About… 15… 20 years ago? Maybe? I read an article about how art works is the point. It was in a magazine, either Maxim or Playboy, it was of that tone. It was how a guy who had been in the New York Art scene noticed how art worked and how poseurs actually had greater success than the actual artists. He described a couple of artists who he thought were doing really great and original things, but they barely sold any work. However other artists, the poseurs according to the writer (he included himself in that category) who used elements these two were using had great success. He complained that there were deeply held reasons why the first artist used blue the way he did, but the copy-cats just knew what would sell and faked it. Either way, their stuff sold and the people who influenced them didn’t. The point of the article was more about how selling paintings in the art world is less about the actual art and more about how well you can bullshit art patrons at a show, but the intro will hold long enough. Incidentally, this happens all over the place. The first time I’d ever heard of Motorhead it was in the context of “These guys influenced every guitar heavy band of the 80s from Metallica to Megadeth to Guns N Roses of all people.” Any art/entertainment world has their version “This person/group were never really mega-stars with the public, but everyone in the biz knew they were awesome and borrowed from them liberally and went on to mega-star success.”
Now, my generation grew up in a post-modern world. Even though we didn’t understand it at the time, we were being raised by a generation who themselves were reading articles in popular magazines like Time and Newsweek that had titles like “What Does It Mean To Be Cool?” and other such nonsense. The Baby-Boomers had sort of lost track of cool, to be perfectly honest, and spent much of the 80s in discussion about what fit in the Monolith of “Cool” where Arthur Fonzarelli is the perfect form of cool. Yeah, just dropped 2001, Happy Days and Plato all in one sentence. Where’s your god now? The problem of course was the belief that cool as a rule was a single ideal that could be achieved if only you understood all the graces. Except Fonzie was more of a yūrei than a human, if yūrei is indeed the word I want. Jeeves would know.
There is a great Calvin and Hobbes comic that exemplifies this idea.
So having said all that, let me tell you a story about a kid named Tim. Tim might not have been his name, but it was so long ago that I can’t honestly yank his name from the files and I’m going to give him one instead. Now Tim was a freshman when I was a senior and his growth spurt was still three years off. As such Tim might have been all of four foot eleven. I remember him being shorter than me by a considerable distance and I’m not that tall now. Tim developed what can only be called a “Straight Boy Crush” on yours truly. A part of this was probably that I actually knew the kind of music he liked (kid was a huge fan of classical) and didn’t give him shit for not knowing who Nirvana was. Side note: When that band came out, I was the only person in my class that knew it was a state of mental awareness and not just some dirty guys from Seattle thrashing away at instruments in post punk rock rage.
Now, a note about me in high school. I stopped wearing jeans as soon as I started picking out my own clothes. I never found them comfortable, I never liked them. So I worse sweatpants or dockers. I wore t-shirts and flannel shirts because of comfort, to this day a cable knit sweater at Christmas receives a hearty “Have you actually met me?” And over that was a grey trench coat and a fedora to top it off. Not a trilby! A fedora is a felt hat that looks sexy as fuck. A trilby is a doucheflag worn on the top of a douche to give instant identification of docheiness. As you might have noticed over the years, I ran out of fucks three days before my fifteenth birthday. I had quietly used up a life time supply, and from then on it was me and honey badger for life. I didn’t choose the honey badger, honey badger chose me. Although, the honey badger is not my spirit animal. My spirit animal is a two slice toaster, which is fitting when you think about it.
I didn’t listen to popular music, I listened to old Jazz, new Jazz, Prince, Mannheim Steamroller, Blues Traveler, Narada and Windham Hill collections, classical music, Irish folk music and so on. I threw some popular stuff in there, but it would get lost in so much else that no one could say with any regularity what was going to come up next. By the time I was a senior, everyone knew that trying to start shit with me was a one way ticket to Scaryville. Since I never beat a person, but rather grabbed their pressure points and explained to them in a soft, calm voice that despite what they thought, it didn’t actually hurt yet, but I could make it hurt. The last time someone had decided to snatch my hat as a gag, they were unprepared for how fast I turned, grabbed them by the throat and smashed their head down into the lunch table. This happened in the cafeteria in front of about four hundred thousand witnesses. When I didn’t beat the hell out of the guy, but simply explained “You don’t ever touch my hat, understand?” and wouldn’t let him up until he agreed that he understood and was very sorry and could he please run away forever now… that story was blown all out of proportion if you’ve heard it from another source. I didn’t even hit the guy, much less kill him. Point is though, no one fucked with the hat after that.
