I've never been cool in my life. A lot of people claim this about themselves, but what they really mean is that they weren't part of the stereotypical popular crowd -- cheerleaders, sports stars, party people, taking the drugs, having the sex. Hollywood paints this picture of high schools and large communities in general as having one popular group everyone looks up to, and everyone else is an envious outsider, which is a weird, oversimplified dynamic I have never seen in my life.
High schools (and the various copies of high school you find in adult life) are a Venn diagram of cliques and sub-cliques and cross-cliques. Nobody in any clique gives a shit about who's popular in another one, unless it's an intersecting clique. None of the goths want to be a goddamn football player and any one of those weird band people thinks if she becomes queen of the band people she will outrank the head cheerleader.
"I told you, Josie made fun of my hat and she has to die, so can you, like, not call me back until it's done?"
This is how someone can have a good 20 to 30 people copying their every move, always trying to make ass-kissing jokes that impress them, and still claim to not be cool. Because if everyone looks up to you for your mathlete championship or your top-notch dungeon mastering, or something else "uncool," you can't possibly be cool no matter how many people are kissing your ring.
So let me be clear. I'm not just saying I wasn't "traditionally" cool. I also never found a place in some other "misfit" group where I patted other people on the back and they patted mine for not being as shallow as the cool people. I have never been cool to anybody. I was born with a bottle of Centrum Silver in one hand and a walker in the other.
Most of my other work consists of opinion pieces about whether kids should be on lawns (no).
I want to point this out because a lot of people like to jump on the "me too" bandwagon and claim they are also outsiders who have never been cool. Well, not so fast. There are a lot of new things that make you cool now, and chances are you probably do one of these things. If none of them apply to you, congratulations, I guess. You can move to Florida with me to do crossword puzzles and wait to die.
#5. Being Good at Video Games
We live in a world where you stand a pretty good chance of getting a high-five from a stranger if you can recite from memory an old cheat code from an NES game. Where Disney has made a blockbuster animated film based on classic game references. Where TV shows and commercials have characters play console games to show they're just regular folks.
When picturing an average game developer, most people used to think of pimply-faced nerds and fat, balding slobs with Coke-bottle glasses. Now the image that springs to mind is probably a rich, young douchebag. Probably neither one is a real positive stereotype, but the latter is the stereotype you put on the bullies and the cool kids, not the outcasts and weaklings. People are still suspicious of them, but in the same way you're suspicious of corporate America, not in the way you are suspicious of the homeless guy who talks to himself.
Though even those lines are blurred these days, I guess.
It makes sense, since the first generation to play video games is now in the prime of their lives, running big companies and being famous actors and telling everybody what is cool, which is apparently FPS and action games. (You can play a mobile game, but to be cool you have to complain about how stupid they are while you play them.)
I'm actually kind of pissed off about this one, because I used to really be into video games, and I got out just as it was becoming the "in" thing -- specifically, when all the games started requiring stupid things like hand-eye coordination and a reaction time faster than two seconds. You might wonder, "If you are so slow-reacting and uncoordinated that you can't pass the tutorial level of 80 percent of the games on the market, should you be allowed to drive?" Hey, if the DMV didn't catch it, that's their problem.
Besides, it's a great way to meet people.
So now I have to go to work and watch everybody discuss what they thought of GTA V or whatever and pretend to understand, because if I don't know what games are out there right now, everyone will somehow assume I'm stupid about everything and will kindly and patiently explain obvious things slowly to me in every conversation. Like if I come into a conversation when they are discussing politics, they will stop and make sure I know what an election is before continuing.
Because if I don't even know the difference between an open-world game and a shooter on rails, how can I be expected to know the difference between Barack Obama and a cat running for a Senate seat?
So, in order to not be thought of as the dumbest, oldest person in the room, I do my homework. I read game reviews, message boards, and watch my husband play games (he has normal motor skills). Then I go to work and tell them I heard the GTA Online Bad Sport system is buggy and they'll be all like, "Oh, thanks for letting me know, man! Clearly you are knowledgeable about the game!" And I'll be like, "Yes! I am a cool person who knows what is going on with the game!" and go back to studying message boards and blogs about games I will never be able to play.
Oh man, I hope no one at work reads Cracked.
