The Reconquest of Cool

The Reconquest of Cool

Forty years after corporations hijacked "cool," we need to start generating authentic cool from the bottom up again.

Joe Szabo Smoking Girl.jpg
Photo: Joe Szabo

From its roots in Africa through to the youth cultures of the present day, cool has always been an attitude of resistance to subjugation, an expression of rebellion and a posture of defiance.

During the ’60s, in the midst of one of the biggest cultural revolutions of our time, corporations discovered that cool could be incredibly profitable. While young people spontaneously took to the streets and organized festivals and anti-war protests, corporations started raiding their counterculture for eye-catching signifiers and stylistic expressions to incorporate into their marketing campaigns.

Thus began a two-step dance of authentic cool and fake, commercialized cool. As Thomas Frank explains in his 1997 book, The Conquest of Cool, bit by bit cool “became central to the way capitalism understood itself and explained itself to the public.” In one of the most stunning cultural coups d’état ever, ad agency gurus figured out “how to construct cultural machines that transform alienation and despair into consent.”

Forty years after the corporate takeover of cool, we find ourselves again in an era of extraordinary cultural and political upheaval. Global warming has us running scared, an epidemic of mood disorders is eroding our confidence, and as the War on Terror morphs into an open-ended World War IV, we are feeling more insecure than ever.

Kaapo Kamu
Photo: Kaapo Kamu

Suddenly, people are waking up in droves from the dreamland of corporate cool. We’re realizing that ever since we were little babies crawling around the TV sets in our living rooms, we’ve been lied to, propagandized, and told incessantly, day after day, that we can find happiness through consumption. That’s why, like rats in a Skinner box, we’ve kept on pressing that BUY button – millions of us marching in lockstep, all dreaming the same consumerist dream.

Now the fog is lifting. We’re finally beginning to understand where this bogus cool has been leading us: not to happiness and prosperity as promised in the ads, but to cynicism, ecocide and a brutal, dog-eat-dog future.

This is the magic moment in which capitalist cool can stumble and authentic cool can start bubbling back up again. And after decades of wandering around the wilderness, we on the Left are finally realizing what that magic moment is all about. Clive Hamilton – author of Growth Fetish and Affluenza – nails it in his 2006 article, “What’s Left? The Death of Social Democracy,” when he writes, “The defining problem of modern industrial society is not injustice but alienation... the central task of progressive politics today is to achieve not equality, but liberation.”

Forget about treating the symptoms. Forget about the hedgemaze of identity politics. Break away from the glorious equality and social justice battles of the past. Instead, liberate yourself from the capitalist mindfuck. Learn to live without dead time. Start generating authentic cool from the bottom up again. The rest will follow.

158 comments on the article “The Reconquest of Cool”

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Octavio Cardenas

Be cool is just another commercial cool of well be. If you're not cool, you're out, if you're out, you're not part of us! Who are they?
who's behind the curtains? Who's teaching and who's learning of been cool?


i think that cool is a permanent state of being. i think you are or you arent. and i think trying to be cool totally defeats the purpose.


its just about not getting hot-headed about it. its about flowing gracefully and magnifient like a stream, unaltered by the winds they're blowing on you. its about being truthful, not buying into the model of what they say is cool. and cigarette is exactly what corporate cool is about. its cool you buy and get addicted to.


listen, 22 year old male retail worker southern california: Our generation is the turning point my friends. We must unite as one people. At my work, we are all wearing the same colors. It is WAY PAST the individual at this point. Collectivize or be ground into dust by the gears of commercialism.


Cool is caring enough to show up. Cool is not praising everything that is shinny that comes around the corner. Cool is asking questions. Who does Kalle think is cool? Does he believe in all the bullshit in his own magazine? Is their anything right going on today or just more doom and gloom? How can I have self confidence when everyone is telling me things are going to shit? Why can I not stop thinking about how thins is all going to pan out? Why does it feel like we have all done this before? HOW about the rubber tires and forest fires?


being cool is not giving a shit about what other people say or think about what you do. people who do not affect your life anyway. if you want to be cool, stop caring about what society says and does. do your own thing and love doing it. thats the definition. you cant necessarily blame companies, they don't know what cool is at all. i don't even notice advertising anymore.


The smoking of the world has effected so many people, why change the socity in killing society, my uncle has been killed my second hand smoke, and the pain and greif that arose in my family had changed my WHOLE generation's life. We all oathed that we would never smoke, but yet some still do. So please
not only does it effect us, the ones who smoke it, but the ones that make it, child labour, poverty etc. etc.

Mind Drain

Being cool is simple its being the romanticized cowboy, with little attachment to worldly possesions and a silent stoic self possesion and a wry wit. or just rebelling against the plague of conditioning with underlying ideology, live free or die?


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