Wonderland, you have to keep running really fast to stay in the same place. In other words, you have to stay updated on the latest trends in speech, attire, handouts, technology, etc., to maintain your “cool” status. Despite the effort, you still feel that coolness is worth striving for mostly because of our desire to feel accepted by a peer group and develop a sense of self-worth while also cultivating independent identities for ourselves.
But what is this “coolness”? Where did it come from and what are the many meanings that it has? And, perhaps most importantly, why is being cool so important and is it worth striving for?
‘Cool’ is born!
While coolness often tends to be regarded as something superficial, it has a rich and inspiring history in African-American jazz of the 1940s. African-American jazz artists sought to create a unique identity for themselves, which entailed following the conventions of traditional jazz music with an added twist. One of the jazz icons of the time was Leicester Young, who defied several established practices that African-American artists were expected to follow while still asserting his identity as a jazz artist. For instance, author Joel Dinerstein reminds us that Young refused to smile on stage during a time when it was mandatory for African-American artists to do so. Young also developed his own style of holding the saxophone and insisted on wearing sunglasses for all his performances. In doing so, he paved the way for new modes of expression within the jazz tradition.
Many interesting aspects of coolness can be derived from Young’s example. Coolness is a defiance of norms and unbridled self-expression while ensuring that one is not too distanced from reality. Coolness is all about creativity and having the courage to transgress and, in doing so, creating new inroads and pathways for future generations. Dinerstein attempts to coalesce all these views into his definition of cool as, “Cool is the process by which iconic rebels carve out new cultural space for a give-in generation.” More on coolness follows.