08 March 2014

American Cool

We went to an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on "American Cool." The exhibition traced the introduction of the contemporary concept of cool to jazz saxophonist Lester Young in the 1940s. "Cool" became part of the mainstay of popular culture in the 1950s and has remained with us since.

According to the exhibition's material, "Cool carries a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery." Which is why I wonder if there's much cool anymore. In other words, from the 1940s to the end of the '60s, cool began outside mainstream culture but moved in as the machine of mass culture saw cool as way to earn profits. Beginning in the 1970s, however, the engineers of mass culture coopted cool and through adroit marketing made us believe someone/something was cool even before it was.

I'm confident there are still cool people but I'm equally confident I don't know who they are. In other words, the mass marketers tell us what's cool; cool is no longer a folk-culture phenomenon.

Nonetheless, we very much enjoyed the exhibit; it was cool.

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