Wednesday, December 30, 2009

too cool for school

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and the subject of  being cool arose. It was in the context of other people our age( older than thirty) who are still worried about being cool.
When I think of cool, Paul Newman comes to mind. James Dean is an obvious choice. I suppose Michael Jordan would have to make the list.Otis Taylor, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon ( I recently saw a bumper sticker- "I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand"),David Byrne,Heath Ledger.No doubt, there are a lot of cool people in the world.
The online thesaurus had this to say:
"Slang expressions meaning the same thing as cool, like bully, capital, hot, groovy, hep, crazy, nervous, far-out, rad, and tubular have for the most part not had the staying power or continued universal appeal of cool. In general there is no intrinsic reason why one word stays alive and others get consigned to the scrapheap of linguistic history; slang terms are like fashion designs, constantly changing and never "in" for long. The jury is still out on how long newer expressions of approval such as def and phat will survive."
Cool is derived from the thirties jazz scene, naturally African American in origin ( aren't they responsbile for a ton of cool shit?) but it really hasn't become dated or ubiquitous as most slang eventually does.
This being said, I am the first to admit that I am not cool. I have been called many things: nice, sweet, friendly, mean, smelly, weird,cold,quirky, crazy, hysterical- but never cool. I am not very interested in being cool, actually, as I find it to be a little contrived for my taste. Again, I admire people who are innately cool because it is a whole lot of work from what I can tell.
The cool person seems to effortlessly know the who,when,where of most things.They always seem ahead of the curve with modern culture,food,music,art( sometimes)-or totally off the map and in another cultural universe altogether, but still,it's a ridiculously cool universe.They always seem to be wearing or carrying the latest most coveted clothing and accessories designed by people who aren't in mainstream rags like InStyle or People. They are extremely cool...stealth cool....
I suppose it is also a relative thing- some think the Waterford crystal glasses are the bomb. Or a Birken bag that costs as much as a year of private preschool.Others find that the handmade Bolivian ceremonial table weaving rock their world. I suppose that the Jonas Brothers are considered cool by millions of tweens, but I am unsure if their cool is as relevant as our cool seeing as we've been exposed to a whole lot cooler shit that they have thus far.
Some think Damien Hirst is cool, but I just don't. Formaldehyde + dead animal does not equal art. If that makes me a philistine then so be it.Bring on the Thomas Kincaid because I would rather look at a machine made "hand embellished" fairy cottage under a waterfall in the middle of a neon forrest than a case full of maggots feasting on a cow's rotting head.One is is kinda lame and mass produced and the other is a stage one serial killer acting out.
The older generation likes Michael Bubble.They think he is really cool, but, after dining with the man,I beg to differ.He just seemed very self aware, which isn't so cool.I find that most people seem cool until you spend more than three minutes with them and then the seams start to show.You realize quickly that they are  gigantic balls of neuroses,insecurity and fear (just like everybody else) and are desperately worried about losing their cool status. Sort of like high school, and who in their right mind would ever go back to that William Goldmanesque hell hole?
 I don't have the mental chops to invent something ubercool, or write something culturally significant, so I chose the pursuit of stardom. Lots of cool people are famous,right?
I can tell you first hand that it requires almost constant grooming, which is so not cool. Meg Ryan's famous "just out of bed" hair took hours in a high end salon with assistants and multiple top of the line products to achieve. Demi didn't pop out three kids and suddenly look like a swimsuit model who tweets semi nude pics of herself  to the world. It seems impossible that she didn't have some, um, encouragement from a scalpel (along with a little goading from the National Enquirer).She denies it,but why hasn't she published a diet and exercise book to show the world how she did it? It isn't like her Tweeting career is any less of a sell out than becoming the next Jane Fonda.
The pursuit of cool and famous is time consuming.The hours spent at acting classes, yoga studios,salons, shrinks and fitness centers is dizzying.Cool famous people need 24 hour assistance just to maintain their lives while they keep themselves really cool.
I probably spent a tenth of the time that the successful actors spent on such activities because I just got so sick of myself after awhile. Another root touch up? Wasn't I just here? The endless discussions about my motivation or playing my opposite or my audition.The ME game is really tiring unless one is a bona fide narcissist. I suppose I have shades of it, but am not full blown (yet.....)
The other problem with "cool" is that spending time with people who actively pursue coolness activates my own insecurties. There is an undefinable underlying tension in these interactions where I can hear myself speaking and analyzing what comes out as I go. I don't feel like me anymore but more like I need to impress them with my coolness, which is questionable at best. I always feel like my stories aren't as funny as they usually are and my cultural references are dated and mediocre at best.
Years ago I was the newbie on a made for television movie set with several up and coming actors. Two of them went on the become ridiculously famous-one became a "Friend" and the other an Oscar winning,rock star marrying, excercise queen promoting celebrinator with a  lifestyle blog. Everyone was in their early twenties,mind you, but their idea of group fun was to play truth or dare, or word games where you had to describe someone as a piece of fruit and everyone had to guess who it was. While outwardly harmless activities, they were laced with innuendo and the feeling that a bucket of pig's blood was somewhere in the near future. Perhaps it was my own insecurity at being decidedly uncool in such seemingly cool company that made me feel so out of sorts. It definitely didn't feel safe or very cool, for that matter. The "Friend" was a tad manic and inclined to make up lingo,which we all inexplicably adopted in a collective way and, for the next month, each of us said his chosen word of the week in regular conversation to describe anything from strange to silly to unsettling to outright icky. It was a general word that had a lot of definitions depending on the context. He made it up,  and we bought it  like the unwitting guinnea pigs in some accidental social experiment. It united us in a weird sense but only in a wolf pack way.The alphas(them) were still waging  low level socio-emotional warfare while the betas(me) were trying to simply do the work and get paid.And all the while we each kept reflexively saying "oh, that's so (insert word here)", (which made me feel a little nauseated every time I said it).
 On the set, my absence of cool was bolstered on several occasions by the crew rolling their eyes when "Friend" and "Celebrintator"  would burn through film with mistakes or lack of enthusiasm. The director (who went on to two Academy Award nominations and one win) was patient and extremely supportive of me,while contending with their varying degrees of  petulence and entitlement.I saw him at a swanky party years later, and he couldn't have been kinder. I also had occasion to run into "Friend" at a party as well and, after being reminded by me that we had worked together on the tv movie for an entire month, he disparaged it as heartitly as I had disparaged "The Scarlett Letter" in its day. He looked at it as an embarrassing part of the B.F. era ( before "Friends") and was now solidly rooted in the A.F.(after "Friends") experience. I saw it as a highpoint in my career. Perhaps that is why he is famous and I am not.
While "Friend" and "Celebrinator" may be rich and famous, they will never be cool  for one singular reason- neither has a truly self depricating bone in their exceptionally toned, over praised, over paid, meticulously waxed, regularly dyed, profoundly egomanical bodies, and that is the defining characteristic of cool, in my not so humble opinion. Hey wait, so maybe I am kind of cool.....?

1 comment:

  1. Anyone who mentions Thomas Kincaid is a hero of mine! Great post! And as far as 'poop' is concerned, all the handbags and Pilates lessons in the world are not worth shit if you have no sense of irony and self hatred!