In a word: Fanny Packs

Right now we’re in the awkward phase where fanny packs are at the same time really uncool and really cool. It’s that crazy paradox that I was talking about last year: Something becomes cool and then more and more people start doing it… next thing you know your dad is wearing a pleather fanny pack and trying to get in all the photos your friends are taking. Some would call it a moment of clarity.

This is a good time to bring up a solid guideline: coolness is typically generation specific. This isn’t a set in stone rule, just a guideline. In other words: if you’re totally into something and your parents are also seriously into it… take a look at your self, pretty scary

it's no accident that without the fanny pack her outfit would be shapeless and unflattering

Interestingly enough the very thing that makes fanny packs uncool: that fact that they’re horribly ugly and embraced mostly by people who have no interest in fashion, is the exact thing that makes them so cool… Look at this dialectic in action:

When you see her you probably think something along the lines of, “Oh I haven’t see that in a while… what a new take.” Look at how sincerely she doesn’t care.  Her eyes say, ” It doesn’t matter what you think I’m wearing this because I like it, no other reason”

Obviously a "path of least resistance" type of guy

Now look at this guy, He literally does, not, care what you think. His fanny pack serves two purposes: it holds up his sweat pants  and it contains his wallet, cell phone, and keys… and some gum.

I know who you would rather hang out with, but ask yourself why?

If the dialectic of something being cool and sucking at the same time is too hard to understand, allow me to put it in terms that are easier to comprehend: On one hand you have capitalism on the other you have communism (this is all just theoretical because you can’t ever get all one or the other). You go far enough right capitalism becomes fascism… you go far enough left and communism becomes socialism… just a little bit farther right and left and you get to a party where Mussolini is riding a horse backwards and Lenin is wearing a clown nose and shoes and they’re each offering to play you a song on their shared kazoo.

It won’t always be this way, she won’t always be in to this bag, and he’ll die probably to be buried in a suit or something. Eventually you’ll be able to buy fanny packs at Banana Republic and Express, he won’t know because he doesn’t know what those stores are and she’ll be modeling backless Lycra body suits for American Apparel.

All I’m saying is take note because you can never stick a pin in cool, but at this moment cool is sitting right on top of uncool’s head, they’re both wearing fanny packs, one neon green, and one is velvet

Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Steam crunk: can fantasies stay cool forever?

So far in the blog I’ve talked about things that exist as they travel the very short path between Cool and Suck… but what about things or ideas that don’t exist?

It’s a question of real vs. imaginary; consider this:

|cool| = the value of 1 real (not imaginary) cool unit and

|i|cool| = the value of 1 imaginary cool unit

These values are expressed popularly using the International Cool Unit scale: Icu1, Icu2, Icu3… for a measure of real (not imaginary) cool and iIcu1, iIcu2, iIcu3 for a measure of imaginary cool.

This is what Gavin looks like, only mathier.

This is what Gavin looks like, only mathier.

Technically it’s impossible to use imaginary cool units in any sort of computations so it’s necessary to convert an expression of [iIcu*n (where n = any real integer)] into a more standard [Icu*n] expression. There is a relatively simple formula for doing this computation: {[iIcu*n] * [1ctB]} – [1ctB] = [X]. The [n*ctB] is a measure of suck and stands for “calling things ‘Boss’”.

We used to just drop the ‘i’ but then this guy we work with named Gavin got this new coat, it’s totally rad, (it’s velvet but it’s cut to look like rubber fetish gear, seriously it’s super cool. At least it sounds cool, nobody’s seen it, but Gavin told us all about it.) anyway Gavin suggested the new formula and it sounded really cool so that’s what we use.

Probably the best way to consider the coolness of something imaginary is to examine a real imaginary thing; I’m just reaching into my imaginary hat and pulling out an imaginary item at random… Steam Punk!

Lets compare it to a real thing, this one I’ll choose based on a very specific but undisclosed set of criteria… and it’s, crunk!

computationalengineSteampunk is basically a fantasy voyage into a parallel world where everything is driven by steam and gears… I think that also in place of the interweb we would literally have a complicated system of tubes, pneumatic tubes that is, but maybe not. Anywho… Steampunk is a real life subculture based on a set of fictional ideas (which I suppose would technically make it a counterculture). There are steampunk clothes, novels, movies, tv shows, and most importantly mods!

Steampunk mods are things that people rebuild or decorate so that they are or look like they are steam powered. People are crazy for steampunk and steampunk out everything from computers and motorcycles to insects and Abraham Lincoln.

