The Tyranny of Cool

I love Thomas Frank! Rarely has a writer/critic been able to embody so many insights, been able to express what I vaguely felt but could not articulate. Then again, that is why he gets paid to write and I am assigned to blog!

I Don't Believe in AtheistsThere are other critics of contemporary issues and culture who write with as powerful a voice. A prime example would be Chris Hedges, author of The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and other titles.  But I find Hedges’s voice can become too relentless. For me, Frank’s voice, while always critical and scathing, possesses a humour and humanity even with the darkest of subjects.

The Conquest of CoolThis is best represented in Frank’s first book, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, on the power of marketing toward emotions, nostalgia, and longing for simpler times. It captures the spirit of the 1960s, and what we seem to be harking back to in our ever-so-self-aware 1990s, and onward (think TV’s “Mad Men”).

CheapWhat unites Frank and Hedges is a dislike for the easy and cheap answer, the dominance of appearance and image, rather than essence. They, and others, argue against the cheap, the easy, and the overly convenient, as in Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. They say we are saturated by the idea of “cool”, where what is valuable is that which requires little effort, or expending of energy, or no great risk. Many feel the opposite is true, as demonstrated in books like Malcolm Gladwell’s, The Outliers: The Story of Success and his “10,000 hours rule,” where the truly elite in any field require 10,000 hours of practice before they perfect their craft.

The Ego BoomThere are titles that argue in defence of cool, though, such as:

The Ego Boom: Why the World Really Does Revolve Around You by Steve Maich and Lianne George.

Everything Bad is Good for YouEverything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson.

Hello, I'm SpecialHello, I’m Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity by Hal Niedzviecki.

As for me, personally, I will stick with Frank and Hedges.

Phil D.

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