Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That's What She Said--Imitating Cool

When I gave a long and hard eight seconds of thought (I feel that it shouldn't have been that easy; I watch way too much t.v.) to what examples of imitating cool there were in popular culture, one particular person immediately jumped to mind. This guy has Allan Felix beat in the looks and perhaps the mental stability department, but that's about it. I know I stated previously that cool is mainly about the attitude, but this character may be the exception. Although he thinks he is very well-liked and cool, he often proves to be burdensome and obnoxious. He believes himself to be exceptionally smart, but in reality he's just not that bright. I am, of course, talking about The Office's Michael Scott, who is played by Steve Carell (incidentally, a pretty cool dude). Since the first season aired in 2005, Michael has been trying and failing to imitate all kinds of cool. From Chris Rock to Meryl Streep, Michael idolizes and mimics all sorts of celebrities, and each and every time he fails to emulate their brand of cool. Much like Allan, Michael never realizes that when he is being himself he is at his most likeable--I still think the word "cool" would be a stretch for this dude--and that in spite of his generally obnoxious behavior, he is still somehow endearing.

Another example of imitation cool that I thought of this weekend was the character of Eve Harrington from the 1950 Bette Davis film All About Eve. In the film, Davis plays Margo Channing, a Broadway superstar who is approaching middle age. Margo is approached by "her biggest fan" one night and, touched by the girl's story of acting aspirations, takes the young woman under her wing. Unbeknownst to Margo, her fan Eve is out to become her biggest rival not only for fame and admiration but for her family and friends. Throughout the movie, Eve attempts to replace Margo by practically becoming her: she becomes Margo's understudy and steals a major performance and she attempts to seduce Margo's longtime director and lover. Eve eventually succeeds in becoming a Broadway star by ruthlessly using Margo Channing's connections and goodwill, though Margo manages to remain somewhat irreplacable.

Eve's imitation of cool is much, much different from that of Allan Felix or Michael Scott, but I still believe it to be one of the best examples I've come across. She imitates Margo Channing not because Margo is really her idol, but because Margo has the career and fame that she herself wants. She is not content to be cool alongside or after Margo like most other imitators of coolness, but instead wants to replace her. Eve even manages to become cool (at least to the public within the film, though the movie's audience sees her as cold and vicious) by the end of the movie, kind of at the expense of Margo Channing. All About Eve is an interesting example of the darker side of imitating cool, for Eve Harrington shows that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery, nor is it always innocent and well-intentioned.


  1. How is it possible for cool people (like Steve Carrell) to make themselves so uncool in the characters they play, without putting their own cool in jeopardy?

  2. I think he manages to balance it out with other work. Besides, he's well-known enough for people to differentiate between the character and the man. Michael Scott could even be part of what makes Steve Carell cool. He has confidence enough to play a completely lame guy and throw himself into the role completely, which takes a lot of moxie.

  3. Ah, the dark side of imitation! Excellent choice for a second example. It's not all comedy, is it? Imitation can actually become a weapon of destruction, as you have said in your entry, and Eve is certainly a weaponizer of her craft.

    So do you feel that all actors are cool because they imitate either real or imagined people and are able to keep themselves separate from the work? What about when the role breaks the barrier between character and actor? Does the actor lose his or her cool simply because the imitation became real? What about those who do not act well?

    Good entry. :)