The Politics of ‘Cool’

While browsing Google+ for my fix of the most recent and #trending news articles, I came across an interesting read by NPR titled “Urban Outfitters and the Politics of Cool”. One can say I took interest in this because I identify with Urban Outfitters target market of an “educated, urban-minded individual in the 18-to-30-year-old range (see website).” This market is understood to have high levels of interest for contemporary art, music, and fashion.  In addition to the perceived, my interest peaked greatly from a growing intrigue in this concept coined as “The Politics of ‘Cool’”.  In attempt to induce this thought beyond its cursors, my resonance for what ‘cool’ is actually inferring within the spectrum of politics, arrived with depth insights into this concept and its aesthetics.

To fully understand this notion of “The Politics of ‘Cool’”, I proceeded to “breakdown” the concept of cool itself. My inquiry led me onto Jstor, where I interestingly stumbled upon a journal article written by Robert Farris Thompson, a prominent scholar of African Art and Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. The article is titled “An Aesthetic of the Cool”, in which cool is understood to be a West African/Afro-American metaphor of moral aesthetic accomplishments. Now, you may be pausing and wondering, as I did upon reviewing the article, what exactly is  Thompson talking about? I discovered that, beyond the academia verbiage, this is a term in which a spirit cultivated in essence and motion is emulated. Through Thompson’s writings, this cultivated spirit is one that unifies substance and being and puts it in concert with our authentic existence.  In other words, coolness has to do with the art of social balance (or Zen) so to say. The emulation of such balance henceforth brings upon combating flows of motion…this is when things become political.

Within a democratic society, all parties are recognized as subscribers to the system of order. Active or inactive, all members assume ownership of political outcomes despite variances within individual interests. Through this, we all become relatively invested in achieving a Zen like state of social opulence. This is a state in which individual contentment within personal well-being and affluence is in abundance. However, despite our unlimited wants and needs we live in a world of limited resources…hence scarcity.  In response, we are constantly making decisions in all realms (politics included) based on judgments of sentiment and taste.

The aesthetics of cool illustrates this concept in a more scientific manner, defined as the study of sensory-emotional values.  In short, we see this as critical reflections on art, culture and nature. Given scarcity of not only resources, but also social opulence, societal groups form to achieve maximum contentment beyond perceived constraints. The politics of cool entails control in perception of social awareness, esteemed ability in transcultural messaging, and the embodiment of an authentic cultural identity.  The capability of becoming a ‘winning’ phenomenon abet an ever turning  and decisive society of critics and experts of ‘cool’, is one that does not come without associated costs. This is also why we see occurrences of so-called ‘culture’ wars…hence the recent Chick-Fil-A schdabble.

In his album, ‘Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool’ the opening track begins with a poetry reading, ending with this quote: “Check your ingredients, before you overdose, on the cool.” The essences of cool may warm and fuel our discourse; while our selection of substance warrants outcomes both desirable and unfavorable.

About the Author
Mariel Kanene is Founder and Editor of and lead storyteller with a focus on music, startups and travel. His passion for storytelling was born in Kinshasa, Congo and bred in Washington, DC where he resides. By day, Mariel spends his days slowly trying to change the world—one meaningful interaction at a time. He loves reading factual-fiction, good podcasts, traveling, health and fitness, foreign languages and good conversations over good coffee and even better rum. He hates talking about himself in third person.Thanks for stopping by. Always appreciated. Find me on: Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin | Website.

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