Pop culture is filled with cool male and female heroes – which is boring. Coolness in real life is a huge problem, being cool in spirituality, too. Better be not cool, be warm. Or hot, if you want to. Coolness in real life, pop culture and spirituality is problematic. Better be not cool, be warm. Or hot, if you want.
When I was in first or second grade, there was a show on TV that everyone of us had to watch. On sunday, half past six. That show was Star Trek. Not with Picard as Captain, but with James Tiberius Kirk. That’s how old I am.
You had to watch this show, because in recess we would re-enact sunday’s episode. And the most painstaking part of that process was casting. It was important who was allowed to play Captain Kirk. But the most problematic decision was: Who was right for the most important part? Who was allowed to play our hero? Who was Mr. Spock in our version of “The Final Frontier”. Everyone loved Spock! Spock was so cool!
Mr. Spock was the first of my heroes that was really cool.
As I grew up others followed. Humphrey Bogart for example had quite an influence on my life. I think that I’ve read almost anything Raymond Chandler wrote. And Ernest Hemingway, too. I liked this film noir characters a lot. The cool voice of the private eye describing things happening to him. Because these are deeply cynical characters they seem like they expect even the unexpected.
Then there was James Bond. Cool to the bone. Though I grew up with Roger Moore’s version of 007, with tongue in cheek, I knew there was Sean Connery. And recently the teaser part of Casino Royale really spoke to me. You know, when Daniel Craig chases this courier through town, up a crane and into an embassy? It’s a matter of lilfe and death, but James Bond always stays cool.
I am male. And this archetype is very common for men. But the cool lady exists, too. Even before modern emancipation movements there was someone like Lauren Bacall. When she smokes a cigarette – wow – suddenly Bogey looks like a nervous wreck.
Cool is not as popular with female lead roles, though. Ellen Ripley from Alien is a badass, but she is not cool. Lara Croft is. She’s a female 007. Hermione from Harry Potter is badass, too, but not cool. Black Widow from the MCU is.
Generally speaking female lead roles have the possibility to show more feeling. Because the old female archetypes are about things like caring, falling in love and responsibility for others.
That didn’t change too much. And that’s a good thing. Padme Amidala, Katniss Everdeen, Princess Merida, Arwen or Lisa Simpson are far too complex to be just stupidly cool.
So, regardless of you’re male or female or something else: There are cool role models for you. Coolness ist still popular – the next James Bond is on it’s way. And the Black Widow movie, too.
It’s still cool to be cool.
But it’s so dull! So boring! I really hate cool nowadays. Even in “Casino Royale” this James Bond is boring me. To be honest: I just don’t care for him at all. Sorry. And my bar for identification is very low. I am the guy who embarassed his kids, when he started sobbing in “Little Stewart II”. Because I identified with a talking mouse building a plane on a dumpster boat. But James Bond? Nope.
I do understand what’s cool about cool, though. Let’s take Mr. Spock as the most prominent cool guy in my collection – why did a seven year old Mr. Wunderlich his best to impersonate this Vulcan.
Well, I was a kid. An anxious, angry, sad and sometimes happy kid. A normal kid. I had emotions. And this emotions are confusing. My friends had emotions, too and they were confused, too. But we couldn’t talk about it, because – well – because confusion is confusing.
When emotions are confusing, then an alien from another planet who has no emotions at all, is a promising role model. It’s as simple as that. And let’s not forget that Spock is a space elf with magical powers. He is, I must insist. Mind meld? Nerve pinch? Space Elf.
When you are ten, you never have the feeling that you are in control, too. There are your parents, your teachers, your bullies – you’re constantly doing things that are out of your control. And if you look at the grown ups around you, you get the impression that’s something inherent to an adult life style.
But God created James Bond. He’s an adult. But he is not bossed around. As soon as his boss tells him what to do, he quits his job and still is the winner in the end. James Bond is in control of every situation. You are not excited because you are afraid he might die in this car, plane, rocket, space ship or submarine. You are excited how he does survive and keeps his cool.
