Monday, December 19, 2011

World's Coolest Dude 1911-2011, (1911-1920)

Puddles of Myself is back and we ( aka Matt Domino) are finally bringing you a complete list of the World's Coolest Dudes from 1911-2011.

Well, my Puddlers, as promised, we are back. You'll notice a few overall tweaks to the site, but overall everything is pretty easy to follow. The individual writer archives will be updated and then placed at the top of the page so you can easily get your fix of Mark Jack, Alex Theoharides and even our old friend Alex Ramsdell. There will also be a few new friends to get to know in the coming weeks and months and you'll be able to find them under the "Puddles of My Guest Columnists" tab.

Today is the first installment of our World's Coolest Dude 1911-2011 list. I'll be posting ten winners from for the next ten days so that you can peruse and argue and laugh all the way through the holidays and into the New Year. The criteria is pretty self explanatory: each year the World's Coolest Dude committee convened in order to decide who the World's Coolest Dude was. They took into account influence, coolness, edge, inevitability and achievement and decided who the most appropriate winner was. This list reflects their decisions.

So, without further ado, here is the first installment of The World's Coolest Dude 1911-2011 list.

1911 – Teddy Roosevelt

On the surface, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to Teddy Roosevelt’s selection as the World’s Coolest Dude in 1911. His tenure as president had ended in 1909 and in 1911 he was in the middle of a muddled Republican landscape looking to choose a candidate for the 1912 election. Politically, things were not looking great for Roosevelt. However, at the time he was perhaps the most iconic and influential American alive. He had set the American aesthetic of the early 20th century, which was that of the educated frontiersman. An ideal American, through the influence of Roosevelt, was a person who could handle themselves in the wilderness but also conduct themselves in the city by helping to reform the institutions of society and resist corruption. In 1911, the influence of Teddy Roosevelt was felt in the most remote parts of Montana all the way to Washington D.C. and even to the other side of the globe where his “Speak softly and carry a big stick” motto resonated in U.S. foreign policy. Roosevelt had that kind of sway without the Internet—now that’s saying something.

1912 – Roald Amundsen

The South Pole has always been a mythological and mysterious place. Hell, have any of you ever seen The Thing? In 1912 it was still fairly uncharted territory. The first landing on Antarctica was in 1820 and its geographical coastline was not even partially charted until the 1830’s. The early 20th century saw a renewed interest in the exploration of Antarctica and the South Pole. The most notable explorer was Ernest Shackleton who trekked across Antarctica but just missed reaching the South Pole in 1909. In December of 1911, Roald Amundsen reached the actual, 90°S latitude of the South Pole.  Just think about how cold the South Pole is. Then, think about  how cold it would have been 100 years ago without all the warming technology we have now by means of improved clothing and other gadgetry. Yeah, pretty amazing feat. My brain is actually numb thinking about how torturous that would have been. Now, because communication was different in 1911-1912, Amundsen’s announcement of his deed did not reach world ears until March of 2012, making him World’s Coolest Dude 2012. Makes you think about the nature of words, communication and language and what their significance is, right?

1913 – Marcel Proust

In many ways Marcel Proust can be considered a loser. However, he wrote one of the masterpieces of literature in In Search of Lost Time or to some A Remembrance of Things Past. Proust’s work basically set the foundation for Modernism and opened the doors for modern literature to attempt to dissect memory and the mundane. The first volume of this work was published in 1913, which includes the famous “Overture” in which the narrator of the novel dips a madeline cookie in his tea and has his memory drawn back to when he was a child. This phenomenon of memory and storytelling was touched on in Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne in the 18th century, but Proust made it relevant and revelatory in his time. Joyce was already onto the same strain, most likely without knowledge of Proust, since he was writing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at the same time, but Proust was published first and his “madeline, tea-dipping scene” is perhaps one of the, if not he most influential scenes in the history of literature due to the fact that it openly allowed a reader (aka a person) to celebrate his or her sense memory in an intellectual and palapable way that was never thought of before. So, in 1913 a neurotic, homosexual Frenchman who was in love with his mother taught us the merit in valuing our own memory and the benefits of understanding why we enjoy or remember the things we experience. This man basically set the foundation for the Puddles of Myself aesthetic. Of course he was the World’s Coolest Dude 1913.

