AskDefine | Define coolness

Dictionary Definition

coolness

Noun

1 the property of being moderately cold; "the chilliness of early morning" [syn: chilliness]
2 calm and unruffled self-assurance; "he performed with all the coolness of a veteran" [syn: imperturbability, imperturbableness]
3 fearless self-possession in the face of danger [syn: nervelessness]
4 a lack of affection or enthusiasm [syn: coldness, frigidity]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

cool + -ness

Noun

  1. The state of being cool, as in chilly.
  2. The state of being cool, as in good or pleasing.

Translations

the state of being chilly
  • Portuguese: frio
the state of being pleasing
  • Romanian: coolitate

Extensive Definition

Cool is an aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance, style and Zeitgeist. Because of the varied and changing connotations of cool, as well its subjective nature, the word has no single meaning. It has associations of composure and self-control (cf. the OED definition) and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval.

Overview

Author Robert Farris Thompson, professor of art history at Yale University, suggests that Itutu, which he translates as 'mystic coolness,' is one of three pillars of a religious philosophy created in the 15th century. by Yoruba and Ibo civilizations of West Africa. Cool or Itutu contained meanings of conciliation and gentleness of character, the ability to defuse fights and disputes, of generosity and grace. It was also associated with physical beauty. Typical for Itutu is the reference to water because to the Yoruba coolness retained its physical connotation of temperature. He cites a definition of cool from the Gola people of Liberia, who define it as the ability to be mentally calm or detached, in an other-worldly fashion, from one's circumstances, to be nonchalant in situations where emotionalism or eagerness would be natural and expected. Joseph M. Murphy writes that "cool" is also closely associated with the deity Òsun of the Yoruba religion.
Although, Thompson acknowledges similarities between African and European cool "Africa and Europe share notions of self-control and imperturbability, expressed under a metaphysical rubric of coolness, viz, notions of sang-froid and coolheadedness" Thompson finds the cultural value of cool in Africa which influenced the African diaspora to be different from that held by Europeans, who use the term primarily as the ability to remain calm under stress. According to Thompson, there is significant weight, meaning and spirituality attached to cool in traditional African cultures, something which, Thompson argues, is absent from the idea in a Western context.
"Control, stability, and composure under the African rubric of the cool seem to constitute elements of an all-embracing aesthetic attitude." African cool, writes Thompson, is "more complicated and more variously expressed than Western notions of sang-froid (literally, "cold blood"), cooling off, or even icy determination." (Thompson, African Arts) The telling point is that the "mask" of coolness is worn not only in time of stress, but also of pleasure, in fields of expressive performance and the dance. Struck by the re-occurrence of this vital notion elsewhere in tropical Africa and in the Black Americas, I have come to term the attitude "an aesthetic of the cool" in the sense of a deeply and completely motivated, consciously artistic, interweaving of elements serious and pleasurable, of responsibility and play.

The Americas

Abraham Lincoln

An early use for the word "cool" in such a context was Abraham Lincoln.
Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"
The words were delivered during his Cooper Union speech.

African Americans

Ronald Perry writes that many words and expressions have passed from African American Vernacular English into Standard English slang including the contemporary meaning of the word "cool." The black jazz scene in the U.S. and among expatriate musicians in Paris, helped popularize notions of cool in the U.S. in the 1940s, giving birth to "Bohemian", or beatnik culture. Shortly thereafter, a style of jazz called cool jazz appeared on the music scene, emphasizing a restrained, laid-back solo style. Notions of cool as an expression of centeredness in a Taoist sense, equilibrium and self-possession, of an absence of conflict are commonly understood in both African and African American contexts well. Expressions such as, "Don't let it blow your cool," later, chill out, and the use of chill as a characterization of inner contentment or restful repose all have their origins in African American Vernacular English. When the air in the smoke-filled nightclubs of that era became unbreathable, windows and doors were opened to allow some "cool air" in from the outside to help clear away the suffocating air. By analogy, the slow and smooth jazz style that was typical for that late-night scene came to be called "cool".
Marlene Kim Connor connects cool and the post-war African-American experience in her book What is Cool?: Understanding Black Manhood in America. Connor writes that cool is the silent and knowing rejection of racist oppression, a self-dignified expression of masculinity developed by black men denied mainstream expressions of manhood. She writes that mainstream perception of cool is narrow and distorted, with cool often perceived merely as style or arrogance, rather than a way to achieve respect.
Designer Christian Lacroix has said that "...the history of cool in America is the history of African-American culture".
Cool pose
'Cool', though an amorphous quality--more mystique than material--is a pervasive element in urban black male culture. Majors and Billson address what they term "cool pose" in their study and argue that it helps Black men counter stress caused by social oppression, rejection and racism. They also contend that it furnishes the black male with a sense of control, strength, confidence and stability and helps him deal with the closed doors and negative messages of the "generalized other." They also believe that attaining black manhood is filled with pitfalls of discrimination, negative self-image, guilt, shame and fear.
"Cool pose" may be a factor in discrimination in education contributing to the achievement gaps in test scores. In a 2004 study, researchers found that teachers perceived students with African American culture-related movement styles, referred to as the "cool pose," as lower in achievement, higher in aggression, and more likely to need special education services than students with standard movement styles, irrespective of race or other academic indicators. The issue of stereotyping and discrimination with respect to "cool pose" raises complex questions of assimilation and accommodation of different cultural values. Jason W. Osborne identifies "cool pose" as one of the factors in black underachievement. Robin D. G. Kelley criticizes calls for assimilation and sublimation of black culture, including "cool pose." He argues that media and academics have unfairly demonized these aspects of black culture while, at the same time, through their sustained fascination with blacks as exotic others, appropriated aspects of "cool pose" into the broader popular culture.
George Elliott Clarke writes that Malcolm X, like Miles Davis, embodies essential elements of cool. As an icon, Malcolm X inspires a complex mixture of both fear and fascination in broader American culture, much like "cool pose" itself.

