Trends, Fads, and other Oh-So-American Things

Okay folks, time for a brief trip back in time. Remember the first time you personally participated in a “fad”? C’mon, don’t be embarrassed. You remember it, no matter how silly it was. Now, I’m not talking about the times when you were a kid, and you did something, or made mom and dad buy you some stupid-but-fun toy, “because everyone else did”. No, I am talking about the first time you went in on a fad, with knowledge and full understanding of what you were doing.

For me, it must have been seventh grade, 1971. (Stop that laughing!) Everyone had these things called “clacking balls”. It consisted of two solid plastic balls, suspended on strong, heavy string, with a plastic tab in the middle of the string. The idea was simple enough: you held the tab, and made the balls move up and down, banging them together with a snappy sounding “Clack-Clack” noise. Once you got them going, you would show your machismo by getting the balls moving so fast that they would bang together on at both the top and bottom of their travel. The resulting sound was awesome. For many weeks, it seemed as though everyone had a set, and they were sold everywhere for under a buck. (Gasp!) Kids were wandering all over the halls during class changes, and all over the cafeteria during lunch, with those damn clacking balls. Sometimes, clusters of several kids would all stand in a circle, clacking the balls together, making as much noise as they could. There were two reasons to do this: It was fun, and it annoyed the u-know-what out of school authorities. (Remember them?) There were tales of school officials who confiscated the clacking balls, but I know of no actual cases of that. A few teachers would take a set from a student, if said student had made a pest of himself with them, but they would be returned after class.

So, what happened to the clacking ball craze? Like so many fads, especially the ones involving kids, it ended almost as quickly as it started. There was a widely spread yarn that some of the clacking balls shattered, and plastic particles went into the eyes of the kids operating them, but again, I never actually saw this happen. It could be true, as all sets of clacking balls vanished from store display racks, and they have not been seen since, alas. (Blasted “Consumer Product Safety Commission”, I presume.)

There have been many other fads and trends, some funny, and some not funny at all. Some fads are deadly. Yo-yo’s, cap guns, squirt guns, and the paper airplane craze…Somehow, I managed to survive them all. Yo-Yo’s enjoyed a resurgence a few years ago, but the Yo-Yo fad seems to have gone again. (I own some really cool ones!) Today’s fads are different. I think. Britney Spears is a fad whose time should have been up a long ago. Somehow, she survives. (Can you say “Marketing Machine” boys and girls? I’ll bet you can!) Nope, Britney is a bad Fad that just won’t go away. One fad that did go away (I think) was paint ball guns.
These guns, looking for all the world like the real thing, were sold through macho mail-order catalogs, mostly to teenaged males. (But of course.) They would then be used by carloads of said teenaged males while prowling around nice suburban neighborhoods. The targets for the paint balls? Almost anything that could not catch them, such as people walking dogs, joggers, and the occasional cyclist.

Some of these lamebrains, upon not finding any good targets, would simply fire a volley of paint balls at the sides of a house, or perhaps a statue. (The famous “Minute Man” statue, in Lexington Center, was the target of a paintball attack.) Thankfully, this fad ended. (I think the Massachusetts office of the Attorney General may have had something to to with it.) The paintball guns are back where they should be; being used at private paint ball clubs. (Odd source of amusement, but whatever floats your boat, I guess.)

Clothing has its fads, and some of them are recycled. In the 70’s, women wore “Hip Hugger” jeans. Today, they are marketed as “Lo Riders”. I can only guess that somewhere, a marketing genius found several warehouses full of unsold hip huggers, and a light bulb went off over his head. Not that it’s a bad thing. As a male, I appreciate a woman in Lo Rider jeans almost as much as I appreciate a woman in a mini skirt (I’m a bicyclist, which I believe makes me a “leg man” by default.)

Some clothing fads are just plain stupid. Arguably the worst of these was the one where kids were wearing jeans and shirts at least three sizes too big. The apparent idea was for white suburban kids to emulate the look of inner city youths (a.k.a. “The Homies”) These kids didn’t understand that the plan backfired, and they all looked like something from Ringling Brothers. (Attention baby boomers: Can you imagine anyone coming to school dressed like this, circa 1965? Holy Crap! ) And what the hell was the deal with the red, or blue, bandana’s? (I already know, so don’t tell me.) Is that one over, or is it still going on? Men’s “Leisure Suits” has to be right up there with the clown look. And I must plead guilty, to having actually owned one, circa 1976. Jeesh, how did we survive Leisure suits? Probably the worst clothing fad for office women were those huge, droopy bow ties, which were everywhere in the 1980’s. One must ask whose idea this was. Bozo’s perhaps.

