The Birth Of The Cool
By Ed Driscoll · January 18, 2008 11:02 PM · All You Need Is Ears · Bobos In Paradise · Hollywood, Interrupted
Tremendous passage from the late Michael Kelly, found via Cold Fury:
Sinatra, as every obit observed, was the first true modern pop idol, inspiring in the 1940s the sort of mass adulation that was to become a familiar phenomenon in the '50s and '60s. One man, strolling onto the set at precisely the right moment in the youth of the Entertainment Age, made himself the prototype of the age's essential figure: the iconic celebrity. The iconic celebrity is the result of the central confusion of the age, which is that people possessed of creative or artistic gifts are somehow teachers-role models-in matters of personal conduct. The iconic celebrity is idolized-and obsessively studied and massively imitated-not merely for the creation of art but for the creation of public self, for the confection of affect and biography that the artist projects onto the national screen.One of the observations that Diana West made in The Death of the Grown-Up is how much of the heavy lifting in the birth of modern culture--with all its pluses and minuses--occurred in the 1950s, though the 1960s gets all the credit.
But while Sinatra was indeed a harbinger of things to come, he was also very much a man of his times. In Gay Talese's epochal 1966 "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" article for Esquire, you can actually see the cool style of Sinatra’s highpoint ebb into the sunset, and the aesthetic of the late sixties being born, when Sinatra encounters legendarily cranky sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison.
And as Mark Steyn wrote recently, by the following decade dispatches between the two cultures--the post-war showbiz culture and the anti-war culture of mud--were even chillier:
One reason why the Oscar shows of the early Seventies are such a hoot compared to the butt-numbing snoozeroos of today is the tension and sniping between the John Wayne/Bob Hope/Frank Sinatra set and the hipster crowd reading out telegrams from the Viet Cong. Back then, being anti-war meant taking a side. In today’s Hollywood, being anti-war is the only side.Which means, through the paradigm of The Manchurian Candidate and even programmers like Von Ryan's Express, plus his support of JFK and RWR, we can look back at Sinatra as a remarkably patriotic, all-American guy, in spite of himself, his myriad excesses, and nihilistic cool.
Maybe it was simply that while Sinatra was indeed cool, he never succumbed to its successor pose: irony. Which, in retrospect, may have saved him from himself, unlike those who followed in his wake.
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