Crunk on the other hand, though a bit silly at times, is a real thing, there’s no fantasy about it. Crunk is a mix of southern hip-hop and electronica, and word on the street that crunk stands for “crazy drunk” but could also be a reference to a plant called marijuana that is either used topically or smoked to get “high” (I do live in North Seattle though, so “word on the street” is probably the same as “the word on wikipedia” I’ve also heard that crunk might be a reference to drinking cough syrup with codeine, but that’s just sillyness. Ask Goatse.).lil-john-crunk

The history of crunk, as far as I can tell, was spun into motion by Outcast; they first used the term in 1994 on their track Hootie Hoo, on their album “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”. By the time they released their next album, which was heavily peppered with the term, “ATLiens”; crunk was transforming from just a word into a real life Thing… you can guess where this is going. That’s right, Lil John, crunk juice, and crunk potato chips.

Crunk went from being essentially a nonsensical word; to defining a new genre of music, expressing the quality of weed, and inspiring movies; to entering the popular lexicon; now it’s loosing popular enthusiasm; and eventually it will either be forgotten or fade ambiguously into being a standard facet of culture like jeans or death metal.

gogglesBoth steam punk and crunk were created/imagined, then embraced by a few, and eventually celebrated by a larger but still elite group; this is where the two star-crossed lovers (or are they brothers? It’s hard to say… have you ever seen them kiss?) part company. Crunk has its own energy drink, pimp cups (a market previously dominated by Bike™), and chips.

Steam punk, even though I’m sure you can buy a leather corset or old-school flight goggles at some malls, is mostly DIY. Meaning that it’s cool and it’s either gaining or fading in popularity (the important thing is that it’s moving); all this means that eventually those people who first loved steam punk will eventually be bored by and reject it.

It’s not clear if steampunk has already crested, is about to crest, or is still growing is popularity.  Steampunk’s progression through the cool/suck spectrum has a different arc than crunk’s; steampunk is undeniably on  the same journey that tight pants, big hair, and tube tops have already completed (and begun again). Right now we’re so close to steampunk that it’s hard for us to view it objectively.

It may seem like steam punk is going so strong right now that it will never die (and if it does my

47 I'll be laughing... at you.

You laugh now, but at 1:47 I'll still be wearing this but I'll be the ONLY one laughing.

“steampunk 4eva” neck tattoo will be pretty embarrassing), but I’ll bet my facebeard that in 500 or 1000 earth years, when alien scientists visit our toxic husk of a planet, steampunk will be a blip on the cultural time right before Kevlar entered fashion.

It’ll be a while before the computer finishes processing but early indications seem to say that steam punk is somewhere between 4 and 5 on in the range of cool/suck. Meaning that steam punk clothes are likely going to become available at a wider range of or retail outlets and probably soon we’ll see computers, kitchen appliances, cars, and or furniture tricked out steampunk style. Of course after that it’s all down hill for steam punk.

Published in: on February 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Customnation and coolization

So lately I’ve been getting a lot of emails asking about customization and coolness; check this one out:
Hello Master Silas –
I’m am writing at this time to inform you that your long lost great uncle has died. He was a wealthy philanthropist in my country. Shortly before his untimely death his entire family was killed in a paddleboat explosion. At the time of his death none of his nearest relatives were living. This unfortunate coincidence makes you his closest living relative and that recipient of his fairly large estate worth in excess of $700,000 quadrillion all you need to do to claim this inheritance is to send a check to me at….

Sorry, that’s a message about some money that I’ve inherited, it’s kind of lame because before I can get the funds released I have to send them $10,000 and wait for 6 months…

Anyway here’s the email that I meant to post:
Silas –
Please be explain me how customnation help to make something fancycool?

She's crafty.

She's crafty.

Billiam
Ok so this is an email dramatization, but it’s typical of the email messages I receive, and it’s a damn good question.

Eventually everything that is handmade or customized that holds the title of Cool (note the capital C; you do that when you’re using “cool” as a proper noun) gets mass-produced. Understand my words more better by imagine them in your thought box.

Think about pimped out cars. Now think about that MTV show: Pimp my ride. Now think about the irony of having brush guards on your Chevrolet Suburban…

What was I talking about? Say, have you seen these new Scions that Toyota has been making? They are so cool you can customize everything from your rims and sport pedals to lighted cup holders and body side graphics (I’m pretty sure that these are some sort of fancy sticker) and don’t forget about sales people that call you dude and fist bump you after you sign the papers.

Secret Moderates?

Secret Moderates?

Sure there are still a lot of things you can do to pimp your car aside from what you can pay the dealer to do, but there is a lot of pre-pimpin’ that you can just drive off the lot with. Yes you guessed it: Pimpin’ your car is no longer cool. As a result of this, or at least in conjunction with, the “g” is back. Yep, it’s not pimpin’ your ride any longer now it’s called “pimping”. Yes you heard it here first: pimping cars has moved from “cool” to “suck”. Hey major auto makers and MTV thanks for ruining tricked out cars.

