A few years ago myself and a friend had an idea for a book. We both agreed that it would be a terrific, horrific cultural potboiler. It was going to be called The New Global Cool, and it would be one of those ‘identifying a generation’ books that take a load of cultural reference points and string them together on a thread spun from the very laziest generalisations and assumptions.
The book was going to claim that there was a ‘new global cool’ among the generation just below ours (let’s say teens through mid-late twenties). There was always going to be lots of Internet stuff (file-sharing especially), and probably a chunk of post-no-logo protest-ideology blather. The core of it, though, was going to be about the arts: so in our chapter on the literature of TNGC, we’d cover Murakami, Houllebecq, Eggers’ lot (inc. Lady Zadie) maybe Lethem, Pahluniak, Neal Stephenson, Delillo as a precursor – it didn’t really matter if they had nothing much in common, since we were sure we could come up with something to glue them together.
You can write this yourself, right? You can see how it’s not totally arbitrary, but lets you get away with murderous conflation. I’m reconstructing rather than remembering, but for music you could go Radiohead and Wilco, for films you might have Battle Royale or Donnie Darko. Buffy‘s in TV, I guess. Art could be the other Murakami. Throw in Matthew Barney too. We could do Zizek as a philosopher. Maybe John Gray: although we’re drifting pretty far from cool there, it wouldn’t really matter – we’d ignore the fact that TNGC generation didn’t read him, just as we’d ignore any history that didn’t fit our arguments.
I don’t remember discussing this, but we’d have to put in a chapter on sex to help it sell: its actual audience wouldn’t be the (essentially made-up) people we’re talking about, but a slightly older crowd who are scared that a)they’re out of touch and b)younger people are having more fun than them.
(Hmm. that a), b) formulation is getting to be a tic. I’m leaving it in so I can wonder if it’s mine or a general mannerism of internet prose. It’s like the fossil of a formal joke.)
We never thought too hard about what we’d extrude to pad the references – something, I guess, about going beyond Postmodernism, search for values in an age of uncertainty, avant-garde and mainstream together at last, distinctions between high and low culture collapsed. You can write that yourself too, I imagine.
We felt incredibly dirty having hypothesised this. It felt like a mean and dishonest critical project, clerical treason, all integrity ablated, a simoniacal betrayal selling culture’s specificity, variety and complexity for a sequence of radically foolish assumptions and rushed-off conclusions that would peacock around trailing gaudy imitations of meaning: in short – and I hesitate to use the most hurtful adjective of all – it was DeBotton.
It’s only the idea of the book (and, of course, the BBC4 telly series that would inevitably follow) that gets my bile up: I mean to imprecate neither the works I’ve or listed nor those who love them; I like a fair few myself. Even arguing through the ideas is obviously cool: it’s just doing it in the 4th-Estate, Weekend-Supplement way that disgusts.
I mention this now because the other day I mentioned I was obsessed by Jason Parkes, Britain’s Number One Amazon Reviewer; and I think what freaked me was how much he resembled the (made-up) subjects of TNGC. To write the thing, I could just go through his reviews, refer to something he likes, then think of some way to fit it into TNGC paradigm (I just looked now, in fact, and thought ‘Of course we’d feature Bill Hicks! He’d lead off the comedy chapter!’)
This sounds mean. It’s not meant to. I can’t help it. I must have a mean heart that I can’t help.
Anyway, as I believe I was saying, if any major publishing house wants The New Global Cool, we can knock it out in time for Christmas. Finish that Thesis, Matt – I hear 4th Estate calling!
We’re using pseudonyms, right?