Reviews

Bad Fads by Mark A. Long

Tara Taghizadeh

College students are often credited with the more bizarre fads which seem to have all been popularized briefly, then forgotten as soon as another trend hit the scene.


Bad Fads

Publisher: ECW Press
Length: 119
Price: $23.95 (US)
Author: Mark A. Long
US publication date: 2002-05
Amazon
"Fashion constantly begins and ends in two things it abhors most : singularity and vulgarity."
— Hazlitt

Fad: a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Break out the bell-bottoms -- wait, you already did that. The '50s came back, as did the '60s along with the decade we swore we had written off forever, the flashy '70s. Dismiss the revivals as yet another nostalgic stroll down memory lane, or (and this is closer to the truth), our desire to rejuvenate long-forgotten fads which serve as fond memories of days gone past.

In Bad Fads, author Mark A. Long chronicles our penchant for fads, new and revived, and charts his discoveries in the manner of a timeline of the 20th century (as defined by all that is and was "kitsch," of course).

Curious what made people tick in the early 1900s? The dark, dank mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. Baffled by the curious disappearance of airplanes and ships in the great void, the Bermuda Triangle became the talk of the nation, as skeptics and super-power devotees attempted to decipher its mysterious forces.

The 1920s heralded the age of the party-going, let-the-good-times-roll flappers who shocked the world with their rising hemlines, the Charleston, cigarettes, and enjoying the attention of attentive young suitors. Miniature Golf kicked off around this time, initiating a golfing craze. As Long explains: ". . . By the fall of 1930, more than 25 million people had become miniature golfers." Long then navigates the '30s and '40s which ushered in the eras of marathon dancing, good old drive-in movie theaters, Mickey Mouse and UFO scares.

There is apparently a Bad Fads museum which highlights remnants of kitschy obsessions through the ages, and credits the original entrepreneurs behind the brainchild discoveries. Not surprisingly, a number of the concoctions were inspired by toy manufacturers who swiftly marketed their creations and waited for the gadgets to take off. Wham-O made a killing with the Hula Hoop, to date, one of the best-selling products on the market, and the bouncy Superball. Others seem to have stumbled accidentally onto their inventions, such as naval engineer Richard T. James who one day "watched a spring fall off a shelf and then gyrate and slither across the floor." James then went on to manufacture and market the beloved Slinky.

A few fads have ingrained themselves so firmly within the cultural mainstream that they are practically icons. The Barbie doll, invented by Ruth and Eliot Handler and named in honor of their daughter Barbara, has remained as one of the top-ranking toys around the world. According to Long," . . . . Over the last 40 years, more than 100 million Barbie dolls have been sold. . . ." Other fads in this ever-lasting category are the Hula Hoop, Sea Monkeys and slogan buttons.

College students are often credited with the more bizarre fads which seem to have all been popularized briefly, then forgotten as soon as another trend hit the scene. Amongst some of the more bizarre pastimes was (brace yourselves) goldfish swallowing –- Long cites one student who "allegedly ingested 300 fish in one sitting," phone booth stuffing which was later replaced with Volkswagon stuffing, and glass eating, inspired by former USC student and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Tim Rossovich who chewed on light bulbs in an effort to "show the public how tough he was. . . ." Other college-inspired trends, however, such as the Toga party have lingered.

Aside from the obvious fads, Long lists a few which have caused a craze and no one can quite understand why. Take, for example, the Pet Rock (which was, essentially, a packaged rock), or Beanie Babies which were "nothing more than small, inexpensive stuffed animals with a tag stating their name and birth date." However, as is often the case, word of mouth is responsible for a particular popularity of toy, gadget, and so on and so forth. If one kid on the block owns a Beanie Baby, then all the other kids on the block are sure to follow suit.

The most interesting decade -– fad-wise –- was the '70s (which, admit it, we made so much fun of). Yup, the era of disco and Saturday Night Fever, the Leisure suit, Mood rings, EST therapy, streaking and The Rocky Horror Picture Show have produced some of the most memorable and lasting trends, which goes to show that the unfashionable fashion of today could be tomorrow’s cash cow (the 70s, as we all know, reappeared with a vengeance in the '90s).

Bad Fads is a quick, easy, and delightful read, accompanied with illustrations which depict the various fads of the times. Unfortunately, Long has steered clear of a number of fads which were all Hollywood-inspired: the Rat Pack chic, and James Bond or sci-fi-inspired fashions and gadgets, in addition to popular lingos and expressions, such as "Valley girl" and Surfer speak. However, the book cleverly outlines some of our most notable obsessions throughout the last century. As a word to the wise, rummage through your attic and if you come across any Pez dispensers, platform shoes, or granny glasses, hang on to them: Remember, fashion always makes a comeback.

And how cool is that?

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Film

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image