Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Relativity of Cool

Everywhere I have lived, cool people think they have a monopoly on cool. They believe they own it, it never occurs to them that cool might be cultural, cool might be relative.

But it is.

How else to explain the fact that, in the early 90s, it was cool to like Billy Joel in Munich but not in New Jersey. The fact that David Hasselhoff is still cool in Germany but the height of uncool everywhere else. Birkenstocks are ho hum, run-of-the-mill in Europe but all the rage still in North America.

In the year 2000, when I moved to Sydney, it was cool to like Shania Twain in Canada but oh so uncool to like her in Australia. Hard core techno will always be cool in Berlin but it is vulgar in Australia. Tiny skirts, fake tan and stilettos so high you can hardly walk in them are so cool right now in Sydney - and, I imagine, in LA - but so not cool in Melbourne and Northern Europe.

When I arrived at University in Canada in 1993 wearing tailored skirts I was suddenly uncool, although I was wearing the de rigeur clothing of the European chique. Traveling in France in the late 90s it was uncool to be unfamiliar with the pre-choreographed group dances that were all the rage in French clubs, but choreographed dancing in North America or Australia was decidedly uncool - except in Alberta, or Texas, where line-dancing will always be cool.

In 2008, young people wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls to Oktoberfest were cool in Germany but kitsch outside of Europe. In 2009 cynicism is cool in Australia but enthusiasm is lauded in Canada.

In order to be cool in a traditional way one must stay still, in a single cultural environment, and embrace the temporal markers of cool relevant to that place. It is always cool, in any place, to diss those who do not embrace those markers.

But for me the true mark of cool is the ability to move in and out of cultures without caring too much for trends.

That is why I wear hats. They will always be cool to me, other people be damned.

ps. Ok, maybe Hasselhoff is not truly cool in a traditional sense, even in Germany. But he has become a unique phenomenon of cool - he's so uncool that panning him is now cool everywhere.

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