Back when I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be cool. I endlessly played my Miles Davis Birth of the Cool LP and devoured Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti — not to mention Kerouac whom I saw when I was fifteen reading from The Subterraneans at Hunter College auditorium while swigging from a bottle of Scotch he had brought with him. (I thought that was cool.)
Being cool was everything to me then. And to most of my friends. We started as boy beatniks and morphed into hippies (of sorts) as the times rolled and then turned into yuppies, going upscale, but the values were the same. Many of us pretended to be Marxists, but at heart we knew we were liberals, just like mom and dad. Or most of our moms and dads.
But whatever our politics, play or otherwise, we were big time cultural rebels. Thought we were anyway. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
All of that is so over. Just as it reached its apogee, with Stevie Wonder boogieing in the White House and the values of the Sixties spread through the upper echelons of our government, filled with more czars than the Hermitage ever dreamed of with a president who palled around with Bill Ayers, for crissakes, cool is now dead.
Maybe not officially dead (how could that be?) but dead enough. In fact, not only is it dead, it’s decomposed.
Cool depended on liberalism. In fact, it was an offshoot of it, suckling on the mother’s milk of Keynesian economics. As long as there was plenty of deficit spending to go around, we could all be cool. Life would be one long evening at Max’s Kansas City.
Of course, it’s not. In today’s pay-as-you-go world, being cool is a luxury few can afford. This accounts for the extreme discomfort we may be seeing in our media and, to a lesser extent — they still have more money — Hollywood. Our media, our journos, depend on being thought cool and, consequently and perhaps more importantly, thinking of themselves as cool. When they suspect they are not, they begin to behave like worker bees when the queen is killed. They tend to run around and act out. After a while, they seem lost. Their numbers dwindle.
This is just because cool depended on a hive mind in the first place. It was little more than fad. We are well rid of it.
And in part because cool is gone, the remaining liberals are the new reactionaries. They are the ones trapped in the past, the enemies of the future.
Not that there are so many liberals anymore, outside the media. I spotted a new Prius today in a tony L.A. neighborhood sporting a pristine “Romney in 2012” bumper sticker. Such a thing would have been incongruous, maybe even unheard of, four years ago. But cool is dead. You’re free to do what you want.
And make no mistake about it — cool was oppressive. It told you how to be and what to be. In some ways cool was the inverse of itself. It was the enemy of freedom while pretending to be its apostle. Nowadays there is nothing more square than to be cool. So feel free to be whatever you want to be.
You may even be cool again. In a new way.