Chef Wars

Call Me Lenny by James Grimmelmann : Taco Bell is running a new ad called “Chef Wars” and it is an Iron Chef parody. The commercial is pathetic and James laments that Iron Chef is no longer considered to be a piece of elite culture. Essentially, Iron Chef is no longer cool because it has become so popular that even culturally bereft Taco Bell customers will understand the reference.

As a long time fan of Iron Chef, I suppose I can relate to James. Several years ago, a few drunk friends and I discovered Iron Chef one late night and fell in love with it. In the years that followed, it has grown more and more popular, to the point where there was even an pointless American version (hosted by Bill Shatner) and a rather funny parody on Saturday Night Live. Seeing those things made it less fun to be an Iron Chef fan, and to a certain extent, I agree with that point. But in a different way, Iron Chef is just as cool as it ever was and, in my mind, a genuinely good show is well… good, no matter how popular it is.

As commentor Julia (at the bottom) notes, there are two main issues that James is hitting on:

  1. The watering down of concepts from 30 minutes to 30 seconds completely distorts and lessens the impact of the elements that make the original great.
  2. The idea that a cultural item becomes less “cool” when it goes from 1 million to 100 million consumers.

Certainly, there is truth in those statements, but that is not all that is at work here. Iron Chef is a great show, and will always be so. After a while, a piece of culture will lose its “new and exciting” flavour, but if the show is good, its good. James gives away how uncool he really is when he admits that he’s only seen 6 episodes or so. Isn’t it just a sham then? A facade? A ruse? Of what use is the cool if you never really enjoy it?

I suppose it all comes down to exclusion. Things are cool, in part, because you are cool enough to recognize them as such. But if everyone is cool, what’s the point? Which brings us to Malcolm Gladwell and his Coolhunt:

“In this sense, the third rule of cool fits perfectly into the second: the second rule says that cool cannot be manufactured, only observed, and the third says that it can only be observed by those who are themselves cool. And, of course, the first rule says that it cannot accurately be observed at all, because the act of discovering cool causes it to take flight, so if you add all three together they describe a closed loop, the hermenuetic circle of coolhunting, a phenomenon whereby not only can the uncool not see cool but cool cannot be even adequately described to them.”

But is it cool to just recognize something as cool? James recognized Iron Chef as cool, but he didn’t really enjoy it. So I guess that we should seek the cool, but not be fooled into thinking something is cool simply because it is going to be big one day…

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