My decree has but one exemption: Switches… and wood paneling, I guess that’s two. So the coolest auto you could have now is like a classic wood paneled station wagon with all original components and hydraulics.

Cars are no longer cool to pimp, so where do we go from here? Back to DIY customization! Think about bicycles. Good, now think about pimpin’ them out… yes pimpin’ can still be used for bikes. “But Silas, I have never heard of that!” Exactly! Are you still thinking of pimped out bicycles? Guess what! You’re thinking of Scraper Bikes!

Ok I know that this video is like a year old,  more than a million people have watched it on youtube, and NPR has already done a story about Scraper Bikes, but seriously did you see that guy with the hat made out of composition books? And I ask you, “Where could I buy that stuff?” NOWHERE! These kids are going to rule the entire world someday very soon; I hope they accept my internship application.

These kids are taking everything that you loved about scrapers (cars) and applying it to bikes and it’s totally DIY, which means… have you been paying attention? Yes that’s right! Reinvention of a tired idea + DIY + you not knowing about it= cool.

I mean, did you see those things? they’re totally rad! They made rims out of construction paper and masking tape! I think I saw one of those dudes riding a bike with ribbons hanging off the end of the handle bars; that’s so awesome that if I even talk about it, I suck.

Published in: on February 8, 2009 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

the paradoxical turd blossom of cool/suck

Cool is a chimera. It has no permanent shape. Paradoxically, the moment you’ve gotten a hold of it cool begins changing shape into something which you do not grasp. More accurately, cool is always changing. You can’t possess it as a static thing, the best you can hope for is to grab onto it for a moment as it passes; if you’re lucky you can keep grabbing on in different places. The people and things that we believe to be cool are usually not really cool yet. When I think of cool in this way, it becomes something intangible.

The very people who define something as cool, so effectively that others believe them, start thinking that thing sucks relatively soon after others begin embracing  their idea. Certainly by the time that Target has an isle full of scraper bikes, the kids were so enthusiastic about them will start doing something different and calling it something else.

It’s kind of a sad reality that the people who originally define things as cool, don’t generally profit from their ideas; in the end they loose what they’ve created to corporate reverse-engineering. For example: when Wal-mart is selling mesh-back hats with the bills ripped off and identical frayed threads, the kids who first ripped the bills from their trucker caps will reject their very own originality.

This is a representation of how something progresses from being lame to being cool and then back to sucking. Of course it's important to note that these values are through the eyes of the population at large. Like the idea of the unknown, the idea of cool is to big/complex to fully understand, that's why we have this graph and religion. You may be thinking, "Silas 'Cool' is so awesome, truly breathtaking, that it's impossible to capture it's essence with a graph, and a two dimentional one at that

This is a representation of how something progresses from being lame to being cool and then back to sucking. Of course it's important to note that these values are through the eyes of the population at large. Like the idea of the unknown, the idea of cool is to big/complex to fully understand, that's why we have this graph and religion. You may be thinking, "Silas 'Cool' is so awesome, truly breathtaking, that it's impossible to capture it's essence with a graph, and a two dimensional one at that!" And you're right, that's why there will be more graphs and behavior modification... I promise you that I'm going to make you the person you've always wanted to be.

In the graph above the white bell curve represents how cool something is considered to be by the general population; the colors are for the people who don’t understand graphs; and the numbers are the beginning of a system that will allow us to rate the coolness of something with a single number (eventually it will be a number with one decimal place = 4.3 for scraper bikes or 6.7 for calling things ‘Boss’ however the decimal system is still on the drawing board, literally).

This is our first attempt at the numerical rating system, so it’s definitely going to change with fine tuning. Below is the first attempt at descriptifying what the numbers signify:

At the value of 1: (virtually) nobody thinks it’s cool / idea doesn’t exist

At the value of 2: a small’ish group of trendsetters create or redefine component

At the value of 3: the idea or object is adopted by a broader but still somewhat elite group.

At the value of 4: the object or idea is known of by a large part of the population / awareness extends beyond the originating demographic

At the value of 5: The object is mass produced and available at retail outlets that serve the originating demographic; this is the crux of the biscuit, so to speak

At the value of 6: the object is mass-produced and available at retail outlets serving demographics who’s bowels the idea did not emerge from

At the value of 7: The object is discounted at retail outlets and available at low-end retail outlets / it is still mass produced but from lower quality materials.

