In one of last week’s readings, “How Hip Hop Failed Black Americans”, Questlove brings up an interesting question that I found myself wanting to further investigate. The question is: Why haven’t any current cultural figures completely and successfully replaced the icons of the past in the Pantheon of cool?
Because they can’t.
Completely replacing the figures from the past that defined what it means to be cool is impossible. Their coolness lives on, they live on, and they’re untouchable. The origins of cool lie in the past and that’s where they’ll stay. As Questlove says in one of his main arguments, everything has essentially been done before and that’s why it doesn’t seem cool to us. That’s why we’ll always look at people and trends from the past and think, “Wow they were so much cooler.” Try watching the movie Dazed and Confused and not start wishing you were born 20 years earlier. It’s impossible because these people, their clothing, their lifestyle were so undeniably cool.
This got me thinking about some historic figures and their untouchable sense of coolness that I believe still holds true in today’s society. Here are some icons that immediately come to mind:
An interesting relationship to note between the three figures listed above- besides all having names that start with the letter “J”- is that they all died way too young. I think this plays a noteworthy role in this discussion because it draws some attention to the fact that legends are born after they die. Relating back to last week’s readings, figures like Louis Armstrong and Lester Young were obviously amazingly cool while they were alive, but they’re afterlife influence is what makes them so historic, iconic and interesting.
People aren’t as fully and passionately recognized by others for what they do until after they die. It’s somewhat of a depressing concept, but also inevitable: it’s what we do as members of society.
It’s harder to find entertainers in today’s society that fall under the category of agreed upon coolness. And I think that’s a distinct difference between figures from the past and figures today. But just because that originality and consistent coolness lies in the past doesn’t mean members of today’s society can’t contribute to it.
Can anyone make an argument for a public figure in today’s society that is or will be a legend of cool?