Being Cool is for Losers
I live in New York, where lower rungs of upwardly-mobile intellectuals enjoy flouting the Coolest Hipster Taste. Endless young people participate in an endless competition with endless levels and subcommunities: who listens to the most eclectic variety of unknown music? Who’s got the most obscure band shirt? Who wears the most ridiculous pastiche of long-gone fashion trends? Who can quote the weirdest and most nonsensical French critical theorist? And, seemingly most importantly: how effortless and careless can you make it look, despite the whole affect being remarkably time consuming and projected?
“Basic” has become a term for people who don’t get trends or who don’t care. It thus empowers a certain type of person to engage in materialistic behaviors under the guise of being progressive, edgy, or interesting. I’ve found myself drawn to the nuances of taste since I moved to New York. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about— and believe me, there’s a lot of fuss. Like multi-billion dollar market degrees of fuss. It takes years to work through it all. But this brand of fuss exists in every major metropolitan area, and, thanks to the internet, in the home of anyone who chooses to take interest in it.
Thanks in part to my natural Zen-influenced aversion to all things Cool or Popular and also to having a girlfriend who somehow knows (and can adequately criticize) every cool micro-trend in history, I’ve learned how to stop giving a shit about posturing. It’s removed more anxiety from my life than any other habit change besides quitting smoking.
I don’t care about my haircut (last year I buzzed my head and it’s remained that way since). I don’t care about my shoes. Even though sometimes I try to, I always end up with the same pair of ratty black Converse. I no longer judge my sense of authenticity by my taste in movies, music, art or books, despite having spent enough time working my way through enough Hipster-Respected movements and books to be fluent in them.
In working through things and constantly trying to remind myself that my identity does not exist within the cultural realm, I’ve found a sense of personal peace. It’s important to be hygienic and respectable. It’s important to know about stuff and to be able to talk about it, since this helps us develop a personal wisdom about culture and the world at large. But we get into trouble as soon as we start identifying ourselves with the stuff we like. I’ve bought countless band shirts throughout the years but have been unable to wear them ever since my favorite literature teacher in High School called me only by the name Bad Brains every time I wore my Bad Brains shirt to class. I had an epiphany: I’m a walking advertisement, even if it is for something cool.
We’ve been conned by both culture industries— the popular stuff and the niche obscura. There’s no point. Like whatever you like. Don’t walk around advertising other peoples’ brands, bands and whatever else. Don’t center all of your conversations around comparing and contrasting stuff or participate in the pissing contest of cultural relevance. It’s a a pettiness that’s just as bad as only talking about the stock market or sports cars, an alternative materialism that’s been brilliantly peddled to young people who want to rebel.
You are not the stuff you buy or like. Instead of worrying about taste, enjoy what you enjoy. I mostly listen to Basic music instead of the pretentious niché stuff I am also fluent in. I don’t wear band shirts anymore. I probably look basic as hell to anyone who sees me on the street. And, thank God, I don’t care anymore — I don’t want to be evaluated based on a thin layer of fabrics and cultural references.
Everyone who cares about being cool could find some value in taking time they spend trying to be cool and redirect it to actually making stuff. Reverse the mode of production. Make music and art, write, start a business, do whatever. Don’t worry about an audience, that comes later. Enjoy whatever you enjoy and make the stuff you wish existed in the world.