Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Defiant Cool

“You are different, Tommy. Very different. And I've discovered it isn't only a difference in manner and outward appearances. It's a difference in basic character” (Gwen speaking to Tom in The Public Enemy). Tom Powers, like all other Hollywood gangsters, portrays a dissident cool that attracts all sorts of people, from stay at home moms to street criminals. What is so appealing about a selfish, vigilante?

Well, first of all, the gangster caricature is an outward expression of a subconscious feeling that the general public suppresses. Although in our representative democracy and free-market, individualistic economy we aren’t focused on collective, as much as personal, gain, we still have a concern for the greater society and a respect for the laws and mores of that society. There are times when everyone wishes they could throw controlled society out the window: jump on their desk and kick all the papers in the air, tell the bosses what they really think, drive on the median when they’re stuck in traffic, and, of course, have enough money to make it an insignificant factor in decision making. All of us, every once in a while, want to act like Peter Gibbons in Office Space and make our own rules; however, we have too many responsibilities to throw everything out the window and act however we see fit, that’s where the appeal of gangsters and rebels comes from. They are able to defy the norms and do whatever they want. The “What is G?” commercials from Gatorade depict the same removed cool that Tom Powers does in the Public Enemy; these athletes make their own rules, in many ways, and shatter the norms and expectations in their various specialties. This is not to say these athletes, actors, or Tom are complete anarchists, because they are not, they live by their own code of laws. For Tom, vengeance and loyalty were the most important; this cool stratum of people has their own sub society within society where they have to understand everybody’s rules in order to defy them. Their cool comes from their knowledge of the expected behavior and rules and their conscious defiance of those basic principles or expectations.

The other level of cool that Tom brings to the forefront is the fact that he is genuine; like him or not, he is who he is, and there are no pretenses. He does what he says he is going to do; when he says he’ll kill Putty Nose the next time he sees him, he lives up to that promise. Ellen DeGeneres carries a certain genuine, love me or hate me, attitude. She publicized her marriage to her girlfriend, Portia De Rossi, not waiting to see the public’s response and was one of the first publicly out lesbians in entertainment, being who she was even when it wasn’t the easy decision. Using humor, she is able to create new clearings for lesbians in all walks of life. Ellen makes a new set of standards by being who she is all the time. Like Tom, Ellen doesn’t try to please others or change for anyone; she acts in accordance with her own set of morals and ideals. By purposefully not creating a palatable visage for society, the cool minority are able to stand up to principles they disagree with by breaking the conformity of the day to day and creating a new trend. Both Batman and Joker in The Dark Knight have a swagger about them. They do what they think is right, regardless of what the majority thinks of their actions. Cool comes from the dichotomy of good and evil represented in those who step outside of society and create their own set of right and wrong.


  1. I like your reference to the Gatorade commerical. Although everytime I think "Gatorade," I think of those commercials where the athletes sweat colors. Disgusting...yet cool. :)

  2. A very insightful entry, and I have to agree with a lot of what you said. Isn't it ironic that the general public sees gang and gangster life as society without rules when in fact it is very much a rule oriented place? It's just a completely different set of them.

    As for Ellen, do you really think that she's like Tom in that she doesn't bend for anyone? I could argue that she's largely taken the "Trojan Horse" course of action - she's gotten into the hearts of Americans and others with her humor, and *then* chose to come out of the closet.

    Very nice entry, Brittney! I'd like to see more of this from you.