1914 – George Washington Goethals

Do you remember when you used to have to sail around South America in order to get to the West Coast of the United States? Neither do I, and I’m glad I don’t (or maybe I do, I mean that boat ride would have been refreshing and exciting, albeit long). One of  the main reasons we can understand a world that does not involve sailing around South America to reach the other side of the United States, is a man by the name of George Washington Goethals. Now, Teddy Roosevelt (WCD 1911) was responsible for undertaking the Panama Canal endeavour and he did have the administrative wherewithal to appoint Goethals as the Chief Engineer of project, but it was Goethals who used his engineering skill to completel the Panama Canal two years ahead of schedule. Two years in 1914 was about equal to ten years now. Can you imagine something being finished ten years ahead of schedule? Goethals implemented the Riverton Lock, which he had pioneered, on the Canal and under his leadership he was able to reign in the large scale project and finish it with skill and precision. This man changed the way we looked at the entire continent of North America, shipping in general and travel in general. G.W. Goethals was the World’s Coolest Dude 1914.

1915 – Harry Houdini

In 1915, World War I was well underway and no one had any idea what type of devastation was occurring and about to occur in the trenches. During WorldWar I, one of the most popular entertainers was Harry Houdini. It is widely acknowledged that the history of magic performance reached its apex with Harry Houdini. Magicians and escapologists had been gaining steam as cultural phenomenons and entertainers since the late 19th century (see The Illusionist and The Prestige) but it all culminated with Houdini and his Chinese Water Torture Cell Trick as well as his Suspended Straitjacket Escape. Though these tricks were each first performed in 1912, Houdini’s fame and notoriety were at their peak a few years later in 1915, when even the dullest of “how-dey-do-dats” knew the name Houdini and would come to see his act. There may have been a slight magic boom in the 90’s with the fame of David Copperfield, but it didn’t have near the same cultural and entertainment weight as Houdini did in 1915. Harry Houdini was the hottest ticket around in 1915, so he had to be the World’s Coolest Dude.

1916 – Charlie Chaplin

This summer you’ve gone to the movies to see blockbusters and your fair share of Hollywood movie stars, like, uh, Shia Lebouf, and umm, Ryan Reynolds and uh, the guy from Captain America.  OK, so it was not a great summer for movies and movie stars, but you know what I mean. Our culture and our world are consumed by movie stars. However, Charlie Chaplin was arguably the first movie star. In 1914, Chaplin debuted his character “The Tramp,” who was a modified hobo. “The Tramp” was a vagrant who covered his nature by using the very socially normal, refined manners and clothing of a 1910’s gentleman. The character of “The Tramp” is the iconic image we have of Charlie Chaplin: the bowler hat, the baggy pants and suit jacket, the large shoes, the bumbling motions. “The Tramp” also encapsulated American values as well as  those traits we have always looked for in heros: cunning, the willingness to work, anti-authoritarian attitudes and the ability to travel and move. The character was an international sensation and it is what truly drove Chaplin’s fame and image. “The Tramp” was perhaps the defining character of the silent movie era. Chaplin himself at least thought so, as he retired the character in 1931, refusing to ever make a “talkie” using “The Tramp.” Why 1916? Because by that year, “The Tramp” had gained enough notoriety and had driven Chaplin to enough fame,  yet still retained its freshness. You loved “The Tramp” in 1916, making Charlie Chaplin the World’s Coolest Dude.

