From the time that we first begin to interact with others, we become acutely aware of what is supposedly ‘cool’ and what is not. Still today, as students in college, we pride ourselves on the notion of being the coolest, the most popular, and the best liked by our peers. But what exactly does it mean to be cool?
In today’s society, t here s eem to be many variables that play into the definition of the word, but regardless of the ambiguity of its meaning, it is a widely acknowledged term that everyone strives to be perceived as.
If you search for the definition of cool in the dictionary, Merriam- Webster considers it to be slang and defines it as “fashionable, hip.” This vague explanation of the word is an example of the fact that we, as a society, create what we take to be cool.
Dr. Johanna Foster, sociology professor, explained, “In sociology, we would say that ‘cool’ is a social construct, meaning that in every society, and within smaller groups in that society, people in interaction with others define the standards of ‘cool.’”
As a society, we depend on one another when it comes to almost all things, and defining what’s considered to be “cool” is no exception. We decide whether or not the people that we interact with, as well as ourselves, make the cut when it comes to what’s “in” in today’s world. These standards of “cool” continuously change, which makes it even more difficult to properly and elaborately define the term.
Freshman Gracie Zwernemann said, “I think what’s considered cool changes over time because people are always changing, which means that their thoughts and opinions are changing too. What’s cool to you one year isn’t going to be as cool to you in a year or two.” The expectations of someone who is deemed “cool” in college are obviously not the same for the “cool” kids in a fifth grade class. In each specific group that we participate in, during every stage of our lives, there seem to be newer and more defined roles for those who wish to be considered “cool.”
It also appears that many of our main ideas and perceptions of what’s “cool” come from those who have more power or authority than us.
“The meanings of ‘cool’ are generally connected to the status hierarchies in a social system, such that those with more social power, prestige, and wealth are often at a greater advantage in defining and enacting ‘cool,’” Foster explains.
Perhaps the best way to exemplify Foster’s statement would be to take a quick glance at the images produced and promoted by the media. Celebrities are the backbone of what’s “cool” in today’s society, and it is solely because of their social status. Not only do they hold influence in their everyday lives, but their product endorsements also speak volumes.
Makeup, restaurants, clothes, perfume, cereal, sports drinks, you name it; almost everything sold in stores today is backed by a celebrity. Fame is cool, so naturally, the product with a famous athlete or performer’s face on it is too. Celebrities hold a large amount of influence over our society, and it appears that it is mostly the men and women in the limelight who define what’s “cool,” whether it is intentional or not.
“‘Cool’ is basically dependent on the majority. Whatever the majority thinks is popular is what most people call ‘cool,’” Zwernemann explains.
As a whole, people in our society are easily swayed by the opinions of others. This makes it easier for the concept of “cool” to change. For some people, conforming to what is considered to be “cool” by the majority is the way to go, but for others, it is the exact opposite. Although there are obviously a lot of people who feel pressured by the standards of ‘cool’ in today’s society and who are willing to change themselves to meet them, there are just as many people who take a different approach.
“In college especially, I think it has more to do with being yourself and not trying to be something you’re not more so than conforming to the beliefs of others that makes a person ‘cool’,” Zwernemann explained. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to the majority, but there are plenty of people who do it by creating their own idea of ‘cool’ and neglecting the already constructed standards placed in front of them by society.
Not conforming is a hard thing to do in today’s world, especially with all of the pressures of the media and those around us. Everyone wants to be accepted, and everyone wants to be thought of as “cool,” but who is to say that there is certain criteria that needs to be met in order for that to happen?
In order to be seen as “cool,” our society has made it seem as though we have to meet these unrealistic and completely ridiculous expectations of what is or isn’t in style. The groups that we have participated in throughout our lives have altered our perceptions of ourselves based on the ideals of the world that we live in today, which has lead our generation to lose it’s sense of individuality.
Not all is lost, however, because there are still people in the world like Zwernemann, who believe in the importance of being you, even in today’s society. Regardless of what the majority may deem as “cool,” no one has the ability to tell you how you are supposed to act or feel in order to achieve a certain status in society. There is nothing more important than feeling confident in yourself.
In the words of author Irving Wallace, “To be one’s self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity.”
IMAGE TAKEN from nycprgirls.com