‘Coolness’ is a forgotten form of social oppression
Although North American culture claims to tout individuality as something to aspire to, this idealistic view has been twisted by popular culture and consumerism.
Self expression as a virtue has been replaced by the encouragement of its exact opposite – conformity to coolness.
This is promoted at large through mediums such as music videos and clothing advertisements and is socially enforced in daily life by the people who emulate it. Popular culture values coolness over being oneself, even when the two are mutually exclusive, and encourages those who do not conform to be cast out.
This hierarchy can be enforced overtly through physical bullying or insults or more subtly through exclusion and elitist attitudes.
What constitutes as coolness varies from one setting to another, often reflecting what popular mainstream culture and trendy subcultures deem acceptable.
Clothing, lingo, physical appearance, musical taste and athletic ability are often important factors.
In some circles, intellect can even be mocked, and the appearance of one’s hair may be seen as more important than the contents of the mind it surrounds.
Although these types of social hierarchies are most rigidly enforced in high school and middle school, they often carry into young adulthood – it never really ends.
Even though by their late teen years, most people are mature enough to realize that this hierarchy is fake and wrong, it is continuously perpetuated.
People like to cheer for the underdog in films like Napoleon Dynamite; unfortunately, this vicarious championing of social fairness does not always extend to real life. Many of those who would cheer for a character like Napoleon Dynamite on screen would bully or exclude them in person.
The discrimination against the “freaks”, “geeks” and other “uncool” members of society is among the most prevalent forms of discrimination in our culture today, yet it is also one of the least discussed.
Perhaps its sheer pervasiveness leads people to believe that this divide is something natural, unlike more easily identifiable aberrations like racism or sexism, which most progressive members of society have vowed to eliminate.
While some people may find their emulation of popular culture to genuinely reflect their inner selves, many others who emulate it do so out of social pressure.
This raises the question of whether things are popular because people like them or if people like them because they’re popular.
The former explanation seems more logical, yet the latter often seems to be true. Many pay obscene prices to buy certain brands of clothing such as Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister, not because they like it, but because the brand name will gain them social respect.
Popular culture is created by the corporate world, and if there is profit to be made from manufacturing coolness and upholding the social hierarchy, they will continue to do so. Those who enforce these hierarchies are often not expressing their own personal prejudices so much as upholding the image that pop cultural indoctrination has been jammed into their heads.
Identity means nothing in a vacuum, being oneself is only relevant if one can do so in front of others.
Hierarchical social conformity is not necessary for society to survive, and such an equivocation is false.
It is not coolness itself that is the problem, but its elitist and hierarchical enforcement.
If everyone would simply be themselves and accept others for the way they are – whether they fit the standards of coolness or not – then the world would be a better place.