American pop-culture cool

East Asia

The ethic of the Samurai caste in Japan, warrior castes in India and East Asia all resemble cool.. The samurai-themed works of film director Akira Kurosawa are among the most praised of the genre, influencing many filmmakers across the world with his techniques and storytelling. Notable works of his include The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and The Hidden Fortress. The latter was one of the primary inspirations for George Lucas's Star Wars, which also borrows a number of aspects from the samurai, for example the Jedi Knights of the series. Samurai have been presented as cool in many modern Japanese movies such as Samurai Fiction, Kagemusha and Yojimbo, which was appropriated in American movies such as Ghost Dog and The Last Samurai
In The Art of War, a Chinese military treatise written during the 6th century BC, general Sun Tzu, a member of the landless Chinese aristocracy, wrote in Chapter XII: Profiting by their panic, we shall exterminate them completely; this will cool the King's courage and cover us with glory, besides ensuring the success of our mission.
The key themes of modern European cool were forged by avant-garde artists who achieved prominence in the aftermath of the First World War, most notably Dadaists, such as key Dada figures Arthur Cravan and Marcel Duchamp, and the left-wing milieu of the Weimar Republic. The program of such groups was often self-consciously revolutionary, a determination to scandalize the bourgeoisie by mocking their culture, sexuality and political moderation. Berthold Brecht, both a committed Communist and a philandering cynic, stands as the archetype of this inter-war cool. Brecht projected his cool attitude to life onto his most famous character Macheath or "Mackie Messer" (Mack the knife), in The Threepenny Opera. Mackie, the nonchalant, smooth-talking gangster, expert with the switchblade, personifies the bitter-sweet strain of cool; Puritanism and sentimentality are both anathema to the Cool character.
During the turbulent inter-war years, cool was a privilege reserved for bohemian milieus like Brecht's. Cool irony and hedonism remained the province of cabaret artistes, ostentatious gangsters and rich socialites, those decadents depicted in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, tracing the outlines of a new cool. Peter Stearns, professor of history at George Mason University, suggests that in effect the seeds of a cool outlook had been sown among this inter-war generation.

Postwar Cool

The Second World War brought the populations of Britain, Germany and France into intimate contact with Americans and American culture. The war brought hundreds of thousands of GIs whose relaxed, easy-going manner was seen by young people of the time as the very embodiment of liberation; and with them came Lucky Strikes, nylons, swing and jazz - the American Cool.
To be cool or hip meant hanging out, pursuing sexual liaisons, displaying the appropriate attitude of narcissistic self-absorption, and expressing a desire to escape the mental straightjacket of all ideological causes. From the late 1940s onward, this popular culture influenced young people all over the world, to the great dismay of the paternalistic elites who still ruled the official culture. The French intelligentsia were outraged, while the British educated classes displayed a haughty indifference that smacked of an older aristocratic cool.
This new cool rejected all kinds of overt sentimentality, which included publicly agonizing over the lot of the poor, or being sympathetic toward social activism. Indeed, the antagonism between street-cool and social activism became a cliché of certain movies and novels of the time - from On the Waterfront and the Blackboard Jungle all the way to West Side Story, which is based on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", where the stereotypical big-hearted teacher/priest/social worker tries to inculcate social responsibility into street-wise cool kids, whose response may be paraphased as "only suckers care". Stay loose, boy! Breeze it, buzz it, easy does it. Turn off the juice, boy! Go man, go, But not like a yo-yo schoolboy. Just play it cool, boy. Real cool! (West Side Story, "Cool")

