4- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday,,November 4, 1993
"Cool" has always perplexed me.
I don't feel particularly privy to the
secrets of cool - I mean, don't get
me wrong, it's not like I'm uncool or
anything like that, heck. But for my
own benefit and the benefit of sci-
ence, it seems worthwhile to explore
and define this social category. Who
knows? Maybe it'll make me cooler.
Back in the'30s, when cool was in
its infancy, people would call almost
anything cool out of pure ignorance.
Things like gym teachers, rocks, bugs
and monkeys were considered cool.
Today we laugh at such standards. A
monkey might amuse us, with eating
its own feces and such, but it could
hardly be considered cool. Gym teach-
ers are even less cool than monkeys;
they simply can't dress to save their
lives. Although, like monkeys, they
amuse us by eating their own feces.
By about the '50s the segregation
into "nerds" and "cool guys" had oc-
cufed. To understand this division is
perhaps to understand the meaning of
cool. So let's get serious here.
What determines the mass con-
sciousness' choices when it affixes
value to certain styles, music, behav-
ior, etc., rendering those objects cool?
I think the answer is simple: cool is a
measure of the degree of association
(in the mind of the mass conscious-
ness) to potency - often sexual po-
tency. MichaelJordan is cool because
he is capable of doing what no one
else can do, and his image is therefore
an image of power. Jordan's basket-
ball power represents (or instantiates)
Power - which everyone wants and
seeks through association with or re-
production of his powerful image.
For such association with power
to elicit respect, to achieve coolness,
you must appeal to the consensually
established images of power. You
must speak the same cool-language.
This is why kids from different coun-
tries with different consensual pools
(and different sources of power im-
ages) have different notions of cool
-they have different codes forpower.
Because cool is an associative
property, non-substantive, accidental
associations between power and ob-
ject can occur. Also, cool's depen-
dency on consensus bolsters those
arbitrary choices, because divergence
from accepted (even ifarbitrary) styles
leaves one alone and uncool. In com-
bination, these two facts yield apopu-
lation of lemmings who are willing to
value almost anything (even this far
along since the '30s). Some recent
accidents in cool, the objects of which
have since become vilified, would be,
for example, Jams or Don Johnson,
and very soon we may hope to see
Beavis and Butt-head go the way of
break dancing too.
You'll notice that it's mostly kids
who are cool. This is because adults
must submit their libidos to constraint
in order to work for a living, and so
must value constraint at the same time
that they value power, which is at
odds with constraint psychologically.
For the most part adults can't worship
power like kids can, and perhaps a
few adults have learned that viable
fulfillment is far more complicated
than power. Adults (for the most part
again) have also surpassed the ado-
lescent fear of abnormality - one of
the chief motivations behind adop-
tion of cool-standards besides attrac-
tion to power per se.
As the product of these semiotic
processes, we get "cool guys"-those
who have successfully associated
themselves to power by the consensu-
ally established symbolic means -
and "nerds" - who have not.
Now for the big question: is cool
itself cool? Of course we are bound
by a fundamental principle of our
natures to value power and we are
bound to express our valuations in
associative images as a fact of human
nature. These are the psychological
modes behind cool. But perhaps we
have not progressed far enough from
the days of cool's infancy.
Many of the valuations that con-
stitute cool in what Stephen Jay Gould
has referred to as "the kiddie culture"
reflect a superficial and libidinal con-
cept of power. This is the first of two
problems with cool - it is often a
corruption of values. The second prob-
lem with cool is the problem with its
use. Because it's associative and not
always substantively associative, it's
easy to construct a cool illusion of
power, power by association alone.
The masses consume much of their
energies in deluding themselves for
the pleasure they find in wishful illu-
sions of power and effectiveness.
Furthermore, as has been said, the
masses submit themselves very tim-
idly to the consensual and often acci-
dental associations between power
and object in the cool-language, freez-
ing the negative values in cool with-
out hope of change, lemming style.
The nasty forces of resurgent Oe-
dipal emotion and timid cruelty which
have ramified sociologically into our
notions of cool will hopefully have a
smaller role in shaping cool in the
future. Today's commonplace cor-
rupted and misused cool in fact
amounts to a minor kind of "kiddie
culture" fascism, a segregating cult of
illusory power which admits no dis-
agreement. The steps between kiddie
and politically violent fascism may
not be many.
