By Evan Trapp & Peter Stephens
I don't know who the first person was who decided to pair James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis together in tacky art prints, but it's not an exaggeration to describe them as a genius. Not only did they apparently achieve commercial success, but they inadvertently created a piece of art which served to inspire a coolness ranking system which can accurately categorize anyone and determine where they stand in terms of modern coolness.
-Peter Stephens, May 2010
It has been over a year since I first set out to describe The Coolness System that was developed during a now legendary intoxicated evening of pool with Mr. Peter Stephens. Since then, there has been much debate and confusion over the initial incarnation of the System so I have felt that there is a need for an updated, more definitive, analysis of the Coolness System. I will be using quotes from Mr. Stephens sporadically throughout this endeavor.
The System begins with what is now known as the Consani Radix. The Consani Radix is named after Chris Consani, the individual described as “a genius” above, who decided it a clever idea to place Dean, Bogart, Monroe and Presley together in various (as well as “tacky”) vice-driven scenes. Gambling, drinking, shooting pool- the scenes are likely what Consani envisions as ultimate coolness. But upon further examination it becomes clear that what Consani stumbled upon was not the peak of coolness, but rather the various incarnations of cool and uncool. The Consani Radix lays the foundations of the Coolness System in which every single individual can be dividing into.
The four categories are as follows:
Category A (The Authentic)
Category B (The Recluse)
Category C (The Uncool)
Category D (The Hipster)
The System has yet to fail. We been approached on numerous occasions with what people believe to be a conundrum or an outright failure of the System but each time Mr. Stephens and I have solved these so-called conundrums. Hopefully this essay will further clarify the System.
I will now delve into each category in further detail.
Category A (The Authentic) – The A is cool. They have an inherent coolness and appeal that may be hard to define, but is instantly apparent. Marketers might call these people trendsetters. Authenticity is extremely important; any contrivance is readily apparent and immediately disqualifies someone from being an A. The As coolness is such that anyone can instantly tell it's there, and people instinctively desire to imitate it. The easiest way to tell an A is if they are imitated by Ds (The Hipster, described later). –Peter Stephens
Looking at the Consani Radix, James Dean represents the category A, because he is authentically cool. He didn’t have to try at all, he was simply cool, and people would follow him in an attempt to seem cooler. People whom have probably never seen his movies hang posters of him in their rooms. Why? He was cool and represents what coolness is. He’s an A.
Other notables in category A: Andre 3000, Bob Dylan, Carmelo Anthony, Albert Camus, Oscar Wilde, Barack Obama, Winston Churchill
It is important to note that categories A, B and C are all categories of authenticity. They are the individuals who are self-aware and do not attempt to be something that they are not. They are not afraid of their passions and an A is an individual who capitalizes fully upon their passion and appears cool the entire time. These people are often ones to be exploited yet their inherent coolness seems to always overwhelm any attempted exploitation. The coolness will forever live on.
Category B (The Recluse) – The B is probably the most difficult to define. Nobody is likely to mistake a B for an A, so that's not an issue. The difference between a B and a C, however, is more nebulous, and because it is the most important divider in the scale, the most hotly debated. –Mr. Stephens
Category B consists of those who are not obviously cool to the general public. Specifically, category D does not understand their coolness so Bs are rarely if ever imitated. You likely wouldn’t find their picture on a t-shirt. But their coolness lies in their mysteriousness and their reluctance to become a leader of cool, and this is precisely what makes them as cool or, arguably to certain people, cooler than an A. The As and the Bs control the world of coolness. Everyone would like to think of themselves as either an A or a B, unfortunately, the vast majority of people fall into the lower two categories. By definition, As and Bs are cool. Cs and Ds are uncool.
Category B is also defined by their contentment. They're typically satisfied with their position, and would dislike the idea of someone imitating them like the imitation of As. As arbiters of cool, there's a healthy relationship between As and Bs. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote, "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius." In the same way, genius recognizes talent. Real knows real.
I'm reminded of the example of a classic B, the late great Daniel Johnston. Daniel Johnston is a fat bipolar West Virginian who sings like a 45 year old woman, and who happens to write brilliant songs. He's been largely ignored by the rest of the world, and justifiably so. Nobody would argue that he deserves to be more famous or successful than he actually is, including, most likely, himself. However, Kurt Cobain, an A, constantly wore a T-shirt with his album cover, and he released an album where artists such as Beck and Tom Waits, arguably As themselves, covered his music. He's intrinsically cool, even though there's nothing appealing or desirable about him. Nobody ever said being a B makes you popular. In fact, you might be able to describe a B as an unpopular A. –Mr. Stephens
In relation to the Consani Radix, Humphrey Bogart represents category B. Bogart isn’t quite as cool as Dean, and he doesn’t seem to mind. No one really follows him and he doesn’t follow anyone, but he is cool in a loner type of way.
Notables in category B – J.D. Salinger, Jay Electronica, Samuel Beckett, George Harrison, James Joyce.
Category C (The Uncool) - The C is a simple category. Cs aren't cool. While they may have angst about not being cool, mostly in middle school, they don't desire to rise higher, or their attempts at doing so are so comical that they inspire Paul Feig TV shows. I would estimate that 80% of people are Cs. At least 99% of registered Republicans are Cs. – Mr. Stephens
Category C consists of all those lovable dorks that you know or, more than likely, are. A C doesn’t necessarily try to be cool, and this is what makes someone like Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones a C. He just stands there in admiration of the other cooler members of the band. While uncool, this category is absolutely benign in the world of coolness. They know what’s cool, and it is acceptably something different than them. They don’t fight it.
