Embracing Naffness

Cliff Richard Wired for Sound

What’s the exact opposite of “cool”?

It isn’t “uncool”, just as “undead” isn’t the exact opposite of “dead”.

Nope, the exact opposite of “cool” is “naff”.

I have made a solemn vow to reject coolness and embrace naffness.

The Cool/Naff Horseshoe

Please watch this Peter Gabriel video:

That’s Steam from his 1993 album, Us. 

Watching that video with friends the other night we started talking about Peter, and whether he realises just how naff he appears in this video.

I think he knew what he was doing. Peter was 43 when this video came out. He was an international sensation, but he must have known that a shiny pop funk song from a balding progger was hardly the epitome of 1993 cool. Plus, some of the things he does in this video – gleefully shaking a tree in his underwear, transforming into a chair, superimposing his head onto a chippendale body – it’s knowingly ridiculous. Peter knew exactly what he was doing.

Not at all cool. But doesn’t he look incredibly happy and at ease with himself? Is there not an innate dignity to someone so obviously unbothered by what people think of him?

And those computer visuals! They may have been cutting edge in 1993, but many of them haven’t aged well. But glitchy retro computer visuals are so hot right now, darling! This Beyond The Mind’s Eye style technical showcase is very much of it’s time. Yet it could also have been made yesterday by someone like Oneohtrix Point Never. Oneohtrix Point Never, though, would never create anything this fun and joyous. He’d coat his output in about 17 layers of irony and insist that he’s making An Important Point about ludo narrative dissonance. Or something.

And that’s what we came to understand, watching the Steam video the other night. Naffness and coolness don’t exactly exist on a linear scale. It’s more like a horseshoe. Go too far in the cool direction and you become naff. Revel in your naffness and you become cool.

Here’s why I’m going to revel in my naffness.

To Be Naff is to be Kind!

To be cool is to be detached, to take a cynical and sideways look at the world. To not care what people think, but to care a little too much about not caring what people think.

To be naff is to be kind. You don’t have to be detached and you don’t have to be afraid to be happy and optimistic about the future. Occasionally it’s cool to be compassionate, but there is always compassion and empathy in naffness.

There’s a real cruelty to coolness, I find. It’s not necessarily the cool people who are cruel so much as the gatekeepers who tell us what’s cool and what isn’t. They’ll build someone up just to tear them down. Their idea of “cool” is so nebulous that they can decide, seemingly on a whim, who has it and who does not. They operate on a scorched earth policy. Once one has lost their coolness they’re not just forgotten. They’re suspect – they’re ridiculed, problematic, and outcast. And so too is anyone who dares to stick with them.

I don’t know why people bother trying to be cool. It’s so much effort, and the fickleness is exhausting and depressing. Stop caring and embrace naffness. The world’s a much kinder place when you spend your time with naff people. There is freedom in naffness. Once you’re liberated from caring about what’s cool and what isn’t, there’s really no end to what you can achieve.

To Be Naff is to be Yourself!

Some cool people are viewed as such because they’re trailblazers. They do their own thing and establish the rules we all must follow. These are the cool things that generally stand the test of time – Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Patti Smith &c. &c.

But once the rules are set you get the followers. I don’t want to make any assumptions or second guess anyone’s intentions, but among those who genuinely find value in cool things there must be some who only see value because they’ve been instructed to do so. A dedicated follower of fashion is going to try on quite a few costumes over the course of their life.

There’s no room for pretension in naffness. Naff people do their own thing, and they only do it because they want to or they need to. They aren’t contorting themselves into any shapes to impress the sneering tastemakers. They’re true to themselves, and completely unbothered by how they’re seen and perceived. There is authenticity in naffness.

Think again of that cool/naff horseshoe: Some people spend their whole lives relentlessly being themselves. Occasionally fashion catches up with them, and they’re temporarily thought of as “cool”. But for them, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Regardless of how they’re seen, they’re always going to do their thing – because they have to, and they want to. Prince, Alice Coltrane, Brian Eno, Kate Bush, Stephen King, David Lynch, and yep, Peter Gabriel – all people who have attained coolness and immortality because they’re not afraid of being naff.

Which is to say that they’re not afraid of being themselves.

Embracing Naffness

The problem is that “naffness” is just as nebulous a concept as “coolness”. Naffness is in the eye of the beholder, and we don’t exactly have a cultural canon of recognised purveyors of naff.

Something is naff when it’s not cool. But something can be uncool for any number of reasons. Sometimes, something is not cool simply because it’s not trying to be cool. It’s not really trying to be anything. It just is. It is truth, and there is beauty in that.

I’m abandoning cool and embracing naffness. That means I will never try and be anything that I’m not. I will always stay true to myself. I will listen with respect and I will never stop learning. I am not afraid to show that I care, and I refuse to abandon my optimistic visions of the future.

To be naff is to be you. Let’s all be naff together.

Did I just write a manifesto? Eek.


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