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Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude

By Dick Pountain & David Robins. Reaktion, 2000. 192pp. £12.95

This is the most facile and pretentious book that I've read in a long while, writes David Taylor. 'Cool Rules' , says Malcolm McLaren on the book- jacket blurb, 'should be mandatory for all students, young criminals, artists and wannabes under 16'. In truth it is hard to see quite what the readership will be of a book which tries in vain to define 'cool' as a bonafide 'movement' with political and socio-cultural gravitas. The authors, one a writer (Robins), the other a director of a publishing company (Pountain), attempt to trace the roots of what they earnestly try to convince us is a pervasive 'attitude' worthy of study.

This they do by a fairly brisk journey through history, embracing politics, film, fashion and literature, ruminating on James Dean and his sexuality (yawn), Marlon Brando (ditto), the 'glamour' of crime, the US, the supposed roots of cool in 1000AD Africa (Pete and Dud come to mind here with their hilarious 'translation' of a blues song), Paul Newman, New Labour and Cool Britannia.

There's also a little on art - mostly Warhol - and the 'ironic' condition of cool vis-a-vis drugs, liberty and semantics. On this last point we are told that cool slang tends to invert - 'wicked', 'shit' and 'funky' are terms of approval. But so what? Criminals, we learn, say 'he's cool' to indicate that someone is one of them, and later we get a seemingly random treatise on why the only two presidents to exhibit the defining characteristics of cool are Kennedy and Clinton. 'If you doubt that Kennedy was cool, then stop looking at his policies (except perhaps on Civil Rights) and look instead at the haircut, the smile - and the clandestine sexual liaisons.'

These sorts of cringe-worthy, throwaway culs-de-sac, amid a book which reads like a university dissertation (probably getting a solid II. ii), only serve to compound its overwhelming sense of superficiality. But then again, perhaps that's precisely the real meaning of 'cool' .

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