#4. Understanding Rap (and Music in General)
I think I heard on a Cracked podcast that Chance the Rapper is cool.
It's almost guaranteed that in any discussion about posthumous works, someone will make a Tupac joke. If you are the only person in the group who doesn't get it, everyone will look at you like you are the squarest, oldest living embodiment of The Man ever.
I don't really know where you are supposed to learn this stuff. My school never had a rap legends unit in history class. I never had anybody to tell me which artists are legit and which artists are a joke.
It used to be as easy as seeing which ones were white, but now Eminem and Macklemore, or something? I told you I'm not good at this. You should also know something about the structure of the music, like what a beat is or what a hook is, or what EDM is (I believe it is a side effect of a nuclear explosion that disrupts electronic devices). Then there's rap subcultures, like East Coast vs. West Coast rap (East Coast rap is mainly about how cold it is, while West Coast rap is about things like sustainable, organic farm-to-table dining).
What rhymes with "gluten-free"?
Rap knowledge is probably the best shortcut to street cred, but you're expected to know about all kinds of music these days -- not necessarily whether it is good or bad, but what types of people listen to it. You use it as shorthand for describing people. Like when you want to call somebody a hipster, you say you bet they wear skinny jeans and ride a fixie and listen to ... uh ... Vampire Weekend? Cool people, feel free to insert the correct band. But you see my point, how stumbling over the correct band to finish that sentence makes me look a little squarer.
Meanwhile, the cool way to question your enemy's masculinity is to say they listen to ... One Direction? The easiest way to call a person old and out of touch is to say you found a bunch of Kenny G and John Tesh CDs in their glove compartment. Probably the most devastating way to flag someone as uncool is to out them as a person who is familiar with Christian musicians, like Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, MercyMe, Hillsong United, Michael W. Smith, Audio Adrenaline, Jeremy Camp, Matt Redman, Switchfoot ... oh shit.
Hey, look! Here's a picture of a cat!
Anyway, specific examples aren't important. The point is that you feel like an idiot when someone labels another person as a fan of a musician or genre and you have no idea whether they're insulting them or complimenting them or what.
And you can't figure it out just by listening to the music, either. You're just expected to absorb it if you "have a life," meaning you talk to a lot of different people and put the tidbits together. I guess that's why it's a litmus test for coolness, because cool people should be getting out there and meeting a lot of other cool people, and certainly not listening to Christian music: I don't even know who would do that.
#3. Knowing Your '80s
Here's a couple of girls dressed like Boy George.
Another ticket into the cool kids club is to know your '80s pop culture. You ought to laugh loudly during The Wedding Singer and claim you remember those jackets or that hairstyle. You should have a favorite member of the A-Team and an argument explaining why. You should be able to understand jokes making references to A Flock of Seagulls or Paula Abdul dancing with a cartoon cat.
Even people who do not get these jokes will usually laugh and pretend they know why that Airwolf Photoshop is funny, because everyone is inexplicably terrified of admitting they don't remember something from the '80s. Well, sometimes people who grew up in the '90s feel threatened and start exchanging Saved by the Bell references with other '90s people in an attempt to fight off the '80s talk, but it doesn't usually work. Like I said, my generation is in charge now, so you kids will have to wait 10 years or so for your turn to pretend Boy Meets World was a definitive moment in TV storytelling.
Unfortunately, I didn't actually pay any attention to the world during the '80s, because I was busy being a loser.
Not far off.
I did watch a lot of Transformers and G.I. Joe, but when you're having "'80s remembering time" with your co-workers or whoever, "'80s kids shows remembering time" is trumped by "'80s grown-up stuff remembering time," which is cooler because everybody was using it to rebel, and when it gets to that, nobody wants to hear about your favorite Transformers anymore. Everybody wants to talk about David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider and nobody wants to talk about K.I.T.T. (the car). Goddamn you, Hasselhoff, you scene-stealing narcissist: nobody would watch your show if the car didn't talk.
My point is that it turns out everyone's memories of the '80s revolve around dated music, tacky fashions, Ronald Reagan, Wall Street, and teen movies, while the whole time I thought the '80s was mostly about vehicles that talked. So I collected all the wrong sorts of trivia, and now I'm stuck sweating while pretending to participate in discussions about The Breakfast Club vs. Predator, lest people think I am a Chinese spy.