How about the bit where teenaged girls dye their hair some strange color, such as deep blue, or fire truck green? Sorry ladies, but if your intention is to make a political statement, it isn’t working. But, if you’re doing this to thumb your nose at authority, I guess it’s better than smoking cigarettes, so by all means, “dye-on”. (Side note: Attention all you rebellious college students! You do know that every time you buy a pack of smokes, the cash registers at the headquarters of a certain political party go “Ka-Ching!”, right?) Tattoos are certainly an Interesting fad. Once the domain of sailors and motorcycle club members, tattoos are now considered classy. I don’t have any, but some day, I just might get one. A bicycle wheel, perhaps. I’ve seen a few nice ones. Supposedly, the biggest customers of tattoo shops right now are suburban mommy types, and young career women. Hmm, interesting. Certain types of tattoos, properly done on women, are, uh, quite nice, I think. Nope, nothing wrong with tattoo’s on women, as long as they are done by a pro, in a properly licensed shop. As for tattoos on men, well, that just goes unnoticed at this point I think. But tattoo’s on women, well, I like that just fine. Maybe I like it a little too much, but that’s my privilege, right?

Now, I don’t want to come across like I’m picking on kids, so now, it’s time to take a look at adult fads. No, there shall be no denials here; you all know that adults have fads too. The worst has got to be SUV’s. Please don’t start in about how “safe” they are. Just head to any library, and read the cover story of the April 2001 issue of “Discover Magazine”. Then think about it again. SUV’s are, without a doubt, a “fad that just won’t go away”, and a bad one. Hopefully, it won’t last much longer. Ford has announced plans to stop production of the behemoth “Excursion”, which doesn’t even fit a standard parking space, and costs something like eighty bucks to fill with gas. Maybe people are finally getting smart.

Cell phones: Ahh, the wonders of technology. My regular readers (both of them!) Already know how I feel about this fad. It’s time for it to end. There is simply no defense for not being able to pick out milk or canned goods in the grocery store without calling your significant other. Don’t think so? So tell me, what did people do thirty years ago? There is some hope though: Consumer electronics stores are reporting an increasing level of interest in personal two-way walkie-talkies, and that old relic, CB radios. Seems people are tired of all the hidden costs of cell phones, and realize that two-way radio’s cost nothing to operate, aside from the purchase price. (Ahh, Hope springs eternal!)

Gold Credit cards were a big adult fad, but it’s fading with the economy of the 90’s. It seems that a few years ago, people were flashing gold credit cards all over the place, and now? I guess the bills came due. (Side note: ever check out the “public notices” section of the newspapers? Yeah, there it is, the bankruptcies. Hoo-Boy! ) Alas, it would appear that declaring personal bankruptcy no longer has the shameful stigma it once had. Guess it’s another fad. I have heard of yuppies actually holding “bankruptcy parties”. And to think, if handled properly, they get to keep the BMW’s and boats. (If you want to know who ultimately pays, just look in the mirror.)

I’ll wind up with these comments: I know I missed a few, such as skateboards, and those new “Razor Scooters”, which all the kids “just gotta have”. Bungee jumping is a fad I really don’t want to talk about. I didn’t overlook those “Virtual pets” which were so big a few years ago, I just blocked them from my mind. (Bad Fad) And food? Food has had so many fads and trends come and go, I just can’t list them here. (I am glad that salsa has stuck though!)

I must wonder, just what starts a particular fad? Movies, television, a closed, guarded conference room somewhere in L.A.? Truly a mystery. And what drives people across age, racial, and gender lines, to participate in a given fad, be it good, or bad? Maybe that’s a question best asked, but not answered.

Now let’s see, what shall be the next big fad? I know: those suits worn with Bermuda shorts and knee socks, for American executive men! After all, they wear them in Bermuda, right? Can you imagine Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer wearing these? Hmm, maybe that’s not such a great idea.

Bruce Black

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