Cool is cool. But it is a problem, too.
Because coolness comes with losing contact with your own emotions. Toxic masculinity is the result of cool role models. A man has to be in control, he has to master his emotions and he has to look the enemy called life right in the eye.
And, btw: Cool heroes are a modern invention. They came with modern life. The heroes in ancient times are not cool. Achilles – the hero in the Ilias – is not cool. He’s a choleric asshole. Ajax is not cool, he is naïve and dumb. Ulysses is not cool. He’s smart. The knights of the round table are not cool.
Cool heroes are superheroes. They come with super powers. And no one has super powers in real life.
And, as Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammet proved already, a hundred years ago, cool is packaged with cynicism and addiction. And I mean it: Philip Marlowe or Rick from Casablanca are, by today’s standards, deeply depressed, insensitive, emotionless alcohol addicts.
Being cool is not an option for a real live.
Life needs warm heroes. Or hot heroes – whatever you decide the opposite of cool is. A warm hero struggles with his emotions, he or she tries and loses sometimes and when he or she smiles it is not a sardonic smirk, it’s a sign of empathy. He or she prefers compassion over passion.
And because life is confusing, a true hero is sometimes confused, too. The heroic thing of being a warm person is to know about your anxiety, anger or sadness and is not scared to share it. That’s heroic in times when everyone tries to be cool.
Being in contact with your emotions is heroic, accepting that life controls you and not the other way round is heroic. Having no emotions or drowning them with alcohol is easy.
Modern heroes should be in the warm up to hot scale of writing the story of your life. And even in pop culture there are warm heroes now. Jack in Titanic is not cool and in touch with his emotions. The hero in Avatar is, forgot his name. Scully? The old man in “Up” is a perfect hero!
Granted: Most of them are still female characters – but, hey – who cares? I love Ellen Ripley in the first Alien. Or Trinity in Matrix. The Bride in Kill Bill. And my favorite hero in any action movie is Furiosa in Fury Road – she’s the real hero and not Mad Max in that one. Fine! Good!
So I recommend: In real life: Don’t be cool. Don’t be fish. No one needs cool. It’s a new concept and it is boring in story telling and depressing in real life.
Which brings us to the masters.
In spirituality there are cool masters. The whole master concept is the idea that meditation or any other spiritual method will enable you to understand the confusing world. It will help you to master your emotions. And it will give you control of your own life.
In the show business of spirituality the masters are the cool guy. They do not shoot people, but they are full of compassion for their enemies. They do not make sarcastic remarks, but they always have this blissful smile.
The rest is just the same. The master in the business of spirituality is a special version of the cool hero. Mastering life is literally part of the job description.
And like with James Bond: All these masters are bullshitting you. They use special effects to hide their emotions, a stunt crew to take the hits and CGI to use the social media to their advantage.
The same thing I said about the cool heroes of pop culture applies to spirituality. It’s fake, it’s a lie, it’s just show business and has nothing to do with real life.
We need teachers, not masters. Teachers that try and fail. Teachers that are anxious and angry and sad. Because life is confusing. It always was and it always will be. There is no way to master it. It masters you.
Life is not about being in control. Everything is alive and still there is no control anywhere. Who controls a supernova, your DNA, quantum mechanics? Nothing is.
This is hard. It is not just. Brutal maybe. But this is what makes it so beautiful. The Not-Controlling aspect puts the value into life. If something or someone would control it, if it was possible to learn all its tricks, if coolness was the way to go: Everything, everywhere would be worthless.
You can’t puzzle it together. No one can. If you ever finished a jigsaw puzzle, you will know: Nothing is more disappointing than finishing it. It’s not a moment of triumph, it’s a moment of farewell.
I promise: Life never runs out of puzzle pieces! The farewell comes before you can finish anything. Always. And that’s the beauty of it. Coolness takes the fun out of it. In pop culture and in spirituality.
Because, in the end it is only life. The greatest thing there is and the smallest. Just life. Life itself.