A column about being cool

I was sitting with friends at the pub last week, celebrating someone’s 30th birthday with a few quiet, contemplative ales. But just as I was queuing at the bar, somebody drew a gun. Fortunately, though, was made out of pink plastic, and attached to a video game machine, Time Crisis III. It’s a fantastic game, actually – it lets you arbitrarily shoot a lot of terrorists dead, while accidentally slaying a few civilians along the waay. John Howard would like it.

There’s nothing new about the irritating bleeps of electronic machines interrupting your evening’s drinking, of course. And people staring mindlessly into a screen is now a given in any venue with a liquor licence. But I’ve never seen videogames instead of pokies in a pub before. The refitted, renamed Darlington Hotel in Cleveland St, Chippendale, though, has created a mini-Timezone, with pinball, arcade games, and best of all, one of those wacky Japanese photo-booth machines that lets you print your intoxicated, bleary-eyed image on a little sticker, alongside a cartoon kitten.

This discovery made me nerdishly excited, because I am very much of the gaming generation – Princess Peach from Super Mario Bros was my first serious adolescent crush. And although I managed to resist their siren song for most of the evening, and actually talk to humans, I found myself constantly casting longing glances in the direction of the pinball machine.

Most of the trendy pubs I’ve been to would rather redecorate with RSL Club carpet than allow tacky, noisy videogames into their swanky bars. So why has a popular, newly-renovated inner-city pub brought them in? I decided it can only mean one thing: they must be becoming cool. Because it seems that this year, irony is the most fashionable thing of all. Uncool is becoming the new cool.

When you think of ‘uncool’, one name comes to mind: David Hasselhoff. The guy who enjoyed running around with an oiled torso so much that he bought Baywatch when it was about to be axed. The guy who’s a famous pop star – but only in Germany.

But Hasselhoff – or at least, making fun of him – has become the internet’s biggest phenomenon this year. Countless people have Photoshopped him into famous images and emailed them everywhere – it’s become known as “Hoffing”. Only a few hours after the story broke, for example, I got emailed a picture of a shirtless Hasselhoff as a “safety inspector” protecting the entrance the Lane Cove Tunnel hole. Well, it’s better that most spam.

On the crest of his own ridiculousness, the Hoff hosted the ARIAs, and is now even making a Knight Rider movie. So while people are laughing at Hasselhoff, he’s laughing all the way to the bank. I’ll bet Vanilla Ice wishes more people were poking fun at him.

The coolness of uncool is also behind the success of one of Sydney’s hottest new bands, The Presets, who play catchy pop songs constructed from daggy 80s bleeps and dodgy drum machines straight off a cheap Casio. At their live shows, they self-consciously parody early ‘90s rave culture, yelling “go hard or go home!”, and getting the audience to bat giant, Madchester-esque balloons around. And, in a nod to the likes of myself, the videoclip for the album’s first single, ‘Are You The One,’ even has footage of a dodgy 1980s Nintendo boxing game on it. I was so impressed.

I’m delighted by the idea that things that are silly and fun are becoming cool, because I was never very good at the more elegant varieties of fashion. So I’m relieved to learn that we no longer have to pose on stainless steel stools in bars and try to look elegant, but are allowed to go and shoot plastic guns or play pinball in the corner. But it seems that the only thing that’s uncool in this new, ironic, sensibility is to not be laughing at yourself. And if even the hilariously vain David Hasselhoff can do it, anyone can. Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got an urgent appointment with some digitally-generated terrorists. And I’m no longer ashamed to admit it.

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