A category C person is not a failure in any way. Paul McCartney is pretty much the face of category C. He’s a huge dork who writes incredible, simple, great pop songs. He is still passionate, but he does it in an entirely category C way. Larry David is a C, and he is a comic genius. The authenticity of the C lies mainly in the awareness of their uncoolness.
A C is the type of person to spend hours upon hours analyzing and developing a Coolness System.
In relation to the Consani Radix, Marilyn Monroe represents category C. Though there is some debate as to whether Monroe is a C or not. She supposedly committed suicide, which is arguably a pretty cool way to die, but she did it by overdosing, a very uncool method. Elliot Smith, a notorious B, has the ultimate cool suicide: he stabbed himself in the heart, Shakespearean style. Monroe was never cool; she was just attractive and was marketed as such.
Other notables in category C: Garth Brooks, Bill Simmons, Larry Bird, Jim Gaffigan, Brent Musberger
So what happens if you are uncool but you won’t accept this? What happens when your passion is to try and not be passionate at all? Earlier I stated the authenticity in A, B, and Cs. They are authentic because out of self-awareness they are able to become the individuals they were meant to be. They’ve embraces their place within the Coolness System.
Enter category D.
Category D (The Hipster) – I would not argue that category D consists only of hipsters, but the hipster best exemplifies what it means to be a part of this disturbing final category of the Coolness System.
Category D is filled with individuals who are not cool in any way but, unlike those uncool people in category C, Ds refuse to embrace their uncoolness and they chose instead to try and believe the opposite. They are trying to become cool, when it is well known that one is either born cool or uncool, and this attempt makes them undeniably the lamest of all people. A D will not accept their fate, or are at least completely oblivious to what they actually represent.
As Mr. Stephens wrote,
The D is easily the least self aware category. What the D wants more than anything else is to be cool, and yet like a character in a Greek tragedy, it is this very desire that makes them uncool. A D will usually try to imitate coolness by aping As, and looking down on Cs. Every hipster is a D. Hipsters, the quintessential Ds, latch onto different A archetypes, recycle them, and regurgitate them until they mean nothing. Hipsters exist solely to crib past icons of rebel culture and ruse them in an ironic mess. Anyone who says they like all kinds of music, except country is a D. Country music is the music of the C, and Ds believe that by looking down on Cs it makes them cooler. Anyone who says they like all kinds of music, except country, except Johnny Cash, is a D. In this instance, the D can't even take a stand against a kind of music they don't like without letting people know that they respect the one A country music has.
A D will go to almost any length to appear cool to those around them. The debate that has flummoxed those outside the realm of the D for years is whether or not these individuals have any understanding of their lameness. Mr. Stephens makes a point to describe them as “the least self aware category.” But is their self-unawareness an inborn aspect of the D, or is the D simply a rebellious C? If the latter is true than I just described Ds as “rebellious,” and even though the only thing they are actually “rebellious” against is themselves, the use of the term “rebel” should automatically disqualify them from being a D.
So a D is born a D. They are “Born This Way,” as the current queen of category D, Lady Gaga, has proclaimed. Typical of a D, Gaga was unaware that she was describing her place within the Coolness System. (In a postmodern coolness, Gaga is seen as an A by the Ds of the world. I will further explain this postmodern concept in a bit.)
A D is someone like the rapper Common, who tries so desperately to be cool, but in the end is just a dork that can barely rhyme (There is only so many ways to rhyme “beautiful”). Hollywood is built almost entirely on Ds, with the occasional A to even things out. Ds will constantly think they are much deeper than they actually are. Sean Pean or Bono, for example.
Now let’s examine the Consani Radix in which Elvis Presley represents the D category. The argument against Presley as a D has been made, and while young Presley appeared cool, all you need to do is watch old Presley to realize that it was a sham the entire time. To make the System work (and it always has), one has to fully examine the situation and in some instances only time will ultimately expose an individual’s category.
Mr. Stephens writes,
In the rare instance where someone is a B and "becomes" a C, for example, it is much more likely that they were misclassified to begin with. Take the high school burnout for example. They may have been thought of as a A in high school, and now might be seen as a C or a D. The fact of the matter is, they were always a C or a D, it just wasn't always readily apparent.
Here’s an example of an A versus a D. The Buddy Holly glasses look has become a staple of Ds trying to look cool, but that is only because the As have done it (and done it well). Here is a picture of category A basketball star Carmelo Anthony with the Buddy Holly look:
He appears relaxed, natural, and cool. Now here is category D basketball star LeBron James attempting the same look:
In the strange new world of postmodern coolness, Ds will often times mistake other Ds for As. This is what I refer to as the Postmodern D, but is more commonly known as the hipster. There was a time when only cool was imitated, but the Postmodern D will imitate another hipster almost as much as they will imitate someone authentic, creating an inescapable vortex of uncoolness, where uncoolness is innumerably multiplied onto itself. Luckily the only ones getting trapped in this vortex are other hipsters, so the loss in not of consequence in the world of cool. The Postmodern D is an essay in itself and will be developed more in depth in the future by Mr. Stephens and I.
Hopefully this clarifies any uncertainty that lies within the Coolness System. Surely there will be cases that arise in which an individual appears not to fit in any of the categories. We welcome any dilemmas that may arise.