This is For the Cool in You…
This has been one of the most intriguing years of my life. Upon reflecting upon it, I know I have a few unbelievable chapters to write about, or include in a screenplay of sorts. Things in my personal life, happenings in my professional life, observations of others' handling their business in exemplary ways or ways not deemed so cool. But that is just my opinion, right? I mean, what exactly is cool? Who deems cool, cool? Is it cool to be the one who identifies things as cool? Is it cool “to be known” as the one who identifies things as cool. Is this even a cool topic to blog about?
A student of mine and I are currently doing an independent study on the identification of “cool” as a marker of a certain type of social class status. We are calling it “Examining the Psychology of Cool.” I got the idea for creating a course on social class using as a point of departure a cool book I purchased while at Dartmouth in January. It is titled: The Book of Cool,” and I kid you not, it is, yes, “cool.” It is full of different perspectives on what is cool and what isn’t. After all, like the word “bad” which can mean “good,” cool can mean “okay,” as in that was a cool movie. It can mean “compliant,” as in “he has a cool disposition that fits in well with us,” or “non-compliant,” as in “It was cool the way she stood her ground.” “Cool” can mean handsome, as in “George Clooney is so cool,” when he is only standing there and we must be talking about more than the way he is acting. “Cool” can also mean not so attractive, as in “Humphrey Bogart wasn’t as handsome as Errol Flynn, but he sure was cool.” Though like most takes on cool, it is quite relative. What does cool mean to you?
Ironically, my student, who I would identify in this blog, but she is a bit shy and might think it uncool of me, is currently applying the descriptor “cool” to the actions of Sean Penn’s Sergeant Meserve vs. the actions of Michael J. Fox’s Private Erikson in the film “Casualties of War,” which is based upon a true story. The gist of the film is that of a moral excursion into the inner strength and fortitude of one person against the power of many. Penn’s Meserve, as the leader of a weak-minded, easily duped group of people, has them blindly following his lead towards actions that if they really, seriously considered, might have them individually each seeing him for the snake that he actually is and not complying. But Meserve is shrewd and knows the tools to play to get his followers to be faithful minions, and so he plays them, over and over again in various ways until the entire military unit is on board to sexually assault a Vietnamese woman, except Fox’s Erikson. Erikson, whose life was in jeapordy, stayed the course and attempted to take actions to live out his ethic responsibly. Erikson was so adamant about not blindly following the crowd that he brings to mind Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men. In that film, when it wasn’t cool to keep 11 other jurors overtime to deliberate on a murder case with severe consequences, Fonda did just that because he felt something wasn’t quite “cool” about the case and he wasn’t comfortable simply allowing the judicial system, with its many flaws and limitations, to resolve the matter. Of course, this made him uncool with most of the jurors, but so cool to those of us watching him stand up for what is right. It seems the courage to go against the grain occurs more in film than it does in real life. But in all those cases, we—as the outsiders looking in—see the lone wolf as cool, though those inside the moment see their leader as cool. Is it possible that within any given moment, as members of an organization, we are acting uncool if we could see outside of that moment? Have you stepped outside of a moment you were in lately and questioned your cool? If so, then this is for the cool in you!
Is it possible that both parties, Meserve and Erikson can genuinely be cool? I say not if we are attempting to define cool in a socially just context. If we consider that Erikson’s cool and Fonda’s cool were both against someone possibly being oppressed even more than they already were being, it is hard to take to task their actions, even more difficult to say they were uncool. However, if we look into their respective moments an consider the consequences that loomed large for the Vietnamese woman and the accused in 12 Angry Men when someone arbitrarily decided to violate them by denying their human rights, it is quite difficult to anoint Meserve or the impatient jurors as cool.