At the value of 8: object/trend has no stylish appeal and has faded into the abyss of being a standard option or has lost so much popularity that even discount retailers have abandon it, only available at thrift stores

At the value of 9: object my still be embraced by a small group of collectors or fetishists

At the value of 0:  component sucks (lather, rinse, repeat)

Much like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “five stages or grief”, a thing doesn’t have to pass through all of the stages of cool sequentially; something doesn’t even have to hit every stage in any order. Basically these are just the possible stations of cool/suck.

That is all for now.

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 9:22 pm  Comments (2)  

The Cool/Suck Spectrum

One of my favorite things about things sucking or being cool is that none of it is static. Things suck for a while and they become less and less popular and then all of the sudden someone who is cool decides that the thing that sucks is cool; then all of the sudden that thing is cool again. On the other hand some things are cool for so long and become so popular that they start to suck. For example hipsters:

Notice the intentionally mismatched clothes, the calculated disheveledness, the bad glasses? that's not an easy look to create. Part of the reason that these hipsters are so cool is because they worked so hard to look like they hate the idea of cool. By doing so they've actually moulded cool into the shape of a hipster.

Notice the intentionally mismatched clothes, the calculated disheveledness, the bad glasses? that's not an easy look to create. Part of the reason that these hipsters are so cool is because they worked so hard to look like they hate the idea of cool. By doing so they've actually moulded cool into the shape of a hipster.

Now look at these squares wearing the new hipster onesies avalible at Macys. Part of the reason that they embody suck so much is that they didn't work at looking shitty. These outfits just have three snaps in the back, it's just too easy. Time turned hipster shaped cool and somehow turned it into hipster shaped suck.

Now look at these squares wearing the new hipster onesies avalible at Macys. Part of the reason that they embody suck so much is that they didn't work at looking shitty. These outfits just have three snaps in the back, it's just too easy. Time took hipster shaped cool and somehow turned it into hipster shaped suck.

The Cool / Suck Spectrum isn’t just affected by time it’s also a regional thing. I know it’s way over talked about but a great example of this is Mullets; in Europe and South America mullets are perfectly acceptable for cool people. Here’s a couple of examples with their American counter parts:

Look at how confident this European mullet is.

Look at how confident this European mullet is.

This American mullet is equally confident but i think we call all agree that he's infinitely douchier

This American mullet is equally confident but i think we call all agree that he's infinitely douchier

Here's an Argentinean mullet grabbing a fence that he's clearly probibited from touching.

Here's an Argentinean mullet grabbing a fence that he's clearly prohibited from touching.

Here's another American mullet, no doubt watching as his friends rape some city folk.

Here's another American mullet, no doubt watching as his friends rape some city folk.

What does the future hold for cool and suck? Who knows? But my guess is that old school cellphones are on the way back in. Nobody is using them anymore and that’s a pretty good indication that they are really cool.

Look at how hot that phone is!

Look at how hot that phone is!

Published in: on January 30, 2009 at 10:17 pm  Comments (2)  

A few things that are cool

Ergonomic toilet seats, Band-Aids that look like strips of bacon, cellular telephones, saying the full name of things, cartoons that are not intended to be viewed by children, astrophysicists, Canada, home made clothes (well some home made clothes),

house plants, geodesic domes, that book Buckminster Fuller wrote: Untitled Epic Poem On The History Of Industrialization, nano-bots, coffee, Reggae, sustainability,

Laser floss, silent bullets (bullets aren’t especially cool because they kill more people than moustaches, but if they were silent, now that would be something worth noting, and possibly even referring to as cool)

When you say something seriously and then people laugh because they think you’re joking and then you can say, “No but seriously, sharks DO have very sharp teeth and your father probably DID die a very painful death.”

The Navy's controvertial "Shark Antagonizing Prorgam"

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 7:33 am  Comments (2)  

So when I was in Junior high I had this word processor, and I used it. I used it to make these lists; the two that people liked the most were “Things that are cool” and “Stuff that sucks”. They were by no means exhaustive, I mean really how would that even be possible? Seriously? how could someone keep up with all the new stuff that is sucking all the time?

In this last year I’ve been getting lots and lots of requests to  recreate these two lists. Of course I can’t capture that youthful idealism that I used to have; I think all the pockets of my identity where the hope and fantasy used to live are all musty and caustic  from the cynicism that I’ve been growing in there. What I mean is that I can’t possibly recreate those lists, but what I can do is update the idea, or at least try. I mean I can’t decide what’s cool and what sucks, I”m just really good at identifying which group things fall into.

Well I guess it’s not that cut and dry but something can’t be cool at the same time as it sucks.

Since, as I mentioned, I won’t be able to list everything that is cool and everything that sucks, you may have to send my your thoughts of things that I’ve missed. I wrote some stuff out this morning over breakfast (by morning I mean 12:00).

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 7:26 am  Leave a Comment