Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cool Continents

I do not think our generation has one particular hot spot. We do not have one particular city which is unarguably cooler than another. Maybe it is more of a cool continent for us. But then again, even that can vary. For example, when someone declares that they want to backpack across Europe, the response from peers is typically a varying form of “Wow! That’s cool!” (Words like awesome, sweet, or bad can be substituted for the word cool). Europe, in general, is cool. There are the obvious cities that many will name as their personal favorites: London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, and Dublin are all major tourist attractions. If one mentions that they have been to any of these particular places, then you are automatically granted some degree of worldliness and prestige. However, if you, in fact, have surpassed these tourist attractions and have increased your knowledge of Europe by taking back roads and visiting lesser known cities, then you are truly a person of wonder.

Is Europe the only cool continent? No, I don’t think so. What if someone believes that to indulge so much as to spend months of one’s life strictly for self benefit is inherently selfish and inconsiderate? What if, instead, someone decided to join the Peace Corps and head to a third world country in Africa or South America? I believe that would elicit a very similar response as backpacking did. The Peace Corps is cool. Such a self-sacrificing, passionate attitude is to be greatly admired in my generation. Go save the world because that is cool!

How are both of these outlooks cool? The first is self satisfying, rampant with personal gain, and fun. The second is completely self sacrificing, unselfish, and perhaps miserable at times. What is the connection? Why does this particular generation find both of these things cool? Perhaps it is that the people in both of these categories all belong to a bigger group—a a higher classification, a more elitist society. Most people in our generation are in college (including me). This is cool, but not anywhere near as cool as the two situations mentioned above. College is too normal, too overdone. Everyone goes to college, so how is that cool? However, if you bypass or delay a structured higher education for a more non-traditional type such as a backpacking experience or a learn/work situation like the Peace Corps, then that is cool. Perhaps it’s the edge factor. These people are stepping out of the box, shocking much of the older generations, and by doing so, are gaining this generation’s admiration.

This is cool. In both of these examples, one is able to surprise and shock older generations, and receive nominations of coolness from one’s peers. So maybe it is not a place or a time that makes you cool, but an attitude and mindset of determination and originality.


  1. Does this mean that cool has become transient? Or rather, is on the move more than it has been at any other time in history?

    How have things like globalization affected this?

  2. I agree it is difficult, maybe even impossible to name a city that is the center for cool in contemporary times. I think New York City would be cool to many in the rest of the world but maybe to a lesser extent Americans. What do you think?

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head, Brittney. A city like New York City is way to cliche to be cool here in the U.S. Yeah, it would be cool to go visit, but I think its even cooler to go a little further and visit some not-so-well-known places.

    FJohn, I do think cool is on the move. I also think that it is up for grabs and not as limiting as it might have been at one time. I believe that globalization has enabled and encouraged this process by allowing contact between cultures and thus allowing mixing of the cultures.

  4. I dunno, Emileigh. I think New York is awesome and cool and all worthy of all sorts of superlatives. I think there are a lot of places like that in the U.S. - places that have an atmosphere unlike any other place. Uniqueness is key to a city's coolness. That's why when we, Americans we are, go to Europe and see the beautiful cities that are unique simply because they've been around, oh, one or two thousand years longer than New York City, we are absolutely dumbfounded and almost always say, "This is the coolest place ever." I know I felt that way every time I stepped into a new place in Italy. I see this every time I read the daily journals I wrote while I was there. The sense of wonderment and amazement in my voice at the coolness of everything was, in part, because I saw everything as unique and separate from me.