Fads are born and then, alas, they die

Mark LaVoie

They capture our imaginations, though normally only for a brief moment, and then they are gone. But in the short span of time that they are in our lives fads can be voracious consumers of our minutes, hours or even days.

As a nation of people used to instant gratification, fads feed our appetite for a quick fix of entertainment.

“A fad refers to a social action that becomes widely popular for a short amount of time. It tends to appear relatively quickly, remain popular for a brief period, and then loses popularity dramatically,” said Dr. John Paul, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washburn University.

However, some fads find themselves integrated into society. When that happens, said Paul, “A fad that remains popular for a significant amount of time typically loses its significance in current popular culture as it evolves and becomes accepted into society’s everyday culture.”

Paul cites television and the Internet as two fads that have become societal norms.

Fads such as hula-hoops or pet rocks may seem to have little to do with social action. However, some fads can be social commentary brought to tangibility.

Paul points to the “grunge” movement. “During the early 90s grunge culture emerged to protest the material culture of the 80s. Youths who wore such fashion statements were symbolically rejecting the norms of success as defined by suits and ties and BMWs,” said Paul.

“Ironically,” said Paul, “the ripped jeans and wrinkled teeshirts worn by grungers became institutionalized by fashion brokers who sold the same items as high fashion and for high prices. This killed the grunge movement because the symbols that were being used to protest materialism became the very items used to sell material goods.”

Not all fads are politically charged, some are born out of factors altogether apolitical.

Paul states that, “Fads are also sometimes simply the result of ingenuity, technological innovations such as MP3 players and pet dog robots or boredom, like stuffing people into phonebooths and swallowing gold fish.”

Whether fads are careless short-term pastimes, or serious social commentary, “In the end,” said Paul, “fads often identify a rejection of conventional norms and that is why they become so popular for a short amount of time. They are new, different, exciting and challenging.”