Except girls, who all wanted to be allowed to wear it, which I still don’t understand. It didn’t fit them and I could only tell they were winking because their cheek twitched, since the brim covered their eye, what did they want? Seriously?
So here is what Tim saw “That guy, THAT GUY! He walks around wearing a hat from before the dawn of cool. Mutha’ fucka’ is like proto-cool. He’s so cool that cool would have to chill out before it was as cool as him. And he doesn’t give people shit about not liking popular stuff, he even knows about classical and prefers Satie’s Gymnopédies to Pachelbel’s Canon which I didn’t even know was allowed and maybe it isn’t, but dude ran out of fucks to give in 1982! I mean… just… holy shit dude!”
Now Tim missed a lot, having only seen the end result. He didn’t see the questioning, the bullying, the struggling, the second guessing, the fact that I had like, five friends total, or the fact that I was kind of sticking with the hat and coat at that point out of sheer bloody-mindedness. At least, I think I was, hard to tell at this stage. I need a new hat, and I very much need a new long coat. This isn’t important. Tim only saw the fact that the coolest dude in the room was a guy who didn’t much care, and did what he wanted to do and nobody could touch him. Hard for a very short 14 year old not to see that as a thing to be looked up to.
So Tim bought a hat and a coat. His was a wider brimmed chocolate brown fedora, and he got a brown London Fog trench coat. I was sporting a black hat and gray coat, so he wasn’t copying me completely, but he was super-proud of getting his shit together like I had. I told him it was cool while internally going “No, this is my look, get your own.” but not saying it because he was super-proud and I was clearly his hero. Heroes can’t just shit on somebody who announces “I’m gonna grow up to be just like you!” because… well you can’t! If I were older, I might have been sitting there having a two-word story “Skinsuit? Skinsuit!”
Now, is Tim a hipster? No, Tim is just a kid who wants to achieve something. He knows the hat is important, and the not giving even a percentage of a fuck, and the coat seems to play a roll. No, I think the third kid in this line, the one who has a straight boy crush on Tim, who only hears “I don’t give a shit, don’t listen to anything mainstream, get a hat.” I think maybe he’s the hipster. He never saw the original cool person (Mike) or the original long haired hippie (Neil) or even the angry punk (Vivian) he only saw the enthusiastic kid who was still trying to figure it all out and was wearing a hat not because Dana Andrews and Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant (who I will crush on forever) wore the hat, but because one he knew in school wore it. That third kids saw the hat, found actual fedoras hard to come by (Seriously you have no idea how hard it was to find a fedora in 1990’s Michigan) and just bought a trilby because you could still get those at Sears. He didn’t know that the not listening to mainstream was less because I got off on other things, and thought it was because there was something inherently wrong with it. Which is wrong, there are good songs and bad songs, and while I rejected some popular music I listened to stuff that was on the charts as well.
The fourth kid in this line? That kid is TOTALLY a hipster, and probably a real douche-canoe too. His connection to this idea of cool is totally lost, he doesn’t even know that the guy who wore a fedora and sweatpants ever existed, but the hat and the coat remain as a sort of racial memory. With no understanding at all about the original cool, and with elements having dropped off over time, he thinks not caring is the key. So he has to make sure you understand how much he doesn’t care, and how very much he doesn’t listen to mainstream music. He’s going to tell you these things, because in reality he does care and he does listen to Mylie Cyrus, but thinks that’s not cool. He’s lost the fact that the original cool person thought I Love Your Smile was actually a great little song.
And that’s what happened, a person does a thing, a second person decides the first person is a Cool Person® and copies that person. Perhaps a little ersatz, but an acceptable step in self production. A third person admires the second person, and makes a copy. Now we have a copy of a copy. What made the first person so super-cool that he was constantly covered in liquefied oxygen (the sense of confidence needed to wear sweatpants with a fedora) has been lost in translation. The copies are more and more inferior, and the idea of cool has actually been splintered in a rather glorious way.
