April 28, 2012 1 Comment
Musing on what I like to think will become known to posterity as Coolnessgate made me realize that Coolness has some very intriguing and surprising properties. We start from self-proclaimed cool person Paul Waldman’s (highly accurate I have to presume?) observation that Coolness was invented in the 1960s as a property held by the hairy guys who smoked weak 1960s pot and had hippie girlfriends who wore (let me go look this up in Paul Waldman’s guide to coolness) ‘sheer peasant blouses’. Whatever those are (but whatever they are, we know they excite Paul Waldman).
Now one thing we know about those 1960s from the approximately 2.7 kajillion movies and TV shows that have celebrated the greatness of that decade (which saw the Baby Boomers invent sex, freaky white-people dancing, Indian music, trees, and so many other things) is that – back then – the cool kids didn’t like old people. Remember ‘don’t trust anyone over 30′? Okay, me neither, but I’m pretty sure I saw it in a movie or one of those PBS telethon specials about The 60xties that would constantly be interrupted by some short-white-haired old lady with gigantic earrings begging for money. Point being, young people were cool and (this is key) old people were not, almost by definition. Coolness, back then (when – hey wouldn’t you know it – Baby Boomers happened to be young), coincidentally attached to those very same young, and could not attach to an old person.
But what has happened to coolness since then? It seems to have (coincidentally!) followed that particular wave of young people forward. Because at least by the Clinton administration (at a time when Baby Boomers started to become 50+ years old), I guess scientists discovered that apparently suddenly miraculously 50+ year-olds can be ‘cool’ after all. Play Fleetwood Mac at their inaugurations and everything.
This illustrates the broader theme of the relationship of ‘coolness’ to the establishment. Back then, the establishment was decidedly not cool. Young people today probably scratch their heads when being taught that those cool ’60s rioters were rioting against the Democratic National Convention. Say what? Because now one political party in particular, in particular the Democratic Party, is way super-cool. Again coincidentally no doubt, this change in coolness occurred over a time when Baby Boomers happened to find themselves able to rise in the ranks and assuming leadership of political parties and indeed of the country itself. 60s: surely a President, an old powerful dude in a suit, can not be cool. LBJ? Nixon?? Get real. Even the sickly JFK – sure he could womanize, and was ‘inspiring’, but he wasn’t ‘cool’. But now: Clinton played a saxophone! Obama is Obama! So coolness has followed Baby Boomers to the Presidency itself.
Or how about wealth. In the 60s: It was cool to eschew possessions and materialism (at a time when Baby Boomers were too young to have possessions or, um, materials). Those materialistic parents with their plastic-fantastic world, giving Dustin Hoffman a SCUBA outfit for his birthday, I mean how uncool they all were (as they came back from a war to supply Baby Boomers with an unprecedentedly coddled and privileged existence). But as those Baby Boomers grew up, bought houses of their own, made a killing in real estate, made it big in stocks in the ’80s, maybe bought a second house or got their real estate license and started flipping houses, maybe (like Hillary) got into commodity futures, etc., bought tech stocks, guess what? Suddenly all that stuff is just fine. It’s now cool to be wealthy as hell and even tax young people more to maintain the system. Doesn’t hurt your coolness at all.
So everywhere we look we see this property of coolness recur again and again: it happens to follow Baby Boomers through their life arc. Coincidentally.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask a Baby Boomer. Because clearly they’ll be perfectly happy to tell you how cool they are and how coolness is defined by…well, by whatever they happen to be doing.