Is Anyone Cool Anymore?

Brundle Guy writes:

A couple of years ago a friend of mine, for the purposes of this article we’ll call him Ryan, was being transferred by his job. He was regaling another friend and I with the story of a meeting he’d had about the office transition. He works, as I do, in the entertainment field, so his office had a very casual vibe. However, the new office they were moving into was a little nicer, a little more corporate, so they were being asked to make a few adjustments.

They were told not to eat lunch at their desks. Some coworkers flew into a tizzy. “We can’t eat in the office?!?!” No, there would be an area for eating, they were just being discouraged from eating at their desks. A barrage of questions followed. “How many eating areas are there?” “Where is there to eat around the office?” “Is snacking at desks OK?” “What about drinks?”

Next was the new dress code. Nothing extreme, just business casual, so no t-shirts, shorts or flip-flops. “What about dresses?” “What if they’re NICE t-shirts?” “Do Crocs count as flip-flops?” “Is what I’m wearing ok?” “Is what I’M wearing ok?” A man leaned over to my friend and grunted, “UNGH, dress codes are total bullshit.” The man, according to my friend, was wearing something unquestionably acceptable by the new, but still fairly lax, dress code standards.

The meeting, which was supposed to be a quick little affair, had stretched on interminably. When hearing this my other friend, we’ll call him Andy, went on to tell us a number of similar experiences he’d had with people who seemed to live to get their panties in a twist. When, he wondered, did it become cool to be so damn uncool? Then he said words that have echoed with me ever since: “Why can’t everyone just be the fucking Fonz?”

It seems to me that there used to be aspirational figures in our cultural that exhibited a sought-after style of cool. John Wayne, James Dean, Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, James Bond, Shaft, The Rat Pack, and yes, The Fonz. They were all COOL, and a big part of being cool was being unflappable. Things didn’t bother them. They kept their head at all times, they never flipped out, ranted, raved or lost their shit. At least not in their public personas, the personas that made them “cool.”

Being “cool” isn’t just about doing your own thing and saying “Damn the man,” either. Remember The Fonz? He may have been a tough guy biker, but he still called Mrs. Cunningham “Mrs. C” and obeyed the Cunningham house rules when he was a guest, not because he was some goody goody. He was cool. He didn’t want to start shit or get in anybody’s face or flaunt cheap rebellion or any of that stuff, because that wasn’t cool. Most of the people mentioned above weren’t just cool for the cool kids, they were cool with EVERYBODY.

Who is “cool” nowadays? Real or fictional, I’ll take either one. It seems like everyone’s got a chip on their shoulders and it’s become the hip new thing to go ballistic over every single slight you can find, and even some that you outright fabricate.

As much as it seems completely antithetical to the very nature of “cool,” the first person who came to mind as I was mulling this over was Obama. I’ve certainly got a number of issues with the guy’s presidency, but in a time where being a whiny, temper-tantrum-throwing baby is the fashion, and no one has perfected that more than politicians, the current POTUS seems to have invested in being the only cool, calm and collected guy out there. When the guy talks he radiates “cool.” He seems to constantly be saying “Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” whether or not you may actually believe he’s got it.

This can’t be true, can it? Is the coolest person in our country not just a politician, but THE politician? That’s like saying the coolest person in school is the principal, right?

Is part of it the much-reported Rise of Narcissism? Is nobody out there even looking for new/current Icons of Cool because most people are so narcissistic they can’t imagine anyone being cooler than they are?

Ever since that conversation with my friends, whenever I’ve gotten into situations of stress or felt the need to lash out, whenever I want to go on Facebook and rant about politics or cultural or what-have-you, I’ve thought to myself, “Be the fucking FONZ,” and I’ve found that it actually helps. But then again, I’d never claim to be cooler than the Fonz.

Not to step on The Question Lady’s territory, but what say you all? Are there other people in the public conscious who are “cool” that I’m forgetting? And who are your Icons of Cool?

About Brundle Guy

Half Man, Half Middle-Man, he's paid to help others realize their artistic visions while struggling in obscurity with his own. What hath social science wrought?!
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14 Responses to Is Anyone Cool Anymore?

