Preface by Paul Willis
This reader begins a conversation about the many aspects of critical youth studies. Chapters in this volume consider essential issues such as class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, cultural capital, and schooling in creating a dialogue about and a conversation with youth. In a society that continues to devalue, demonize, and pathologize young women and men, leading names in the academy and youth communities argue that traditional studies of youth do not consider young people themselves. Engaging with today’s young adults in formal and informal pedagogical settings as an act of respect, social justice, and transgression creates a critical pedagogical path in which to establish a meaningful twenty-first century critical youth studies.
4 The Symbolism of Cool in Adolescence and Youth Culture
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Perhaps no other word better evokes images of desirable appearance and lifestyle associated with the period of adolescence than does cool. What is cool? When did it emerge to designate a new way in which young people saw themselves? The spread of youth culture as a “cool culture” is often explained as a commodification of youth by the media, advertising, and marketing industries (Frank, 1997)—a view that goes as far back as the 1920s to the Frankfurt School of Social Theory (for example, Adorno, 1949), seeing capitalism as an exploitative form of politics that subjugates any form of culture to the profit motive. This interpretation claims that the trends that develop among young people fortuitously provide new commodities for the marketplace, thus tying youth to the political-social arena. This is certainly one way of approaching youth studies and of analyzing the cooption of cool by the media-culture industries. But this tells us nothing about the emergence of cool in the first place, as a state of being. It skirts the psychological, anthropological, and semiotic (meaning-bearing) roots of this phenomenon. These will be discussed here in relation to the origins and evolution of youth culture.
The Birth and Spread of Cool
Birth of the Cool was the title of a jazz album by Miles Davis (recorded 1949–1950, released in 1957), an album that announced a new form of jazz that had been fomenting in previous decades—a form that encapsulated the essence of cool in...
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