Feet of Clay, Example #1: Did Bob Dylan Sell Out in His Super Bowl Ad? Or What Is “True Cool?”

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“You can’t fake true cool,” said the Super Bowl ad starring Bob Dylan. No, but you can fake sincerity.

When I strolled by the television on Super Bowl Sunday, my biggest surprise was not the winning team. I was floored when I spotted Dylan extolling the virtues of the American auto industry. Here was a hero of my youth, hard-core counter-culture leader, patron saint of individualism and liberal politics, shilling for the business poster-child of America’s hyper-consumerism and waste.

I had heard his music as audio for ads, but I figured he didn’t have much control over that in the welter of copyrights and legalities. This was different. His music wasn’t featured. He appeared on camera praising Chrysler as a product worthy of purchase, superior to other cars because it’s American-made.

Discussions about his spot cover the gamut of opinion. Some people feel artists don’t have many options nowadays to make a living unless they include advertising. Or they think performing artists expand their audiences and fan bases in this manner. Others are puzzled and confused by this decision apparently in contradiction to his long-standing persona. The one says Dylan is just changing as he matures. Another that “Dylan stands as an image of integrity, independence, and authenticity,” so it’s good business sense to relate him to a produce.

Sorry. Not to me. Seems to me to be part and parcel of the traditional American attitude—make as much money as you can by any means possible so you can consume excessive amounts of everything. The ad also asks. “Is there anything more American than America?” and continues to eulogize our supposed virtues. An appeal to an unfortunate human value run rampant in many nations—xenophobic and parochial jingoism. Thinking your country is always the best and eternally right.

What’s the importance of “cool” anyhow, touted in the ad. The judgment about attitude, behavior, and style is a knee-jerk opinion important only to advertising copywriters and adolescents up to the age of thirty. “Cool” has no relationship to essential worth of a person or even a product or service, when compared to honest, intelligent, humorous, caring, beautiful, courteous, any number of qualities.

Also interesting, Chrysler isn’t even an American company any more. It is a consolidated subsidiary of Italian multinational automaker  I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with hypocrisy in advertising.

It looks like my high school social studies teacher came closer to predicting the future than others, including Bob Dylan or Chrysler. Mr. Balliat’s evidently revolutionary theory was that eventually all arguments pro and con about trade and manufacturing and business will shake themselves out, and those countries and groups of people who WANT to work in a particular industry and who are BEST SUITED for the responsibility will do so.

As for me, I own a Toyota.

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Cool, Cooler, Coolest

I never could quite understand the use of the term “cool.” I knew what it meant, even in its most esoteric placements. I just didn’t know why it was supposed to be the epitome of, well, of coolness.

The strange thing about cool is its persistence. Unlike other slang, such as groovy or gnarly, cool doesn’t lose popularity. And it’s uttered by people of all ages and backgrounds. Examples? I heard the word used recently on the Weather Channel as a reporter talked about a new piece of Google video equipment that fits on glasses and sends pictures of locations other than the one the viewer is facing. A teen friend of mine sprinkles gaps in conversation with the utterance, perhaps to give me assurance she’s listening to me in a desultory fashion. The Kardashians are concerned about the state. Kim K reportedly is worried she’s “losing her cool” because of her new baby (meaning her hip-ness, not her temper), and her brother assures her she is not.

Certainly other words come in and out of popularity. These may be related to age, social group, or geographic location. A boy I know uses “awesome” for his fill-in-the-blank accolades, while his cousin from Utah describes impressive items and activities as “amazing.” Brits use “brilliant” while “phat” came from black culture, according to several websites.

But nothing is as ubiquitous as “cool.” Cool’s eternal status may come from its multitude of origins. Its various meanings have been traced as far back as Beowulf in the Middle Ages (meaning unexcited, calm or dispassionate), and to diverse groups including African, British, Bostonian, Deep South, and other European roots. Cool also holds so many meanings, some diametrically opposed, that it can be inserted in any conversation, for any mood. These include excellent, acceptable, fashionable, not over-reacting, controlled, discreet, self-assured, popular,

Like any word, “cool” can become repetitive and incoherent if used too frequently. However, its surfeit undoubtedly is preferable to what is fast becoming another standard, especially for younger folk: the F-word. That means nothing at all. (For more info on “cool,” see http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-coo1.htm)