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.

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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)