FSEM1010-06.FSEM: American Cool.F15.Chepp,Valerie

Faculty Name

Valerie Chepp

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Course Subject


Course Number


Course Section


Course Title

FSEM: American Cool

Academic Term and Year

Fall 2015



Area of Study


Course Description

What makes something or someone “cool”? Who decides what’s cool, and how is coolness valued? Moreover, who reaps the benefits of cool, and how has coolness changed or stayed the same over time? This course will explore these core questions in an effort to uncover the roots and ramifications of cool in American popular culture. To do so, we will consider different definitions of cool by drawing upon cultural, artistic, social, and political artifacts from various key “cool” movements in American culture and counter-culture from the last 100 years. Students will explore the cool dimensions of the Harlem Renaissance (1920s), Beat Generation (1950s), Hippie Movement (1960s), Hip-Hop Movement (1970s-1990s), and the contemporary Hipster Movement (2010s). Connections between these movements will also be explored. Throughout the course, the role of race, class, and gender will be central to our analysis, as we will continually locate “cool” within systems of power and resistance. This analysis will shed light on some of the contradictions and paradoxes surrounding cool. American cool is both timeless and ephemeral, characterized by pleasure and pain, inspiration and cultural theft, desire and indifference. This course will require students to engage in-depth with a wide variety of texts, spanning across different disciplines (e.g., sociology, literature, cultural studies, gender studies, hip-hop studies), mediums (e.g., books, blogs, newspapers, sound recordings, film/video, photography, paintings, body art), and time periods (1920s to today). As a final project, students will have an opportunity to create their own “cool” cultural artifact and reflect upon the implications of naming this artifact as a contribution to American cool culture.

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