  1. Tschafer says:

    I agree with you about Obama. I deeply dislike nost of his policies, but he’s usually cool (although he certainly wasn’t in the whole Clint Eastwood business, he acted like a petulant child). Another politican I’m not wild about, George W. Bush, also stays pretty cool. In football, Eli Manning. In golf, Phil Mickelson. I’m afraid that I’m not familiar enough with modern entertainment figures to comment further…


    • Brundle Guy says:

      I’m not much of a sports guy, Tschafer, but now that you mention it there are a number of sports guys and gals that seem pretty “cool.” Although his penchant for making terrible children’s films probably rules him out, The Rock projects an extremely cool image. Also, I’d love to see Gina Carrano become a new emissary of cool. Probably helps in those competitive situations to keep a cool head, although there are certainly a lot of hotheads and loudmouths in sports as well.


  2. Kvasek says:

    I’m thinking House. Ragged, individualistic, has the don’t-care appearance. Can’t think of anyone else in the pop culture.


    • Brundle Guy says:

      I’d say House is more of a Badass than a “cool guy.” I never watched the show that much, but it seems like he was pretty aggressive and was a big instigator of drama instead of putting you at ease, which, in my largely completely made-up and personalized lexicon, makes him potentially “Badass” but not “cool guy.” Of course, I’m also totally making this all up as I go.


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  4. Sir Barken Hyena says:

    Maybe this is a side effect of the general trend of de-masculinization?

    Also I find Obama phony-cool.


  5. Fenster says:

    I have to say I never liked Happy Days, and when I watched it I never got the notion that the Fonz was cool. I mean I know that was how it was laid out and all, but he seemed like a dweeb to me even then. And that was well before he showed his true colors as he moved on as an actor to roles more suited to the Winkler personality, which is let’s face it dweebish.

    And how can you be cool, really, with a name like Winkler?

    For the record, I felt the same way about the Travolta Vinnie Barbarino character on Welcome Back Kotter, another show I tried to avoid. I was mostly successful in ducking it, but I did catch it from time to time and Travolta’s preening was to my mind anything but cool.

    McQueen, yes. And Gina Carano–a big yes. Understated. Yeah, understated!. In the words of that cool guy Jon Lovitz, that’s the ticket!


  6. These days: Brad Pitt? George Clooney? Roger Federer, at least while he’s actually playing. (Very uncool, the way he collapses after winning. But while playing he barely breaks a sweat, and doesn’t even make faces or fist-pump much.) It’s funny: “Cool” was such a thing for a long while that it got to be annoying. These days, you’re right, it’s barely out there at all, so I feel nostalgic for it.

    Maybe it does have to do with general de-masculinization. Sort-of a propos


  7. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    This guy. Clearly. (NSFW)


  8. Fenster says:

    De-masculinization no doubt part of it, but I don’t see how you address the question squarely without getting into race.


  9. Brundle Guy says:

    I’m not sure how much I can get behind the de-masculinization argument. To me, part of being cool is never being a bullying, aggressive asshole, or even being overly concerned with being perceived as “macho,” all typically masculine traits. I’m not necessarily saying that de-masculinization should HELP coolness either, but I don’t see nearly as much of a connection there as I do with narcissism. I’m also not sure exactly how race would tie in, but I haven’t given that a ton of thought.

    Tangentially, and perhaps fodder for another post, we tend to hear a ton about the de-masculinization of men, is anyone writing about the masculinization of women? As I was writing out those hyper- (some might say pathologically) masculine qualities, I realized that I largely equate them with women. When I think about things I think of as typically over-aggressive, masculine behavior, things like chewing out waiters, yelling at service representatives, overly defending personal space, demanding exceptional treatment, flipping out at another driver on the freeway, I mostly think of women doing these things. Is this just totally anecdotal, or maybe reflective of some personal or selection bias, or have others noticed this as well?


    • Callowman says:

      There is a devaluation of traditional femininity in contempo society. You see it not only women’s behavior, but in weird second-order phenomena like the prevalence of masculine names for young women. Feminists don’t quite have the … erm … balls to admit they don’t value motherhood, nurturing, etc …. but they don’t.


  10. Question Lady says:

    You can always step on The Question Lady, Brundle Guy! I am trying to think of cool people, but I have been spending too much time lately in a city where people think it’s cool to look like they got rejected by Jackass.


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