Empty words

by Rob Horning

31 May 2006


BusinessWeek ran a short item about collecting Chinese art that featured one of Sotheby’s directors declaring that China is “an exciting, hip and cool place to be collecting.” Not only is it exciting but it’s hip and also cool? So I guess collecting there is not a bad idea because it doesn’t suck. Chinese art is totally awesome because it’s so amazingly righteous and far out.

The redundancy here makes it obvious that words like hip and cool don’t really mean anything objective, that they are just overheated rhetorical attempts to generate excitement. But nevertheless the world is saturated with coolhunters and hipsters who are all brokering these empty concepts into a way of making a living. This item makes clear what is pretty much always the case, that these words signify nothing but the ability for someone to make a quick buck, probably at your expense. They who will profit have already got there first and declared it “cool,” which means they probably own the rights to the proceeds of its exploitation, whether “it” is Chinese art, cell-phone TV shows, an energy drink or a band about to break through. When something is held to be cool, it’s best to avoid it unless you want to pay to be swept up in some pointless phenomenon for the hell of it—unless you are one of those people who like to do the wave at stadiums and ignore the game that’s going on.

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