1917 – Vladimir Lenin

At this point in history, we are well versed in communism and Vladimir’s Lenin impact on the world, but just try to imagine what hearing about Lenin was like back in 1917. Basically all you need to know is the story of the German government facilitating Lenin’s return to Russia from exile in 1917. Lenin had been exiled (again!) from Russia and was living in Switzerland. The German government, in an attempt to destabilize the Russian government during World War I, arranged a special train to deliver Lenin to Russia during the aftermath of the February Revolution. Russia, whose governmental foundation was already cracked and deteriorating would soon fall by October and the October Revolution, after which, Lenin deposed of the Russian Congress and gave one of his signature quotes: “We shall now proceed to construct the Socialist order!” Clearly this man was the Rock of his time. Actually, he was beloved by the people and was in a sense the People’s Champion. Soon after he had formed the Bolshevik Government, the assassination attempts came and soon his health declined from exhaustion (the man only rested twice from 1917-1922). However, for that glorious moment in 1917, he was the leader of the people. He was a man who didn’t see color or heritage but merely only the oppressed workers and the capitalists who took advantage of them. Whether he was right or not, you couldn’t help but be magnetized by his power over the people.

1918 -  Woodrow Wilson

 It’s funny that perhaps the two iconic and contrasting images of America in the early 20th century are of Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt is always shown outside, standing next to a tree, wearing a hat or with his hair combed in a neat way that suggests he just got himself together, only for a moment for the camera. In either case, he always has that shit-eating, “I’m taking life for the fullest” smile on his face. On the other hand, we have Wilson with his circular spectacles, his Mona Lisa smile and his very academic aura. Woodrow Wilson entered the United States into World War I in 1917, but in 1918 he made sure that our aims in the war were well known and concise. They were the Fourteen Points and though they were slightly liberal and progressive (worldwide cooperation) they helped the American public and government feel a focus during a time of war. Wilson also spearheaded the negotiations with Germany that led to the war. He showed an organization and determination to end the war on our terms, which gave our country and the other Allied Powers a sense of confidence that was so desperately needed during the war’s later phase. In 1918, with countries like England, France and Italy feeling fatigue, Wilson was looked to as the World’s Coolest Dude. That is to say, he was looked to as an influential leader.

1919 – Arnold Rothstein

If the Texas Hold Em’ craze of the mid-00’s, scratch-off tickets, “It Makes No Difference” and Rainman have taught us anything, its that gambling is cool (well, in the case of “It Makes No Difference” its saying the word “gambler” like Rick Danko that is cool). Arnold Rothstein was perhaps the best gambler of all-time. He controlled New York in the 1910’s and a majority of the 1920’s. However, he is most known for fixing the 1919 World Series aka the Black Sox Scandal. Rothstein paid members of the Chicago White Sox to throw the series, which they did, and helped him earn a tidy sum from betting against them. Rothstein was never caught for fixing the series, though it is common knowledge that he did in fact influence his outcome. The “Black Sox Scandal” caused “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the biggest stars of the early days of baseball, to be banned from  the game and have his reputation tarnished for a period of time. The fact that one man could influence the outcome of the major sporting event of the day makes him the World’s Coolest Dude, no matter if the circumstances are a bit nefarious.

1920 – Babe Ruth

On December 26th, 1919, Babe Ruth was sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees for sum that totalled around two million dollars in today’s value, which made Babe Ruth the highest paid player in Major League Baseball history. Ruth was a solid pitcher who emerged as an extremely productive hitter by 1919, but the Red Sox had no idea what was in store for their city and franchise after they sold him to the Yankees. Upon selling the Babe to New York, Boston effectively opened the doors for Ruth to become the legendary player he became and unwittingly brought a curse on their franchise and city that lasted 84 years. Just look at the change in numbers from Ruth’s last year in Boston to his first year in New York:

Yr    Age   G   AB     R     H   2B   3B   HR   RBI   BB  SO  AVG   OBP    SLG

1919  24   130  432  103  139   34   12     29    114    101   58   .322    .456     .657

1920  25   142  458  158  172   36    9      54    137    150   80    .376    .532     .847

There is a marked jump between the two  years, as though by being sold to New York, to a city that was well underway to taking on the historical and cultural meaning that it has today, Ruth acknowledge an opening up of History; he saw the footsteps before him and chose to step in them and around them, effectively taking the throne and making it his own at the same time. In short, he understood what it took to become history and become a legend. 1920 was the first year of his becoming and the fact that he became the highest paid player in MLB history and enacted a curse on a city that lasted nearly 100 years, makes him the World’s Coolest Dude without question.

Come back tomorrow to see the winners from 1921-1930.

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