Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

The Conquest of Cooling

When Thomas Frank's book The Conquest of Cool came out, I was torn between the appeal his incisive critique held for me and my reservations about its purpose. As much as its bite appealed to me at a time when too much cultural analysis was unwilling to draw blood, I worried that Frank had made mordancy an end in itself. A decade later, the differences I then perceived between The Baffler's political aesthetic and my own have been softened by nostalgia for an era that seems absurdly remote, like the Roman Republic viewed from the year 1000. Today, I'm far more likely to identify with Frank's work than to identify the ways in which it clashes with my convictions.

My metamorphosis has been facilitated by the ever-expanding access we have to cultural evidence that makes what I once regarded as Frank's exaggeration for effect seem like a model of understatement. The Presidency of George W. Bush has turned showmen into servants of modesty. And then there's the wealth of material available in collections like the Prelinger Archives, which reminds us that the madness of the present conjuncture represents the convulsions of a longer durée:

While the 2000s are probably the low-point of American history, at least as it is viewed from the perspective of foreign policy, the 1960s for which I still have vast born-too-late longing were not much better. But the confusion they introduced into consumer culture was considerably more intense. Those children, myself included, who were conceived in the Summer of Love were born into a Spring of Hate. And do-it-yourself refrigerator decoration: "Commodify your failure to dissent."
Tags: autobiography, collage, politics, theory, video
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