The Polish Cool

The new attitude found a special resonance behind the Iron Curtain, where it offered relief from the earnestness of socialist propaganda and socialist realism in art. In the Polish industrial city Łódź, jazz, "the forbidden music", served Polish youth of the 1950s much as it had served its black-American creators, both as personal diversion and subterranean resistance to what they saw as a stultifying official culture. Some clubs featured live jazz performances, and their smoky, sexually charged atmosphere carried a message for which the Puritanical values and monumental art of Marxist officialdom were an ideal foil.
Arriving in Poland via France, America and England, Polish cool stimulated the film talents of a generation of artists, including Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski, and other graduates of the National Film School in Łódź, as well as the novelist Jerzy Kosinski, in whose clinical prose cool tends towards the sadistic.
In Prague, the capital of Bohemia, cool flourished in the faded Art Deco splendor of the Cafe Slavia. Significantly, following the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks in 1968, part of the dissident underground called itself the "Jazz Section".

The Middle East

The cool "Anatolian smile" of Turkey is used to mask emotions. A similar "mask" of coolness is worn in both times of stress and pleasure in American and African communities.

Theories of cool

Cool as social distinction

According to this theory, cool is a zero sum game, in which cool exists only in comparison with things considered less cool. Illustrated in the book The Rebel Sell, cool is created out of a need for status and distinction. This creates a situation analogous to an arms race, in which cool is perpetuated by a collective action problem in society.

Cool as an elusive essence

According to this theory, cool is a real, but unknowable property. Cool, like "good", is a property that exists, but can only be sought after.ref rebel In the New Yorker article, "The Coolhunt", cool is given three characteristics:
  • "The act of discovering what's cool is what causes cool to move on"
  • "Cool cannot be manufactured, only observed"
  • "[Cool] can only be observed by those who are themselves cool".
A piece of Simpsons dialogue (from the episode Homerpalooza) embodies this dilemma:
Homer: So, I realized that being with my family is more important than being cool. Bart: Dad, what you just said was powerfully uncool. Homer: You know what the song says: "It's hip to be square". Lisa: That song is so lame. Homer: So lame that it's... cool? Bart+Lisa: No. Marge: Am I cool, kids? Bart+Lisa: No. Marge: Good. I'm glad. And that's what makes me cool, not caring, right? Bart+Lisa: No. Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we've tried everything here. Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you're truly cool, you don't need to be told you're cool. Bart: Well, sure you do. Lisa: How else would you know?
(The song referred to is Hip To Be Square by Huey Lewis and The News.)

Cool as a marketing device

According to this theory, cool can be exploited as a manufactured and empty idea imposed on the culture at large through a top-down process by the "Merchants of Cool". An artificial cycle of "cooling" and "uncooling" creates false needs in consumers, and stimulates the economy. "Cool has become the central ideology of consumer capitalism".}}
The concept of cool was used in this way to market menthol cigarettes to African Americans in the 1960s. In 2004 over 70% of African American smokers preferred menthol cigarettes, compared with 30% of white smokers. This unique social phenomenon was principally occasioned by the tobacco industry's manipulation of the burgeoning black, urban, segregated, consumer market in cities at that time. According to Fast Company some large companies have started 'outsourcing cool.' They are paying other "smaller, more-limber, closer-to-the-ground outsider" companies to help them keep up with customers' rapidly changing tastes and demands.

Cool defined

  • "Cool is a knowledge, a way of life." -- Lewis Macadams
  • "Cool is an age-specific phenomenon, defined as the central behavioural trait of teenagerhood."
  • "Coolness is the proper way you represent yourself to a human being." -- Robert Farris Thompson
  • In the novel Spook Country by William Gibson one character equates cool with a sense of exclusivity: "Secrets," said the Bigend beside her, "are the very root of cool."
  • In the novel Lords and Ladies (novel) by Terry Pratchett the Monks of Cool are mentioned. In their passing-out test a novice must select the coolest garment from a room full of clothes. The correct answer is "Hey, whatever I select", suggesting that cool is primarily an attitude of self-assurance.

References

coolness in German: Cool
coolness in Spanish: Guay
coolness in Esperanto: Mojosa
coolness in Swedish: Cool
coolness in Turkish: Cool (imaj)
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