When we view cool and Nazism
on the same continuum, we know
what H. L. Mencken meant when he
said, "The masses are generally a
bunch of dummies, doody-heads and
good-for-nothing dumbos,"or at least
that was the gist.
Get to Dave's Comics on Wednesdays, so when the new comics hit the shelves, you can be your true self.
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By JOHN R. RYBOCK
A stack of girlie mags.
That's what a young, pubescent me, who had discov-
ered girls but not been discovered by them, traded his
comic collection for. Had I kept them, they'd be worth ...
about what I paid for them, less if you count inflation. But
at the time, I had lost interest in GI Joe and Spiderman and
gained interest in centerfolds.
I'm still interested in women, though less interested in
nude pictures of them. But I have become immersed in
another world. Before, that other world was the fantasy
where Miss July wanted only me. Now, it is one where
people can fly, shoot and express themselves, things I
often wish I could do. Now, every Wednesday when the
new issues hit the stands at Dave's Comics, I enter a place
where a man can be super and a freak is special.
The comics industry is at a crucial point, one where it
has climbed to new heights in popularity, only to see that
peak begin to crumble. Business interests caused the
market to grow, only to force it to shrink. "The Summer of
'93" is how Dave's manager Joe Weizel put it- the point
where the industry stopped waxing and began to wane.
"The industry is going to have to put out better comics,"
Weizel said at a rather professional sounding moment.
To the person on the outside, this seems like a strange
thing. Putting out better comics is like putting out better
manure, some think. But to me, they might as well con-
tinue by saying Coltrane, schmoltrane -it's still crap.
Even someone who once was like me, who had that issue
of Batman and Robin battling Poison Ivy next to their bed,
the pages tattered and creased, the paper yellowing from
the acid and humidity, yet turned their back to that world,
just won't get it now.
Batman wasn't about some rich guy with a tights
fetish. He is a character, formed in the mind of a 19-year-
old Bob Kane, refined over the years by dozens of writers
and artists. A man who saw his parents slain, who ob-
sessed for years with finding the killer, who perfected
himself in every way, though he remained psychologi-
The main companies, DC and Marvel, keep in the
psychological aspects of characters, but behind them all
are suits, the bottom line, the final sales figures. That's the
main point for the big publishers. While Superman's
temporary demise offered a chance to look at how the DC
universe would be without the red caped one, the bottom
line was sales. Killing off a 50-year-old icon of America
not only made the national news, but it brought in people
who had not touched a comic in 20 years. Almost all of
those people are gone now, their job of making a profit for
the men in the suits finished. Those Superman #75s are
filed away in an office file cabinet or a closet, not touched,
the bagged ones not even opened, because they are a
True, "X-Men"#1 is worth about $2500-3000 now, up
from the original 15 cents. But really, it is not about
money. It's about the characters, the art, the stories. The
story is the key. says Weizel, His coworker, Dolby
Blanchard, will tell you that the art is most important, but
a little pressing will get him to concede that both art and
story are important.
Dave's best sellers are anything from the X-Men
family, Valiant titles, books taken from Japanese anima-
tion and the independents. Really, it is the independents
that keep the comics industry on track. With less attention
to the bottom line, artist-controlled groups such as Legend
focus on story and art, things the creators are interested in.
The independents less often resort to flashy gimmick
covers with holograms, metallic inks or some other device
that sells books to more people (namely the people most
concerned with its future value) at a higher price. It was a
way for the big three (counting little Image, which started
independent, but is moving into the land of the big boys)
to increase the profit margins, but it tired the market. "If
someone comes in with $30 to spend, they'll spend $30,
whether they spend it on five or twenty (comics)," Weizel
says. The gimmick covers which once drew buyers now
So that leaves the industry, most namely the big guys
at DC nd Marvel, with one option -focus on the basics.
Forget cover enhancements. It's the story and art that
draws us regulars. That's what makes us wait with antici-
pation to see what is happening with our favorite charac-
ters -how will Wolverine cope without his adamantium
skeleton and claws - and buy the comics month in and
month out. All gimmicks will do is bring in one time only
buyers, and deter people who are like I was - walking
into Dave's the first time, wondering if the titles we once
kept next to our beds are still being sold.
And we will tentatively pick up that issue for $1.25,
skipping the $3.50 gold cover issue, and check it out. And
we will get hooked on Frank Miller's stories and Todd
McFarlane's art. And we will buy and buy. That should be
the bottom line.
ITHE TIMBERLAND SHOPe
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