Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Malfunctioning Compass

A friend and I spent a good amount of time this morning mulling over what currently passes as ‘cool.’ She claimed that she was doing research for work, but I had no such excuse. I suppose I was animated by the perverse desire to find out exactly how flawed my coolness compass was.

Cool is impossible to define, evanescent, nuanced. We are encouraged to think that cool is subjective, that it derives from the zeitgeist; but for most people, cool is what an influential subset of people do. Of course, once that subset expands to a significant majority, coolness collapses in on itself. Everyone wants to be cool, but to make the effort (or even the desire) apparent is a fatal error. In fact, striving to distance one self from cool is almost guaranteed to confer distinction – another way in which to interpret ‘cool.’ Whether embodied or articulated, cool is elusive. Or so theory, statistics and analysis would have us believe.

My candidates for cool, based on selective and flawed observations of my milieu, included the following – entrepreneurship, photography, the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, kitsch, the suburbs, Bollywood style parallel cinema, Japanese (well, maybe Korean) popular culture, teaching, lamenting the death of Indian fashion.

These suggestions were duly dismissed – no small surprise, given that one of the coolest things college students at the world’s greatest universities report they are currently doing is imbibing vodka through their eyeballs. This is a trend sweeping campuses, and is evidently an effective way to get high. Not to mention an equally effective way to disinfect one’s corneal tissues.

Vodka soaked eyeballs? Nuanced? Elusive? The cool crowd deserves more credit. It just reclaimed cool from respectability. 

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