Two psychology PhD students get into an argument about whether Steve Buscemi’s character on Boardwalk Empire is cool or not. One of them thinks he’s the coolest, while the other thinks he’s too “weasly” and ugly looking. They do some empiricism and figure out “whoa, the signifier ‘cool’ is totally different now from what all the movies and crap we watched as pimply teens told us it was.” For one thing, being a PhD student can now be considered cool. Having no money is not cool. Having a J.O.B. is totally cool – unless it’s something socially retrograde like being a motorcycle mechanic or fisherman. Being a square is now cool. Modern psychology has at long last validated what Huey Lewis and the News first intuited and what American Psycho reinforced for us all: It’s hip to be square.
“When I set out to find what people mean by coolness, I wanted to find corroboration of what I thought coolness was. I was not prepared to find that coolness has lost so much of its historical origins and meaning—the very heavy countercultural, somewhat individualistic pose I associated with cool.”
Whoa, this lack of employment, this badass ’tude, this total disregard for personal hygiene, this shameless inability to have pleasant interactions with others, even on the most perfunctory level, this whole schtick that constitutes my individuality, is cool, and no psychologist can take that away from me, ok?
But wait – the paper, titled “Coolness: An Empirical Investigation,” says “positive, socially desirable traits, such as friendly, competent, trendy and attractive” are the stuff of modern cool. These are some of the key adjectives that the study pool of 1,000 random people from British Columbia generated when asked to elaborate on the concept “cool.” From this, we can extrapolate: drugs are not cool. lasciviousness is not cool. Being a rebel is not cool. Mr Rogers is cool. Justin Bieber was cool, but then he got a ‘tude and his coolness got shut down. Paying your child support is cool. Finally. Anyway, James Dean and Miles Davis are no longer cool, according to the study. That’s a big deal.
James Dean was, possibly, a closet homosexual who made some of the greatest roles in movie history and then died at a very early age in a tragic automobile accident. Miles Davis was a heroin addict who boldly made music no one will ever tolerate half-sober. Their badass rebellion combined shaped 50 years of cool. No two-bit psych study will change that. You can go to class, you can wear the clothes Jessica Simpson and her team of slick marketing people tell you to wear, you can go to the gym or the Genius Bar and try really hard to get people to like you, you can even ask a scientist if you’re cool and be told “yes.” But you sure as hell will not be cool.