The Internet has ensured that there were never be a Monolithic Fonzie Model of Cool ever again. Cool has become like beauty, in the eye of the beholder, but we all know what the identifiers are. If we sat down and did some sciencey shit, we could probably say that this, this and this are part of the cool formula. Problem is, I was part of the, drugs, sex and self-harming Art Team. I couldn’t be doing with the writing shit down and taking measurements Science Side. Now it’s all down to what you like, what you think is cool, and who has the confidence to pull off whatever it is their doing. Probably some sort of honesty is in there too, but my brain is starting to hurt and I need some drugs or sex or something.
I never thought of myself as cool, until it was pointed out to me through the fact of someone wanting to look like me so much he went out and bought parts of his wardrobe to mimic parts of mine. It was around that time that I started to think, “Heeeey”
As a result, I’ve begun to think that me, and people like me, might be responsible for Hipsters. I’m not sorry, but I will admit I could have been a better steward of The Cool.
You know, though his antics, Fred Phelps made a lot of people realize how silly homophobia was. He really made people sit back with wonder, and ask themselves if the problem wasn’t internal. He gave a perfect emblem that people could point to and ask “Are you like him?” when the question of homosexuality came up. Fred Phelps was, if anything the greatest force in the universe for the advancement of gay rights. By trolling everyone so stupendously, he got people who would have taken decades to even admit the humanity of the other ally themselves in this cause.
And all those people who had more or less decided to just keep quite about it. Who thought that the gays weren’t doing any harm, but didn’t want to get involved? You picket a soldier’s funeral and they get involved. Suddenly it was about all of us! It gave them the courage to speak their mind, say as they find, and announce that he was an asshole. 78 year old church goer this week told me she thought he was an asshole. Awesome. Every time someone noticed what a raging dickhead Phelps and his clan were, the further they wanted to be from agreeing with them.
THANKS FRED! Your legacy is that some very (formerly) homophobic people I know examined their reasons, found them lacking and switched sides. You made the world markedly less homophobic. Couldn’t have done it without you.
Genghis Khan’s empire stretched from Iran to Korea. He basically got all of China and most of Russia and his name was actually Temujin, but we’ll ignore that for now. The larger issue is, if he’d had cellphones he’d have gotten a lot more done. With cell net technology, he could have expanded to encompass all of Eurasia. And he would have used Text messaging if available. He not only would he have texted while riding a horse, he would have taken bitchin’ selfies and photo bombed them with the head of some dude he just chopped off.
You know why? Because there was nothing in that man’s life that wasn’t totally bitchin’! ALSO! Because he was a brilliant man who used all the technology, organizational skill and leadership techniques that were at his fingertips. He wouldn’t have pretended that this or that tech was a fad, or below him. He would have used it to the fullest extent and pretending that he wouldn’t is just ignorant bullshit. George Washington would have used Twitter (more likely Thomas Paine would have run the official Revolutionary Army’s Twitter account) to tell the French how much is sucked freezing to death at Valley Forge, The Impressionists would have had a Facebook Group, and if the Algonquin Round Table could have utilized whatever the hell Google is calling their videochat service this week, you can bet your ass they would have.
You aren’t even a Luddite! THAT was a reaction to mill owners being dickheads, and not the machines that actually powered the mills. Their complaint was one of economics and not technophobia. If anything, the Luddites were just an early trade union. The only reason any of these people went without these things is that they hadn’t been invented yet and if Eilmer of Malmesbury had gotten his glider to work a little better, or Hero of Alexandria hadn’t been killed, maybe it would have all kicked off sooner!
Pretending some kind of superiority, either moral or intellectual, because “These damn kids” are ahead of the technological curve and you don’t like it, is just bullshit. And if y’all don’t know who Eilmer of Malmesbury is, then how can you claim to be intellectually superior to anyone? My CAT knows who Eilmer of Malmesbury is. That ain’t a deep cut, that’s just basic aviation history son.