Don’t sweat it, coolness is a social construct

The Burlington Bunpkin


Katie Brobst, Assistant Life Editor

When I was in kindergarten, the cool kids wore bell bottoms and were growing out their baby bangs. But the definition of cool grew more complicated as I got older.

Now, coolness is measured by how many personal electronics you have and whether or not your ears are pierced.

The Oxford English Dictionary website defines the cool aesthetic as a person “not affected by passion or emotion.”

The crowdsourced definition on Urban Dictionary describes someone cool as “superior, desirable, worthy of approval.”

As I see it, every subculture and social group will have its own criteria for what is considered cool. This can be expressed in the way we dress, how we act and the slang we use.

And in college, you are essentially thrown into a new set of criteria for what it means to be cool.

“I think there are actually a few different kinds of cool at UVM,” senior Claudia Garber said.

Garber believes that in a big University like this, being cool can mean something different for every social group.

“For some, it’s cool to be trendy and wear quirky clothes, but for others it might be cool to be part of a fraternity,” she said.

Here, it’s cool to listen to indie rock music, it’s cool to dye your hair, it’s cool to have a man bun, and it’s cool to spend afternoons in a hammock behind the chapel.

“Anyone in outing club,” sophomore Abbey Gallaudet said when asked about the epitome of a cool UVM student.

As a senior at UVM, I’ve noticed that, especially among the upperclassmen, an aloofness is the key to being cool.

Gallaudet said that coolness in college is very different from high school.

Where sports, popularity and who you dated all seemed to matter back then, “nobody really cares about that here,” Gallaudet said.

The disinterested and composed attitude that characterizes cool people at UVM also creates other subsets, such as the nerds, a group I identify with.

In my opinion, nerds are people who care about something a lot — they are overly-enthusiastic and passionate about one particular thing.

This passion directly opposes the emotional control and indifference that is associated with being cool.

When a professor asks a question, it’s cool to sit back, cross your arms and remain haughtily silent.

Letting your hand shoot up to answer shows that you care and have interest in what is being discussed, and being interested is not cool.

But I would vote in an instant that people who are passionate, engaged, and yes, nerdy, are incredibly fun to be around.

I try not to spend my time worrying about looking or acting cool, but I do think about how I look and how others see me.

A Feb 2012 University of Rochester study boiled coolness down to this: “Do I like this person? Is this person nice to people, attractive, confident and successful?”

There’s no set definition for cool and though it can be mysterious and alluring, “I think it’s important to be yourself,” Gallaudet said. “If you do that, you’ll find the people who think you’re cool.”

In film class, I learned about a concept very similar to coolness: the ‘other.’

The ‘other’ is how we perceive everyone else to be acting or doing.

It’s what kids are referring to when they “everyone else is doing it, mom!” and the mentality that causes use to “jump off the bridge” with all our friends.

In reality, everyone is doing a variety of things and the concept of ‘other,’ much like cool, is arbitrary.

It’s silly then that we so often let these trivial ideas govern our actions and behaviors.

“I think people are always concerned about being cool,” Garber said. “Maybe cool is just a setting on air conditioners.”