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5 of the Strangest (and Shortest Lived) Fads

Written by Kevin Jennings

Trends are cyclical. Things rise in popularity, go out of fashion, then come back again. It’s been happening for centuries, and all it takes is a cursory glance to notice countless of trends that have repeated at various times throughout society’s history. Some things, such as jeans, break this trade by remaining popular for decades or even centuries. Others, like the subjects of today’s episode, break this trend by quickly falling out of favour, and hopefully never coming back.

Pogs

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              Pogs remained popular much longer than today’s other entries, making it almost three full years in the public eye. The origin of pogs actually goes back all the way to the 1920s or 1930s in Hawaii. Cardboard milk caps were collected by children and used to play a game aptly called “milk caps”. A stack of face down caps would be placed on the ground, and players would take turns throwing a heavier object called a slammer onto the pile. Any that landed face up would be kept by the throwing player, then they remade the pile. This continued until all the caps were claimed. Whoever claimed the most caps won. It was a simple game that could be played effectively for free with what would otherwise have been trash, and it entertained children on the island of Maui for decades.

              New packaging made cardboard milk caps obsolete, but companies would occasionally give them out as promotional items due to their popularity with children. In 1971, Haleakala Dairy used such caps to promote their new fruit drink called POG, which stood for pomegranate, orange, and guava. Their operation expanded to the island of Oahu, a much more densely populated island than Maui, and it led to both a resurgence in the game as well as pog becoming the generic name of the game. This resurgence was short lived, and the game died off.

              It could have stayed dead were it not for a single elementary school teacher named Blossom Galbiso. She introduced the game to a new generation in 1991 and incorporated it into her math lessons. The game quickly began spreading, and for the first time it left the islands of Hawaii and reached mainland America. Once a larger audience was aware of the game, it was time for corporations to monetize the concept of children having fun, in a big way.

              The popularity of pogs exploded almost instantly. The World POG Federation, a company made specifically for this game, along with the Canada Games Company introduced the game under the pog brand name. The game exploded instantly with kids buying pogs by the armful. Trading card company SkyBox and Marvel Comics each released their own versions of the game, which were identical but with a different name. Pogs were given out as promotions for opening bank accounts. Pogs were in Happy Meals at McDonalds. Pogs were everywhere.

              And then, pogs were nowhere. Many schools started banning the cardboard discs, which led to a sharp decline in popularity. It turned out that the game itself wasn’t nearly as fun as the concept of screwing around and not paying attention in class. The pog craze may have lasted longer than most fads, but that only meant the effects were more devastating. Entire businesses were opened exclusively to sell pogs. Some existing stores sports card and comic book stores were reeling from a massive bubble bursting in the collectibles speculation market just before the popularity of pogs, so they dumped their existing inventory and switched entirely to selling the hot new thing. It was a shortsighted business decision that puts those stores under for good.

Seemingly overnight, these stores were sitting on a massive inventory of worthless cardboard and there were no customers, only people trying to sell their collections. Maybe next time corporations will just let kids have their own fun without ruining it for everyone.

Planking

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              Is there anything more American than doing absolutely nothing? Well there must be, because this fad comes to us from jolly old England. Two boys from the city of Taunton decided to amuse themselves and confuse bystanders by laying face down with their arms at their sides. Fifteen year old Gary Clarkson and twelve year old Christian Langdon began the trend in 1997, though they called it the “lying down game”. For the next decade, the game was only popular among these two boys and their circle of friends.

              It certainly makes sense that a 12 and 15 year old would be amused by such a game, but how it managed to hold their interest for over ten years is anyone’s guess. Whatever the reason, in 2007 they were still playing the lying down game, so their friend Daniel Hoppin created a Facebook group for the game. Their goal was to see who could capture the most outrageous picture possible. Once on Facebook the game started to spread, and it was when the game reached Australia that a group there named it “planking”.

              The fad finally took off across Australia and then the world on March 27, 2011 after a professional rugby player, David “Wolfman” Williams planked after a try during the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs Newcastle Knights game. For anyone wondering, Manly and Warringah are two areas of Sydney’s Northern Beaches where the rugby club is based; the team name is not an editorial comment on the manliness of the players, nor of sea eagles.

              With the rugby clip and the subsequent planking across Australia going viral, it didn’t take long for the sensation to go fully worldwide. Pictures of people planking on park benches, on top of merchandise in stores, or on city streets flooded the internet. Most of it was harmless fun, but as participants tried to plank in crazier and crazier places, things started to get dangerous. Many people sustained injuries while trying to plank in unsafe conditions. On May 15, 2011, 20 year old Acton Beale of Brisbane, Australia fell to his death after planking on a 7th floor balcony. He was one of four Darwin Award recipients that year. Despite Acton’s untimely death, the wheels of progress must forever turn. And so on May 29, Global Planking Day commenced as planned. Fortunately, no one else died as a result.

              In the span of a few short months, planking had gone from a game between a few friends to a worldwide sensation. But by 2012, the magic was gone and the fad quickly began to die. Plankers weren’t doing anything. They were literally doing nothing, that was the whole point. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity, individuality, or innovation. The fad may have run its course for most people in the span of about nine months, but legends Gary Clarkson and Christian Langdon had been planking for over half their lives by the time the rest of the world got bored with it.

Pet Rocks

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              They say that dogs are man’s best friend, but does your best friend really need to wake you up at 3 am every night because it’s incapable of going to the bathroom without your help? Many people would simply suggest a low maintenance pet like a cat that will instinctively use a litter box with no training and completely ignore its owner, save for the occasional presentation of a dead mouse or bird. Just remember that the dead animal isn’t a gift, it’s a demonstration of what a terrible hunter you are, because cats are dicks.

