In theory or by definition, to be cool means to remain calm and collected even under times of stress. But this doesn’t explain the ever so changing global culture of cool. What does it really mean to be cool nowadays, and why is it cool to be cool? Does it define an individual by the music he or she listens to? The lifestyles one chooses to live, or the culture they surround themselves in? If in fact it can be pinned down to these, why is it constantly changing and evolving? The first question, you need to ask yourself is where the aesthetics of cool derived from.
In ancient Greece, the Stoic philosophers supported a vision of coolness in a turbulent world. The Stoic indifference to fate can be interpreted as the supreme principle of coolness, and has even been viewed as such in the context of African American culture. (Botz-Bornstein, “What Does It Mean to be Cool?”) Cool was developed mainly as a behavioral attitude practiced by the men in the United States during the slavery era. Slavery was the catalyst to emotional detachment and irony. A “cool attitude” helped slaves cope with the harsh treatment and exploitation they went through. It gave them the confidence to walk the streets with their head held high – it gave them a sense of dignity. Cool represented the resistance to authority through creativity and innovation; fighting for your right to party! Epictetus the Stoic suggested a difference between those things that depended on us and those things that do not depend on us. He advocated developing an attitude of regarding the things we couldn’t influence as unimportant. We depend on our impulses, passions, attitudes, opinions, desires, beliefs and judgments - these are things we must improve. Everything that cannot be controlled by us - death, the actions of others, or the past, for example - should leave us indifferent. Through this insight that all the things upon which we have no influence are best neglected, a ‘cool’ attitude is nurtured.
Cool manifested itself in the form of jazz music. It originated at the beginning of the 20th century in black communities. Jazz was a mix of African and European music traditions. It gave birth to swing, bebop, cool jazz, and many more. Musicians like Lester Young, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and Chet Baker were among the few that revolutionized “cool”. They didn’t care about what people thought; they were breaking the rules of music. “Cool Jazz”, (late 40’s to early 50’s) was about breaking the tension between social and racial identity. It meant being calm and smooth. #improvising It even showed in their album covers, the lyrics, the aggressive fast paced beats of the drums, the trumpet and saxophone solos.
The black community didn’t only look to the guys of jazz, but they were seekers of different outlets to preserving and sharing their cool. Cool ultimately became the “manifest destiny”, the American dream, capitalism, and getting money. Cool transformed itself from music to a new lifestyle. Cool now meant it had a defining style, it meant that you had to exhibit the “look” of wealth and power; it meant expressing yourself on some next level gear and listening to different music. I mean if you paid close attention to the music and the advertisements during the civil rights movements it was ultimately about defying social class.
Cool needed the foundation to keep its rep. The trust through friends didn’t cut it. Everyone who wanted to be cool idolized his or her heroes and mentors. Before Michael Jordan and Barack Obama, people looked up to Steve McQueen, the king of cool, Chet Baker, the prince of cool, James Dean, the guy who defied death, and JFK, the one we looked up to for change. Guys like Steve, Chet, and James didn’t overly try hard to do anything…or be cool for that matter. They were ordinary guys who collected cars and motorcycles, did drugs, and played music. They carried the bad...