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The gospel of cool in Ned Vizzini’s ‘Be More Chill’ |

Sunday Lifestyle

The gospel of cool in Ned Vizzini’s ‘Be More Chill’

- Simon Louis Errol E. Torres -
This Week’s Winner

Simon Louis Errol E. Torres, 24, graduated from UP with a degree in Philosophy, and now works as a "hardworking teacher" at the Calayan Educational Foundation Inc. in Lucena City. He teaches medical transcription (with some hesitation) and Philosophy. He’s a self-proclaimed book reader despite the multitude of unread titles in his shelf. He’s a frustrated WWE wrestler and Orlando Bloom look-alike.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the truth is, I am not cool. I’m cute, but I’m not cool. I don’t have what Johnny Depp, Jude Law, the young male cast of The OC, and Jack Nicholson with dark shades so charmingly possess and flaunt. Unlike me, they give justice to the practice of being smooth and suave, turning simple and even awkward moments into something swell and fanciful. They stand for that coveted social reputation that subconsciously controls our inner motives and daily actions. They belong to a class of higher social bloodline, having no difficulty in getting the girls they want or scoring for that matter. More often than not, we (the uncool), wonder and make playful theories and speculations about the food they eat or the spooky rituals they do to help them maintain such public luster and distinction.

In Ned Vizzini’s quirky novel Be More Chill, the gospel of cool is exquisitely advertised through a pill-size deus ex machina. "Squip", a tiny supercomputer that you can swallow, promises to transform you from a complete geek into the coolest guy. By speaking inside your head like a conscience in a voice of your choice (Keanu Reeves, Sean Connery, or Tyrese), it instructs you on everything from what to wear to how to talk and walk. And in high school, a time and place where social acceptance is more important than an A or F on your test paper, such Holy Grail is to be acquired by any means necessary.

Jeremy Heere, the novel’s protagonist and concrete prototype of a dork, perfectly exemplifies such human reaction to such a grandiose tool. After literally "taking in" the squip and letting it write his life, he no longer is the loser that he and his previous friends knew. From his cocoon of geekiness, he metamorphoses like a butterfly into the hippest guy in his class with the hottest girls in school drooling over him and fighting for his attention. His former tormentors surprisingly become his close clique. His sexual undertakings no longer rely solely on cheap body lotion and kinky Internet websites. Making his moves with the female species runs smoothly, devoid of stuttering and blurting out stupid things. In short, a time-worn but twisted Cinderella story.

On the surface, Be More Chill is meant to entertain. The storylines are not too deep unless your brain has a built-in shovel that unearths even the shallowest of things. It’s more like a teeny-bopper film on paper. The author’s voice and literary style are spontaneous and up-to-date, reflecting today’s lingo and jargon. It’s an anatomy of high school lust and the crazy and sometimes mean things we do to be cool.

As a side dish, the novel goes down that perennial issue of man vs. machine. Time and time again, we’ve witnessed the dark side of being dependent upon and letting technology rule over our lives. Be More Chill’s simple message is only an affirmation of such danger and folly. Despite the promised comforts and advantages, a man’s mind, ingenuity, and creativity remain superior and better pick. There’s just no substitute for the real thing.

Popularity is indeed a powerful and addictive drug. No novel actually needs to spoon-feed us with that fact. Its magnetic pull is utterly invincible and cradles us to a mysterious hypnotic trance as if we were dogs on show, adhering to our master’s snappy commands. Likewise, it’s a concrete and consummate ego boost, thus, at times, preservation can be a full-time job and nervous breakdown is typical.

In my own high school days, being cool was like getting two toys for one Kiddie Meal or perhaps even more. If you were the resident hip guy in class, other guys followed your lead and emulated your style. Girls feel like taking their clothes off when you looked at them. Borrowing notes was never a problem – you had a bunch of disciples and volunteers.

Unfortunately, I was deprived of such experience. Thick eyeglasses and a small physique offered only humiliation and countless shenanigans. If life were a scene in a movie, I’m probably that guy in the background passing by or pretending to be speaking with someone as the main characters fervently deliver their precious lines. I’m unimportant, unrecognizable, and forgettable.

It’s weird, but it seems that being cool almost always entails breaking the rules, being indifferent, deprecating, insensitive, or plain wicked. You won’t hear someone say, "You’re so cool! You have memorized the logarithmic table by heart!" but rather, "What?! You threw a cat’s poo on our teacher’s forehead! Man, you’re the coolest!" The language of cool regrettably carries unpleasant punctuations and an evil syntax. The cool crowd often gives others a hard time, using and manipulating the weak for their own advantage, pushing them to do something stupid or humiliating. They are injected with vanity, never without a comb or palm-size mirror, feeding their outside appearance instead of their feeble minds. (I’m sour-graping obviously.) The novel itself agrees as the protagonist slowly loses his best friend as the voice inside his head gently plagues his character. His principles got crooked and his ego turned swollen; the defeat of man by a machine. Or rather defeat of man by himself.

I loved reading Be More Chill primarily for its underlying statement. It echoes man’s deep desperation and anger. It’s a portrait of the unspoken truth that people have a part of themselves that they don’t like and they carry it like a weight. And in a time of loose morals and misleading open-mindedness, such load gets heavier and heavier. Media drags us to an irresponsible and wrong definition of cool.

But the solution and advice since time immemorial has been constant and the same: acceptance. We have to accept that perfection is only a figment of our playful imagination. What we need is to realize that each person is unique in his or her own way. Though it may sound silly and gay, Christina Aguilera actually became a saint when she sang that we are beautiful in every single way and words should never bring us down. That is the epitome of acceptance. Otherwise, sad to say, we won’t even recognize it even if it hits us in between the eyes. We always want to change how other people see us. We want to look appealing to them. But change doesn’t always last that long. Sometimes, it only makes you miss the things you had.

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