What Makes a Nation “Cool”?

Posted by Jocelyn Gan & filed under Pop Culture.

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CNNGo, CNN’s beta site that focuses on 6 Asian cities (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo), recently published a list of the world’s 12 coolest nationalities. Some nations on the list include: Botswana (no. 8), Singapore (no. 2), Jamaica (no.3), and Brazil at the top spot.

On the one hand, it’s neat to see a list of “cool” countries that isn’t Eurocentric (Belgium and Spain are the only European countries that made the list, as opposed to the usual appearance of the French or the Italians when one thinks of “cool” or “fashionable” people) Given CNNGo’s focus on Asian cities, it’s no surprise that half of the nationalities on this list are Asian.

But overall, I’m not sure how I feel about this list. It starts off as a satirical piece bordering on problematic (Belgians and Turks are cool because of their broken English and funny names! Mongolians are cool because they wear fur everything!). The writer does try to balance out the problematic factor by condemning some of the more obvious mishaps, such as the Spanish soccer team’s “slant-eyed ‘tribute’ to China in 2008.” However, such efforts are counter-balanced by glib references to the high number of citizens living with AIDS as “uncool” in Botswana.

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The list also grossly trivializes some of the political turmoil that happens in many of these locations. One commenter notes on Brazil’s #1 cool status: “The majority of the people of our biggest city, São Paulo, (no, isn’t Rio de Janeiro as many people think) work hard everyday an [sic] suffer from the summer floods.”

Despite the problems, the list manages to spark a nice discussion around the question of what exactly does it mean to be “cool”? What I learned from this is that there is no singular idea of “cool.” Brazillians are cool because they’re good at soccer and have samba. But Singaporeans are cool because they’re good at Internet-related things, and have a 10-year-old protégé who is very good at computer programming already. The Spaniards are cool because they’re the life of the party. Maybe articles like this can and do have merit about diversifying the idea of what makes a country “cool” – I just wish it could be done a little more thoughtfully the next time.

You can check out the full list at cnngo.com.

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