“(Un)Cool” — Analyzing Clout, Coolness & Our Rejection of it All
by Jaylin Paschal
To start this article on the touchy (for my peer group, anyway) subject that is clout, I feel that it’s important to understand that this article is based on a few guiding principles:
- “(Un)Cool” is my way of defining the sum of us who aim to be cool by portraying ourselves as emotional/intellectual/creative outcasts. The “(Un)Cool” is the group of young adults who go out of their way to regularly remind us that they don’t have that many friends, nor any clout or connections (despite having an obvious abundance of both). Their follower-to-following ratio is really important to them. Their captions are always something like “casual;” their tweets always end with “but maybe I’m just weird;” they mis- and overuse the word “low-key.” They insist that they’re “slept on.” They’re self-defining statement goes along the lines of “When I did/listened to/watched ______ I was made fun of, but now it’s cool;” “cool” rolling off the tongue like a slur. They always pretend they didn’t see you cause they’re “off in their own world;” constantly stressed that no one “matches their energy/vibe.” They downplay their successes as if they don’t care about them. They never allow themselves to feel excited about social connections or general approval. They purposefully position themselves as “other,” operating on the thought that otherness = weirdo = uncool = hidden gem = one-of-a-kind = cool. You know who you are.
- “Clout” is not bad. Despite seeming damning and being treated as a curse word (as it is at my school, Howard University), clout is a normal and necessary function of a social society. Essentially, having clout is defined as “having influence or power.” However, it’s almost framed in youth culture to mean “having undeserved influence or power.” Read: She’s not that talented, she just has clout. Or: People only wear his clothing line because he has clout. Or: He’s a clout chaser. Or: Howard is about more than just getting clout. And sure, Howard is about more than getting clout… but is it? Do we go to school and acquire knowledge and pursue degrees/careers for anything other than gaining influence and power? Is this a bad thing? Is “truth and service,” Howard’s vow to society, not a statement of influence and power? Some people really just do their own thing and their personality + vision makes people/attention gravitate to them. “Clout” isn’t negative — its connotation is. And furthermore, we’ve began to use it inappropiately as interchangeable with “popularity.” Which also, is not a bad thing. Popularity can be simplified as being well-known + well-liked. Which leads me to,
- FACT: Everyone wants to be known + liked. All of us. As much as we pride ourselves on not caring what people think of us, we do. Human nature. We may not base our decisions on other’s opinions, but we still consider them. That’s where confidence comes in, doing what you want and being who you are in spite of what others may think — not without regard to what they may think.
So, let’s get into the article.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment in which the governing force of “(Un)Cool” began to shape human interaction. I imagine it goes back beyond recorded history. In regards to my peer group, I’ll start with a place rather than a time:
When we were in middle/high school, Tumblr was like a secret safe haven for all of us that felt different. It was a digital meet-up of everyone who took an hour or two (or more) a day to escape whatever realities we were living in. There was everything: snapbacks, food, drugs, customized denim shorts, skateboarding, politics, OBEY, interior design, art, sex+porn, dance, OFWGKTA, luxury cars, underground music, etc. It was the first place a lot of us were introduced to a lot of niches. The first time a lot of us fine-tailored our interests to create a coherent, cohesive story; a blog. Usually with a theme or an aesthetic catering to these niches. And eventually, for a lot of us, we latched onto the idea of living and thinking in these niches; of operating in a sort of specificity — rendering us all “other.” No one’s blog was exactly like another’s, and whoever was the “best” at curating “otherness,” or the best at being different, rose to Tumblr-stardom.
Naturally, this line of thought transferred into real life. As Tumblr became more and more about lifestyle, with users posting selfies, outfits and other original content, we became more focused on portraying our “difference” in real life. (This is when all of us simultaneously abandoned Aeropostale and started buying $100 blank tees with box logos printed on them because they were “exclusive;” when all of us began to refer to our neighbors as “locals” online.)
Fast-forward to today, Virgil Abloh of Off — White is setting the standard of “cool.” He’s redefining the word without ever necessarily touching it. He’s telling us what to wear while sporting dad jeans and frumpy sweatshirts. He commodifies everyday words by putting them in “quotes.” He makes the mundane interesting, simply by addressing it in an equally mundane manner. None of his ideas are necessarily revolutionary or particularly creative, yet he still sets the tone in the creative world. He’s arguably the most overrated, underwhelming fashion figure in this day and age — yet is undoubtedly one of the most savvy and influencial. Don’t get me wrong, I am, admittedly, interested in what Abloh has to contribute to the cultural conversation, and I also think he’s extremely thoughtful about design and impact. (In my mind he’s more a thought leader than a fashion leader.) “The Mysterious Case of Virgil Abloh c/o Jaylin Paschal” is my own little ongoing analysis on what he does, redoes and doesn’t do — and how we react to all of this. But the really interesting thing about Abloh is that he attempts to detatch himself from this coolness, while also promoting and creating it. Again, telling us what to wear to be “cool” and then not wearing anything remotely like what we consume. As if he can’t be bothered with it.
It’s incredible, really, to watch someone become too cool to be cool — to become “(Un)Cool.”
“(Un)Coolness” in action takes many forms.
Say someone featured an “(Un)Cool” person on their blog, along with other notable peers. Instead of saying thank you, or sharing the link, the “(Un)Cool” person would respond publicly with something like “Y’all see I’m featured on that blog? I hate features. Blogs are outdated.”
They’d let you know they were featured while simultaneously letting you know they’re too cool to care.
Why? Because with “(Un)Coolness,” nothing is ever as simple as a “thank you.” Being featured would contradict everything they’d branded themselves as — overlooked, odd, ostracized, other. But not being featured would probably make the “(Un)Cool” person internally upset over the exclusion and take to Twitter to continue to build their overlooked, odd, ostracized, other persona. With these people, it would be lose-lose. Upset if featured. Upset if not.
“(Un)Coolness” is always, always, always detectable. It’s glaring, it’s obvious, it’s loud. And most of all — it’s rooted in human nature.
Referring back to point 3, everyone wants to be known and liked. And naturally, everyone wants to stand out. Most of us trying to find a way to do both. We’ve all probably done some of these uncool things before, in an attempt to be “(Un)Cool.”
I myself am guilty. Read: “I mean, Creative Liberation is cool or whatever but it’s just a blog. I really don’t know why anyone reads it lol.” As if it’s not my baby; as if compliments don’t make me feel happy and validated and heard. As if it’s not simply more logical, appropriate and pleasant to simply respond with a “thank you.”
The fact of the matter is, none of us are too cool for anything. And we’re definitely not cool enough to be too cool to be cool.
Since you’re not too cool to be cool, shut up and just accept your clout. Real clout — the kind you get when your energy + spirit attract people to you. Not that other shit.
It doesn’t make you better than anyone, or even cooler than anyone. It just means you’re well-known and well-liked; that you have a say in culture; that you hold power and influence. Weild it responsibly.