Cool, while difficult to define, is something you can feel, like the real feel temperature. It seems like people who try to “act” cool, around really cool people, become unraveled. I remember seeing the Mike Douglas show on television years ago and watching Rick Springfield come out first. It was at the time he was a big heartthrob with his role as Noah Drake on General Hospital and his song “Jessie’s Girl.” He seemed like the man until John Travolta joined the conversation and Rick Springfield just seemed to disappear before my very eyes. Travolta was classy and quite complimentary to Springfield, but it was like a man to a teenager in a conversation about life. The teenage generally speaking, just doesn’t have the life experience. How cool can you be at 14 when you still have to ask for money and the right to go places? Springfield was cool until Travolta emerged then Springfield simply became chill. Chill is cool too, but just not as cool as cool. You feel me?
People who doth protest too much are hard to consider cool because cool, listens. I don’t know anyone who would define cool as someone who doesn’t listen. Not listening is just uncool. Cool considers, but doesn’t arbitrarily judge, especially on the basis of potential half-truths, or innuendos. Cool doesn’t backbite, back stab, character assassinate, or unduly influence, but instead get’s inside of what’s in question and coolly determines the appropriate action. I know this for a fact because I have been uncool along these lines before and fortunately realized exactly how uncool I was being.
Now, let’s not get it twisted, it is possible to be duped by cool. Tiger Woods might come to mind for many as someone whom society once considered cool and now probably less so. Well, that is so wide open for interpretation it would be uncool for me to go there, and may have been uncool for me to use Tiger as my example. However, I would go on record saying that if Tiger truly doesn’t think he and his wife can make it, it was uncool for him to project himself as a repentant soul, and would have been much more cool of him to say he was going to make amends any way he could to Elin and his children forever, but wouldn’t exacerbate the situation any further by acting like he should stay married. That would have been cool along the lines of a George Clooney type cool because he has never gotten married and therefore never been forced to explain his control or lack thereof of his libido. I remember an Ebony magazine cover that had as it’s caption “Black Cool” above the head of Barack Obama stepping out of a limo, nattily attired. I thought he was soooo cool, but am not stupid enough to believe that everyone sees that picture the way I see it.
As a parent I see myself as cool when I sacrifice or extend myself for my children. Is there anyway that doing that is uncool? I’m cool as a friend when I answer the phone at a time I really don’t want to, but can see it may be a friend calling who is in need. I guess it is uncool when I don’t answer it and a friend needed me. However, it is also uncool for me to answer the phone when I should be handling other things with more priority. Phones, though they as electronic instruments have gotten so cool, are so uncool at times.
I’m cool as a professor when I try to keep it real with my students, but respect them as young women and men with minds and lives that are capable at times of teaching me as much as I may be capable of teaching them. Cool is being a part of a community that you genuinely care about and want to see even better than it is. Cool is disagreeing with colleagues and still somehow finding your groove. Cool is Oprah. Cool were the Kennedy’s, who even though they had weaknesses, they figured some significant things out along the way. Cool was Eleanor Roosevelt for what she did for the Tuskegee Airmen. Cool was Bogart and the original Rat Pack that stood up to the Red Scare. Cool was Ellen coming out of the closet on her nationally televised show. Cool were all the Republicans who voted for Obama because they weren’t going to be regimented into voting for their political party’s candidate just because they were members of that political party. Cool would be Democrats who also would vote for a Republican candidate. Cool are Independents that truly vote independently for the best candidate on a criteria that is socially just. Cool is loving your faith and adhering to your religion without haughtiness towards others of different belief. Cool is hearing comedians Chris Rock and Louis C.K., and knowing that everything they say is not funny and some things down right uncool. Cool are the movies Frozen River or When the Levees Broke, which both help to unmask the classism rampant within the Capitalist system.
I think I am cool when I know I have made a mistake, owned it, and went about correcting it. I also think I am cool when I fight the good fight to correct whatever wrongs need to be corrected that others shy away from. I think people are cool when they are truly themselves, as long as them being themselves doesn’t oppress others. I think it is really, really cool, when we give each other the benefit of the doubt as much as we possible can.
So, what is cool to you? What dimensions of cool have you explored lately?