By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Let’s talk temperature.
I’m not talking Fahrenheit — or Celsius.
What interests me is social temperature.
Just when did it become cool to be hot? Are we due for another societal shift? I feel a nip in the air — and not just because it’s December.
When I was growing up, in the height of the post-war Baby Boom. That’s World War II, I’m sad to have to point out, since we, like our parents during World War I, were told the global devastation that came just before we entered the planet was the war to end all wars.
As we know, it didn’t turn out that way.
But back to those temperature trends.
By the 1960s and 70s, being dubbed “cool” was the ultimate compliment, the best of everything in categories ranging from fashion, furniture, art, music and dance to sex appeal, hair, and most of all, attitude.
In fact, if you had the right attitude and the confidence to project it, you could be the coolest person in the room even if your skills sets were lacking in just about every area.
Marshal McLuhan even acquired an international reputation upon a communication theory built around the concept of hot and cool media.
I’m not sure when the reign of cool began. The parents of baby boomers still thought that being “hot stuff” was a great tribute, and even those into cool jazz admired musicians who contributed hot licks.
But somewhere along the line, cool became king. It was, I suspect, sometime, around the 1950s, about the time of cool jazz and rock and roll.
And, of course, the Cold War, which wasn’t cool at all. Maybe it was the protest generation, railing against that, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the military industrial complex, et al, that finally solidified the commitment to cool.
And I’m equally unsure about when the shift began to hot. There were serious inroads as early as the 1980s, with the advent the Me Generation heating up extreme consumerism and the economy, and movies like “Body Heat” setting the standard for steamy sexuality. (Though those of us who actually lived in the movie’s muggy Florida location know it was much more romantic to spend an evening in cool, air-conditioned comfort.)
But when it comes to complete conversion to the upper reaches of the societal thermostat, I think I’d call it sometime around the advent of the new millennium, when “hot” clearly constituted about half of Paris Hilton’s vocabulary. (The other half was “that’s,” as in “That’s hot.”)
I sympathize. Even for the Greatest Generation and the Protest Generation, who’ve been through quite a lot, it was hard to remain cool when the Twin Towers were falling, wars were heating up on too many fronts, the super-heated economy was tanking, and global warming was melting the polar icecaps.
Of course, that’s exactly when cool heads should prevail, and I begin to see signs the Gen Xers and their younger Y and Z siblings were beginning to gravitate to cool.
I saw rappers wearing fedoras and plucking up posters, music and the general ambience of the Rat Pack. Though Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter and Joey weren’t really part of the cool Baby Boomer generation, they were among the first of our parents’ generation to be given the “cool” nod, our ultimate compliment.
And they embraced and embodied it with a style and élan that most of us Gen-Protest kids had a hard time emulating.
Flower power and much of the hippie culture, and certainly Jack Nicholson were very cool early on (Jack never lost his cool and remains the perpetually cool gold standard today.) But again, things heated up, with the wars, struggles against racism and political corruption and drugs ... and free love, that turned out to be not so free after all.
What will the new cool model turn out to be? Just fedoras and retro cocktails and a reprise of ugly green and orange decor, or something more?
If cooler tempers and rationality prevail over the hotheads in these hot and tumultuous times...
Well, that’s cool with me.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org