Stories in pop culture: What gets you thinking?

In the ninth grade, my best friend introduced me to the film Almost Famous. If you haven’t seen it, the movie basically tells the story of William Miller, and aspiring rock journalist who travels with the fictitious band Fever Dog to write an article for Rolling Stone magazine.  Before meeting the band, William runs into Lester Bangs, a famous rock journalist who attempts to dissuade the naïve teenager from associating with rock stars.  In his monologue, Lester mentions rock and roll’s transformation into an “industry of cool,” (which, William, of course, takes note of) and how rock stars “are trying to buy respectability for a form that is gloriously and righteously dumb.”

Almost Famous: William meets Lester

Lester’s advice makes me wonder, what is “cool”?

This movie, and Lester’s advice, probably couldn’t’ve come at a more applicable time in my life.  Think about it: the ninth grade was a pivotal time for self-expression.  If you didn’t make the right impression that year, there was the unspoken potential to be—gasp!—dubbed “uncool” for the next four years.  Although I’m sure not everyone felt this pressure to the same degree, chances are, it was there, lurking behind the pictures you chose for you locker and the pins you attached to your bookbag.  In retrospect, and despite my efforts, I definitely didn’t know what “cool” was at the age of 14.

Now I’m 21.  I still find myself saying “That’s cool” in everyday speech.  What I’m trying to express, however, is, “that’s neat” or “awesome”—I think?  But, when applied to the individual, e.g. “I’m cool,” is the speaker implying, “I’m awesome”?  Somehow “cool” just doesn’t seem that versatile.

By describing cool as “an industry,” Lester Bangs makes an interesting point about the commodification of this ambiguous… term/thing.  Apparently “cool” can be something with value, and perhaps even a price, for some people.  If so, is “cool” only attainable to those who can afford it—but what would you even buy it with in the first place?

I think Lester’s “industry of cool” represents the human obsession with what others think, and how, if it goes too far, we stop thinking for ourselves and begin acting how we think others would prefer us to act.  Maybe “cool” a state of mind or being.  In the ninth grade, maybe it was a social status.  Whatever “cool” is (if it’s really anything to begin with), it will always linger in the grey area for me as a term I should probably use more sparingly.

Okay, enough with this, I think I’m going to edit my blog to ensure it looks nice (or cool?) enough so other bloggers don’t judge my digital façade too harshly.


  1. If you like the movie, then you should definitely check out the soundtrack. It’s one of my favorites! Interesting sounding book, by the way.

  2. While I haven’t actually ever seen the movie you are talking about, I really enjoyed reading this, especially about “the industry of cool” where you mentioned the human-obsession about what others think. It is really a interesting concept. I personally think this “industry of cool” prospers so much because everyone to an extent craves some sort of a link to the people surrounding them. Whether it be being the one leading, being just like everyone else, or by being purposefully different. I also think this is why facebook and similar websites are so prominent, because people want some sort of verification that people in this world knows the exist. People just want to be recognized by others in this massive world we all are living in.

  3. I took a class on consumerism last semester (which, I know, does not make me even close to an expert, so forgive me if that came across at all know it all). But *anyway*, we read a book called “The Conquest of Cool”, which made the very convincing argument that all of consumerism is driven by a consumer’s desire to be cool. Thus, advertising plays to that desire and fuels it, only exacerbating this ridiculous cycle that has each of us, 21 or 51, still identifying with the 14 year olds inside of us on the first day of school when we decide we *need* something.

    So, yes. Good point. And also I love this movie too!