I liked Anthony Hamilton’s “Cool” the very first time I heard it. It’s a hopeful cut that suggests other models for finding joy and pleasure in life. The song soulfully challenges the notion that personal fulfillment necessarily derives from realizing the goals of the most casual of our “best laid plans.” Instead, Hamilton suggests that fulfillment may in fact derive from our ability to rethink our agenda and take pleasure in having another idea about joy, love, and happiness.

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about representations of joy and fulfillment as they are presented in American popular culture. This presentation suggests that only rich people and solidly middle-class people know joy and fulfillment. I wonder what this representation does to those who fall outside of these parameters. Do they overlook the joy present in their own lives and the lives of others they know because of the difference it marks from the popular, overarching depiction? Do rich and middle-class people think joy and fulfillment are privileges only they enjoy?

One of the presumptions existing in popular American culture suggests that people want what celebrities have–their homes, their cars, their clothes. Television programs and magazine articles describing how you can have “this look for less” offers one example of this presumption. This point of departure assumes that viewers and readers find the look desirable. Such an entry point further supports the construction of the poor that feminist scholar bell hooks claims dominates popular culture. In her reading, representations of the poor overwhelmingly show them longing for material wealth and finding very little pleasure in their own lives. In general, it’s like the culture can’t even imagine poor and working-class folk thinking what Anthony Hamilton tells his friend, “if you’re cool, then I’m cool, then we’re cool.” The culture doesn’t presume that you can be poor, working-class and cool…but they’re wrong.

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