I’m reading a fantastic book right now about how being cool is so not cool. I’d bore you with the details, but truth be told, it’s a sociological study book which looks at more than thirty years of being “hip,” and harkening me back to my days as a psychology major. At a community college which I did not graduate from. Shut up, I’m not cool and I’m cool with that.
If it makes me more cool, I’m not actually reading a book, it’s an E-book on my I-pad made by Apple, one of the coolest companies ever so suck on that.
The basic, dumbed-down synopsis of the book is simple; starting at a young age and continuing for the rest of our lives we are all constantly challenged by the quandary of whether or not to be cool. Cool, put simply, is making sure that our behaviors, beliefs, fashion, stated opinions, cars, friends, significant others, interests, hobbies and goals all conform to what our defined universe says they should. In other words, if we’re cool, we make sure that we get approval from others before we pursue things.
High School is the easiest and best example. 4-H, drama, and ROTC kids are not cool (and no, I was never any of those things so put your petty claims of decades old defensiveness on my part away). Jocks are cool, and to a smaller extent, stoners are cool. Bookworms, AKA nerds, are not cool. Band geeks and journalism students are not cool. Those who run for student body president are not cool. The dumbass who gets suspended for truancy? He’s cool.
I was far from an angel in high school. I basically sleep walked my way through the academic portion of that time of my life and still graduated with a 3.53 GPA and more than a few college credits via what we called at that time “advanced placement,” classes which were high school courses teaching college curriculum. Or, as we call it today, the Rob and Arnie “whoopty-doo-award.” My father loves to tell stories, still living in the same town I grew up in, about running into various parents of kids I went to school with only to have everyone figure out that by the only measure that matters to such people, I’ve turned out the most successful of all. My dad, quite candidly, couldn’t care less, which is where a lot of my un-coolness comes from.
I don’t think I ever grasped the allure of being cool because my dad was and is so not cool…and yet, at the age of 82, almost everyone that knows him will tell you that he’s the coolest guy in any room. How the hell did that happen?
My dad never really played sports. He rode his bike across the country in his late 20’s, but that doesn’t count because it’s just dumb. He’s a classical musician, a retired nuclear engineer, and I don’t think he’s bought a new shirt since the Reagan administration. He still wears the flannel work shirt I bought him as a Christmas gift in 1984 all the time. He taught me cribbage, loves to eat things like chicken livers and whatever scrapple is, and he owns a wooden bicycle. What about any of this is cool? Nothing, and that was my dominant male role model.
Meanwhile, I loved sports and was relatively good at them, most notably baseball and bowling. One was cool (baseball), the other one (bowling), not so much. Thus began the quandary of being little Robby. And yes, it’s spelled with a “y,” on the end not an “ie,” because “y” is uncool. Up yours.
I never, ever, not even once, tried drugs until I smoked marijuana at the age of 19 and hated it. That’s it. That’s my experience in its totality of recreational drug use beyond alcohol. Not cool. However, I can drink most people under the table. Totally cool, though not exactly a redeeming quality, which is the entire point. Almost everything about being cool is fairly reprehensible. The very premise should make your skin crawl; in order to be cool, you must conform and thus, turn over your entire belief system, nay life, to the whims of other people, who will either approve or disapprove of your choices. And to be cool, you will disregard the things you want to passionately pursue in the name of being accepted, and you will engage in activities and choices that are an affront to everything you are; but hey, you’ll be popular and accepted, which apparently is what far too many of you crave.
And that cravenly brings me back to my parents. For whatever mistakes they made (and I’ll be holding a public seminar this weekend at the Capitol Steps entitled “mistakes my parents made,” which should only take about 14 hours), they certainly made sure that I didn’t need anyone’s approval, quite often even their own, as I found my way. It’s only been the last few years in which this has all become so crystal clear to me; there is nothing cooler than being your own man (or woman), and yet you’ll spend your life being called uncool for doing so.
Think about today’s public narrative and the response you’d get to taking contrarian positions on any of the following issues:
– Climate Change: Clearly settled science, only an idiot would even question such a thing. To doubt climate change is uncool.
– Equal Pay for Women: On the heels of that c*nt Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars, once again the fallacy that women are paid 77% what men are has been re-ignited. The number, of course, is between 95-98% when you actually factor in all of the variables, including women CHOOSING to leave the workplace to have children, but pointing that out is beyond uncool, it’s sexist, and who wants to be called names?
– Speaking of being called names, how does homophobe or bigot feel? If you oppose gay marriage (which I do not, by the way), you are at least one of those things and, of course, uncool. Take your deeply held convictions, religious or otherwise, and head to the band-room, dork.
– Guns are an interesting measure of cool; if you live (and/or hang out with people) in a rural, conservative area, you are only cool if you own guns, proudly proclaim your love of the 2nd amendment and utter the phrase “don’t tread on me,” every third sentence. If, however, you are prone to hanging out with erudite, suburban elites, the only acceptable position on guns is “no one needs those, including the police. Violence begets violence.” Totally cool.
– If you want to be the most un-cool of them all, have the audacity to actually believe in something, most notably God or yourself. I am not a religious person, in fact I loathe organized religion with a white hot rage, which in today’s America is a totally cool position to have. Unfortunately, I am a deist, which means, put simply, that I believe in the existence of a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it. Oh man, that’s a total bummer because it is so not cool. And to make things worse, the only thing I believe in more than that is myself, which is the epitome of un-coolness. We are only cool in today’s America if we believe in the collective attitude that none of us is better than anyone else and everything that we have came from the labor of all of us. I didn’t build anything and we are all our brother’s keeper…doesn’t that sound so cool?
In the end, take a moment and, depending on your station in life, take stock of the cool kids. With very, very, very rare exception you will find that the jocks and the stoners are unhappy degenerates who have lived a life of jail, failure and misery. The 4-H kids, the “under the radar” B- students, the nerds, geeks and engineers, and those who constantly questioned the status quo are, for the most part, the ones who made it. They have love, money, contentment, and no need to prove themselves to pretty much anyone.
Jimmy Fallon, the king of late night, is a total dweeb and he knows it, yet he’s suddenly cool. Go Figure. Pick whatever actor, or for that matter, singer that you like, and most likely they were bullied and uncool in their tweens, and now they’re on top of the world. Meghan Trainor, Will Smith, Lady Gaga, Christina Hendricks, Demi Lovato, Stephen Colbert, Taylor Swift, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Garner, Cameron Diaz, Zac Efron, Selena Gomez, Charlize Theron, Christian Bale, Jessica Alba, and Megan Fox are all powerful, successful and mostly cool celebrities who have spoken very openly about how un-cool they were in high school and their childhoods, and yet now all are on the top of their professions. How ‘bout that?
Being cool is all about taking the easy route. It’s so much easier to say “yes,” when you’re backstage with one of the day’s biggest bands on Earth and they offer you a line of cocaine. Cool people say “sure, why not.” The rest of us say “no thanks, guys, have your fun, I’m good.” In high school you often get beat up for saying something like. As an adult you may be shunned or teased as well, but in the end, you’ll be the one who reigns supreme. Fun is what you make it…no one is suggesting you live a life void of fun; but make sure it’s the fun you choose, and not what someone, anyone or everyone else tells you should be fun, because that’s just not cool.