How Idris Elba Proves That “Cool’ Is More Important Than “Swag”

If you were to ask 1000 random Black women to name the single sexiest and most attractive man in American pop culture today, I’d bet a month’s pay that Idris Elba would come out on top. In fact, considering the sheer obsession some women seem to have for him — at a house party I attended a couple weeks ago, I heard a woman call him “the epitome of sexy” — I wouldn’t be surprised if he got 20 to 30 percent of the votes.

This in itself isn’t surprising. Elba is an “understandably attractive” man (“understandably attractive” = “other guys get why woman are into him and even expect them to be”), and he’s the best current candidate to fill the “Black hearthrob with a first name no other American has ever had” quota previously manned by Denzel Washington.

What is surprising, though, is that if you asked the same 1000 women to name the one celebrity whose sexual appeal is completely overrated, Idris Elba might get first place on that list too. There seems to be just as many women who don’t see what the big deal about him is as there are who are infatuated with him.

On face value, this doesn’t make much sense. Actually, lemme rephrase that. It doesn’t make much sense…until you remember how he first entered our collective consciousness: As Stringer Bell on HBO’s “The Wire”

Cool, calculating, manipulative, imposing, and always the “smartest man in the room” — well, at least he thought he was always the smartest man in the roomfew characters in television history had as much of a cultural impact as Bell did, and the previously unknown Elba was the perfect person for that star-making role.

Why does this matter? Well, it seems like Black women’s feelings about Elba are directly correlated to when they first saw him. Basically, my completely unscientific opinion tells me that the majority of the women who are gaga over him first saw him as Stringer Bell, while the majority of the women who don’t see what the big deal is first saw him in “Obsessed” or “Sometimes in April” or “Daddy’s Little Girls” roles where he’s nowhere near as cool as he was on “The Wire.”

Now, if you were to ask those same Idris-obsessed women what exactly it is about him that saturates their panties, most would probably cite something having to do with his unmistakable and indescribable swagger. While I won’t say they’re incorrect, I think it goes a bit deeper than that.

As stated earlier, women who first saw Elba on “The Wire” seem to be the ones most enthralled with his “swag.” This is no accident. The character was intentionally written to be a person practically dripping in brooding confidence, and Idris Elba was placed in a perfect position to show off his attributes. His swag was able to resonate so deeply because of the manufactured coolness of the character he portrayed. In this sense, David Simon was the best wingman ever.

While thinking about how Elba’s hold over Black women’s ovaries is directly connected to him being placed in a position that enabled him to be cool, I couldn’t help but also think about how it applies to our dating and relationships lives. More specifically, how we put a premium on a man’s swagger and the effect it has on women even though his “coolness” actually matters much more than that.

The swagger/emotive confidence thing is something that many men just aren’t ever going to be able to possess. But, while many assume that this is a death knell to a man’s dating life (especially a Black man’s), any man can be cool if they can find a way to replicate the type of environment that made Idris the “epitome of sexy.” It probably won’t happen on the same scale (and by “probably” I mean “definitely”), but it can happen.

The problem with nerdy/socially awkward/introverted guys who claim to have difficulties meeting and attracting women isn’t their lack “swag” or that all women want bad boys or whatever self-depreciating excuse of the month happens to be popular. No, they’re  struggling because many of them are desperately trying to be something they’re not, and they haven’t found a way to manufacture their cool yet, leaving them stuck competing in places where they have no chance to succeed.

Let me put it this way: If you’re a shy and somewhat socially awkward engineer who has to labor to approach and talk to women, nightclubs, bars, and lounges probably aren’t the best places for you to meet them. You know what would be though? A NSBE conference. You know what would be even better? A NSBE conference where you’re a speaker on a panel about some super smart shit only 17 other people in the world understand. You know what would be even better than that? A panel you organized to gather people interested in some super smart engineer shit.

Basically, if you’re not “cool” in a traditional sense, put yourself in a position that enables you to be cool. And, if those positions don’t currently exist, invent them!

If you’re good at what you do and you’re able to put yourself in a position where your talents are recognized, trust me when I say that regardless of how weird, unusual, or “uncool” your specific skill is, there will be people out there who appreciate you for it. (and by “people” I mean “women”) Shit, if you’re a cat who happens to be an expert crocheter and a comic book maven, start a professional network for crocheting-ass n*ggas who like to read comic books, and watch how much more popular and “cool” you’ll get in if actually takes off.

Maybe you’ll never be the swagged out cat who attracts all the eyes at the club like Stringer Bell. But, if you’re a friendless recluse who has more experience with computer codes than coochie, invent something that brings people into your environment, on your playing field — something that makes people acknowledge whatever unique skill you bring to the table. If it worked for Mark Zuckerberg, it can also work for you.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***If you haven’t noticed, we also posted our first “Very Smart Single” today as well. Check out R.G.’s profile and hit us up at contact@verysmartbrothas.com if interested in her***

On Saturday, June 2, 2012, we’ve got another edition of REMINSCE at Liv Nightclub coming up! Except this time, we’re gonna be celebrating Panama’s birthday! Please come out and hang the VSB team. Plus, it’s free before 11pm w/RSVP (reminiscedc.eventbrite.com) and $10 after. AND there’s an open bar from 930-10:30 WITH NO DRESS CODE. You can come in shorts because it gets HOT in there.