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May 4, 2014

The Cool and the Uncool

by Brendan

Something about last night’s retirement party for my dear friends Steve, Julie, Doug, Suellyn, Claudia, Bob, and Kristen made me think about the cool and the uncool — maybe because being in such a beautiful place (Prairie  Creek Lodge, down on the edge of Payne’s Prairie), surrounded by a group of friends who are (arguably, at least) the coolest people in Gainesville, FL, made me think about Carl Wilson’s book Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, which I came to know about because of famous novelist Mary Gaitskill’s article about it that appeared in Slate, here:

As you read (or if you didn’t), Gaitskill’s article is called “The Easiest Thing To Forget: Why We Judge Other People for Being Uncool.”

Celine Dion

Celine Dion

In it, Gaitskill talks about Wilson’s focus on the music of Celine Dion, who is both an enormously-successful musician and the object of hatred, because she and her music are so manifestly uncool.  Gaitskill notes that she “was increasingly fascinated to see just how much emotion and energy he and apparently hordes of others have expended in hating and despising this singer who I had never even noticed.”

Gaitskill, as in her novels, is worth reading.  She gently leads us where Wilson has apparently gone in his irrational Celine Dion hatred, to a recognition that what he and his compatriots think is cool or uncool is relatively meaningless — in the face of a real human being (Dion), with whom we share a connection (as humans, through empathy), whether we’re fans of her music or not.

Carl Wilson, "Let's Talk About Love"

Carl Wilson, Let’s Talk About Love

And being a fan of a particular musician or kind of music is, at bottom, somewhat arbitrary, especially when we’re proceeding from the deeply self-involved notion that other people, sadly, just have bad taste.  And\or ar.e annoying; and\or usually wrong

I’ll excerpt a bit from near the end of Gaitskill’s article.  She’s been writing about Dion’s appearance on the Larry King show, where she became emotional talking about Hurricane Katrina victims, waved her arms around, cried, then sang a snatch of a song; actions for which she was ridiculed for being uncool.  Gaitskill writes,

Her appearance on Larry King, however, did make an impression; it struck me as absolutely sincere and sane. That thousands would actually spend time watching this interview so they could jeer at it, jeering especially that Dion (a singer!) had the nerve to sing a song after her speech, seemed not merely cynical but neurotically detached from reality: Dion’s response wasn’t only moral, it showed a sort of biologically based empathy that understands the physical vulnerability of humans in the world. Newsflash: Real humans are connected with one another whether they like it or not. They are awkward and dumb and wave their arms around if they get upset enough; real humans all have personal touchstones that are “off the map” because there is no map. We are so maplessly, ridiculously uncool that whole cultures and subcultures, whole personalities even, have been built to hide our ridiculousness from ourselves.  ”

   I just love this: real humans are “maplessly, ridiculously uncool” because “there is no map.”

By the way, “the easiest thing to forget” (Part of Gaitskill’s title) is empathy, our common humanity, that it’s normal and rational for people to be “uncool” — part of being a flawed human being.  And one of the flaws is judging others as uncool — to try, as Carl Wilson and Gaitskill do, to answer the question of why other people have such bad taste.


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