              While most people felt the only options for pets were get a cat, get a dog, or be the town weirdo with a house full of birds and ferrets, advertising executive Gary Dahl saw another solution. One night his friends were complaining to him about their pets, and he came up with the idea for a perfect pet: a rock. It’s the sort of ridiculous idea someone would come up with while drunk, and he and his friends joked about it, or so they thought. It turned out Gary wasn’t joking, and even once he was sober he thought it was a good idea. If the goal was to become a millionaire virtually overnight, he was right.

              Gary sourced one million smooth stones from the city of Rosarito in Baja California, Mexico. They cost one cent each. The rocks were packaged with a 32 page instruction manual on how to care for your pet rock that Gary just tacked onto a printing job for a client to get them made for free. The instruction manual was allegedly funny, but it was also full of puns so that seems doubtful. The biggest expense was the custom made boxes themselves, but “biggest expense” in this scenario could mean as little as two cents each. He sold the pet rocks for $4, and he sold over a million of them.

              They went on sale in 1975, and saw a massive increase in sales leading up to Christmas. By February of 1976, Gary had the good sense to shut down the operation due to low sales rather than to hemorrhage money trying to ride out a dying trend. In total, the entire ordeal only lasted about six months, but that was more than enough to make Gary a millionaire. He continued his work in advertising and used the money he made to open up a bar in Los Gatos, California.

              For years Gary avoided interviews because he had been harassed with lawsuits and threats, but in a 1988 interview he said, “Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life would have been simpler if I hadn’t done it.” Obviously the answer is yes because mo’ money mo’ problems, but it seems he’s focusing too much on the problems and not enough on the money. It may be true that money can’t buy happiness, but it can be you your very own bar where you can get drunk again with your friends and come up with your next million dollar idea.

Scary Clown Sightings

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            Nobody likes clowns. Adults don’t think they’re funny and children think they’re terrifying. And a lot of adults think they’re terrifying too. Beginning in 2013, there were rare, random reports of evil looking clowns showing up in strange places like cemeteries or by abandoned schools. Most of these were prank videos for YouTube that got little to no attention, and were isolated incidents. On August 1, 2016, everything changed.

              On August 1, five photos of a creepy clown wandering around a vacant parking lot at night in Green Bay, Wisconsin went viral. A Facebook page was created for the clown, claiming that his name was Gags. The off putting images hit mainstream media outlets, and this is likely what caused creepy clowns to go from a bizarre, random occurrence to an entire viral trend. It was revealed that the Green Bay photos were a marketing tool for an upcoming short film called “Gags” from a Wisconsin filmmaker, but there is no indication that anyone else participating in this trend had anything to promote other than pure, unbridled terror of the masses.

              Reports of evil clowns skyrocketed across the United States. By October, the fad had made its way to Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Governments issued warnings against participating in these clown scares. Costume stores pulled clown costumes from their shelves. Randy Christensen, president of the World Clown Association (yes that’s a real thing), spoke out against these incidents. Even Violent J of the Insane Clown Posse wrote an article for Time Magazine about the “killer clown” craze. It was a bad time to be a clown.

So where was this all headed? By October 25, news outlets began warning against a “clown purge”, a wave of violence and crime akin to the movie “The Purge” that was going to take place on October 30, also known as Devil’s Night. Whether any threats of clown related violence were actually made or if it was just media sensationalizing things for ratings remains unclear, but there was obviously no clown purge. The night was not without clown related violence, however. One family, of course from Florida, was attacked by a group of approximately 20 Florida Mans dressed up in a combination of clown masks and masks styled after “The Purge.” Despite one of the victims pulling off an attacker’s mask and recognizing him as a teen from the neighborhood, no arrests were made.

And that was the end of that. A bizarre, three month fad that was supposed to herald a night of death and despair at the hands of wicked clowns was over.

The Mannequin Challenge

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If you’ve noticed, the lifespan of these fads has gotten increasingly shorter. Three years. Nine months. Six months. Three months. This final fad lasted one single month, November of 2016, before massively dying off in popularity. In that one month span, tons of celebrities, politicians, and even dozens of entire sports franchises worldwide joined in on the trend. With the killer clown fad having ended only days earlier, people were ready to move onto something a bit more wholesome.

Like most viral internet trends, it was the participatory nature of the trend that allowed it to catch on so easily with people. Unlike other trends such as planking or the ice bucket challenge, the mannequin challenge allowed for a large amount of creativity and depth of artistry rather than each video being a carbon copy of one another. It turns out that society as a whole has approximately one month’s worth of creativity amongst them.

At its core, the challenge was very simple. Participants would set up a scene and then freeze themselves in an action pose, like a mannequin. One person would then walk around the scene filming everyone in their frozen poses. These videos would normally have “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd playing in the background, because what’s a hot new internet trend without a catchy soundtrack? The videos were then shared on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #MannequinChallenge.

Unlike planking, which was rarely more than a single person, the mannequin challenge could include massive groups of people. The fad is believed to have started at a high school in Jacksonville, Florida, but no one is absolutely certain whether this was the true origin. Either way, it immediately caught on. It was particularly popular with professional athletes, and entire sports teams and their staff would pose in the locker rooms or in practice for the mannequin challenge.

Celebrities would even record these videos live at events or tapings. Garth Brooks made a mannequin challenge video while on stage at a concert on November 12. There are a lot of impressive examples both of people’s creativity and discipline in staying completely still in uncomfortable or hard to hold positions, but the single most elaborate video came from The Late Late Show with James Corden on November 7. The nearly 3 minute video includes the entire crew and staff of the show, the backstage area, and even the entire audience. The fad may have been incredibly short lived, but you can’t argue with the impressive results.

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