Breaking Hip: Cool’s Little Brother Has Grown Up, Part 2

So I’ve had a lot of writing sitting in the slush files of my laptop. I forgot about this one, but I suppose it’s time to release the second part. Click here for part 1.

The clothes kind of say everything. We’re all in uniform, after all.

There were two guys that used to be the coolest dudes on the planet. Their names were Mickey Mantle and James Dean. A jock and a rebel, both embodying their side of America, the insiders and the outsiders. Mickey was a physical Adonis who I’m positive wore only a suit or a baseball uniform, and James Dean was a slender, pretty lad who wore a leather jacket and dangled a cigarette. Celebrated life and mourned death. Culture and counter-culture. They were booming at a time when America was ready to pass the torch from legends to celebrities, the infancy of cool. The thing is, nobody ever mentions those guys in the same breath. They were so similar, but one died a hero and the other lived long enough to see himself become the villain. Mantle, by all accounts, spent the last decades of his life as an alcoholic wreck.

Cool and hip have always overlapped to a degree, but they’re more the same thing today than they’ve ever been before. In today’s world, Mickey Mantle would make an effort to dress like James Dean. That’s because there will always be more James Deans than Mickey Mantles in this world. When Huey Lewis wrote his song about the pleasures of conformity, he sang, “yes, I cut my hair.” He was operating in 1986, making an argument that it was more satisfying to be in line with the man instead of going against the man. Cutting your hair was only something you’d do for a JOB. 25 years later, his point is moot. Hip is popular is cool. Parted hair is cool, because the nerds were finally able to popularize an idea they always knew was true. You aren’t supposed to be against the man to be cool, you’re supposed to be ahead of him. You aren’t cool by going rogue, you’re cool by creating wrinkles in the mundane. Flashy socks, coolest tech, your hand around a National Bohemian in the crowd of commercial domestics. The message is simple: I’m different like everyone else, just a little more different. And that’s a good lesson. No matter how the car runs, the paint is the first thing you see.

Marketing 101: It’s more important to be different than better.

…part 3, coming soon.

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