The Corner

Hip to Be Square

Part III of my “Salzburg Journal” is on the homepage today. I’d like to share a little mail.

Somewhere in my journal is this item: “When on foot, locals wait at stoplights, even when there are no cars coming. Even if it’s the dead of night. But my American feet are not so obedient.”

A friend e-mails me,

Have I shared my two Hamburg traffic-light stories? Here’s the first one: I knew a card-carrying anarchist who refused to cross on a red light at 3 a.m. on the way home from a party.

And here’s the second story: A full-blown riot came to a halt while the rioters and riot police alike — plus drunken Dutch soccer fans — waited for the light to change.

Ah, the days of my misspent youth.

Below is an excerpt from my journal, on a different topic altogether:

Beethoven’s lone opera [Fidelio] is being staged here at the Salzburg Festival. It really isn’t Beethoven’s opera, however — it’s the director’s opera, for he has changed the story entirely. Subversion City (as the first Bush might say). I’ve written an article about it for National Review, here.

A veteran music critic from America e-mails me, “I don’t understand why the Europeans put up with such productions, Jay — it’s their music.” I could give a two-hour answer or a 20-second answer.

Here’s the 20-second answer: They’re terrified of being thought uncool. Stuffy. Fuddy-duddy. Traditional. They’re terrified of being pinned with the Scarlet C, for “conservative.”

Over the years, I have learned that the desire to be cool, or the fear of being thought uncool, is one of the most powerful forces on earth. The biological determinists will tell you that there is, of course, a biological component at work: safety in the mob?

 Anyway, I think my 20 seconds are up …

In response, a friend sends me this note:

I remember how hard I tried as a schoolboy to be cool and what a complete failure I was. My attitude in this regard has changed now that I’m an elderly Baby Boomer.

Recently the subject of cool came up in a meeting I had for all my employees, where somebody said it would be really cool if I said or did something. I responded with a long rant about cool and how it’s the last thing in the world I wanted to be and if something is cool, it’s because I have nothing to do with it. 

When I was done, I saw that most of my audience was grinning and chuckling, so I asked them what was so funny. One of my employees, a very young and very, very pretty girl, laughed and said I was a really cool guy to work for. I was shocked and asked if she was kidding me. She said no: Since I didn’t try at all to be cool or hip, I was cooler than anyone else in the company.

I was speechless.

Or, as someone once sang, it’s hip to be square.

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