Too cool for school?

What is cool? Not really a question I ask much, what with being about as cool as a cardigan myself. Thankfully there are people who obsess about coolness, marketers, advertising agencies and the like. I remember seeing an American PBS documentary called The Merchants of Cool presented by Douglas Rushkoff (you can watch the entire show on the web - thank you public broadcasting - there are also some excellent support resources on the site). One of the most striking things about the show is the opening scene where a market researcher is conducting a focus group with some teenagers. Of course they are inarticulate and awkward, but I found it amusing that though hunting for the cool code, the interviewer asks the subjects what is 'hot', as if to cleverly mask his true intentions. As the documentary unfolds there is commentary on the cynical nature of the merchandising of cool, the inter-relationships of media outlets like Viacom and the vested interests of business in manipulating the whole process. Well, it is public service TV.

What provoked my line of thought was Russell Davies blog . He interviews Martin Cole,a planner from WPP, who has fronted a redux of the American show for Channel 4. The tone is very similar, Cole is both poacher and gamekeeper, which gives it curious dynamic. I've snagged a couple of clips from YouTube for you to get the feel.

The interview with the surfer contains a telling fragment about coolness. The genuinely cool don't feel that way about themselves. They just do what they do because it gives them pleasure. To be cool requires a lack of self consciousness, something primal perhaps? The rest are poseurs and wannabes, which is sometimes a little sad.

I think the most interesting dynamic of cool is that the moment it is defined or synthesised by marketers, then repackaged in advertising it dies a little death and the instigators will have moved on, allowing the original idea to be absorbed into the body corporate. That is the nature of consumption, early adoption and so on.

Another aspect of cool is to be the opponent, rather than the exponent. It's not what you stand for but what you stand against. Marlon Brando, when asked what he was rebelling against asks "What you got?", his disaffection is with affectation and became representative of the first wave of teenagers after World War 2.

Sometimes things are so naff they are cool. There is a site on the web from which you can buy a personalised badge for your Porsche in the signature script (which is coolly naff in itself), but I don't know if the cool kids would want that. But you could have some fun - ordering 'complete tosser' for example.

But I digress. Must do some work.


Popular Posts