So in addition to our probing and inquisitive questions, David also kindly wrote guest posts for Christine and me.
Check out his awesome post for Christine: here, and read on for his thoughtful, reflective post on why he's not cool.
(Then go buy his book. Seriously. Here, here and here.)
Author David Lomax
Backward Glass (Flux)
When I was a teenager, one of the king call-outs, one of the best, most challenging put-you-on-the-spot rhetorical questions was, “Think you're cool, don't you?”
If you had your wits about you, the best answer was probably a slow, condescending, “Not as cool as you.”
Cool was king. To be cool when I was growing up, I figure you had to qualify in at least three of the following areas: smoking, skipping classes, going to concerts, knowing every AC/DC track on every album, having sex a little too early, drinking, having sex a lot too early, smoking pot, having parents who left town now and then, or being mean to others.
If you were bookish, introverted, and in your entire high school career skipped only one class (and it was that time Joy Kogawa came to do a reading at your school, and you skipped algebra to stay behind and talk to her) you were definitely not cool. If you liked comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, and Tarzan, and could quote way too much Star Wars dialogue, you were never going to be cool.
I don't bring this all up because I'm bitter. I'm not – any more. It took a lot of years passing after high school, a deliriously happy marriage, and three fantastic kids to get me over the scars of my deeply uncool childhood. None of that matters to me anymore, and I don't much think about it.
No, I bring this up because what's great about this world we live in now is that these days it doesn't much matter if you're not cool. Not from where I'm looking at the world, and I teach in a high school, the universal centre of cool-assessment.
I really think that there has been a massive cultural change with respect to coolness in the last ten or fifteen years. Steve Jobs was probably responsible for some of it: here was one of the original computer nerds, a guy who wrote code, and yet his enthusiasm, combined with his disdainful hauteur made programming cool. Neil Gaiman helped as well. Here was a guy who was interested in the things that so many geeks around the world loved – comic books, fantasy, mythology, swords – and yet wore a leather jacket and had more cool than your average rockstar.
But that was, to my mind, only an intermediary stage. Because those guys were still cool. Maybe at this point, I should explain what I mean by cool. Cool people, in my experience, are extroverts, though not all extroverts are cool. Cool people are charismatic, though not all charismatics are cool. Many generous people are cool, though some mean ones are as well. Some cool people are smart, and some are not. My idea of cool in high school (the mean, overly sexual kids who smoked pot) only encompassed a tiny portion of the sometimes very interesting variety of cool people there are really out there in the world beyond graduation.
And, yes, tech and Harry Potter and billion-dollar superhero specialeffectstravaganzas have brought cool cachet to some people and hobbies that were formerly deeply uncool.
But the most interesting change for me has been the one I think we see culminating right about now.
These days, nobody cares who's cool anymore. Not nearly as much anyway. I'm not talking about how Big Bang Theory has moved some geek culture into the mainstream, or how The Walking Dead TV show has led people to seek out the comic books. I'm talking about how at the school where I teach, nobody even thinks of commenting on people's choice of deeply geeky reading materials, their intense interest in polyhedral dice, or the iconography of their t-shirts.
There are still cool people (though a lot fewer of them smoke, and, if you believe some encouraging social science statistics, fewer of them make some of the other bad choices that correlated with cool in my youth), but there is more space for the uncool than there ever was before. My wife and I run a poetry club and a movie club, and kids seek us out. We run the prefects, and have so many students clamoring to get in that we had to split them into three groups – Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor.
These days, though some morons may still bully people for being geeks or nerds, the Internet celebrates those terms. There's even an epic rap battle over whether it's better to be one or the other. Geeks reinterpret popular songs through the lens of Harry Potter or Dungeons and Dragons. They're not cool. They never claim to be cool. They just like the stuff they like and share it on Youtube.
I don't hear that challenging question anymore: “Think you're cool, don't you?” I think there's a reason for that. Cool is no longer king. Neither is geek or nerd for that matter – whatever those meant. Something about having interests or really liking things?
Respectful of others, are you?