Today, I'd like to talk about our American way of overdoing fads. I suppose some would call it "capitalizing on a good idea." But, I'd like to think of it more as "looking at someone else's (sometimes) good idea, changing it a little, and then using it to try to make money for yourself."
My first example of this phenomenon is the livestrong bracelet. In the beginning of this hooplah, these were a good idea and a neat way to raise money for a good cause. However, two things should be noted. They quickly became the new accessory that all the cool kids wore, as a way to say to their friends "I may be clubbing until 4 a.m., but I'm totally against cancer!"
And then.....people quickly began making spin-offs. There are now bracelets for cancer (in general), breast cancer, lung cancer, AIDS, Sudan, war, the environment, domestic violence, LGBT rights, and, my favorite-- the bracelets you can buy at 7-11 stores that aren't for any cause- they really are just mere accessories.
Imagine all those socially conscious undergrads who passionately care about all of these causes and, therefore, sport armfuls of multi-colored bangles.
But, before these bracelets there were beanie babies. I think I was in high school around the time of this fad, so I frequented McDonalds a lot. (These were pre-Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me days, you know). But even then, I was bothered and scared by the multitude of grown-ups who were going crazy over little toys that were in Happy Meals.
Remember when people were sitting in drive-thrus (I mean, why even get out of the car to get your McDonalds) for hours and then buying like 6 happy meals at a time, throwing the food away, and then proudly displaying their beanie baby frogs on the dashboard of their car. Around this time, homeless people started showing up at to get all the food that people were throwing out, so McDonalds allowed grown-ups to just be able to buy beanie babies without having to buy a whole Happy Meal. Which, of course, momentarily transformed McDonalds from a restaurant into a stuffed animal retailer.
At some point, my family decided that since I like monkeys that I'd like to receive beanie baby monkeys as gifts. It was as though they expected me to have a monkey shrine in a secret corner of my bedroom. Over the years, my monkey beanie baby collection was probably worth hundreds of dollars. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I donated them all to a clothes/toys/food drive. FYI americans: Having stuffed animals when you're over the age of, say, 10 is not sexy. And since when does a monkey stuffed animal make up for a real pet monkey??
Hospital/crime/law dramas. Ever wonder why law schools are overcrowded and there are too many lawyers in America? I blame Law and Order and its various spinoffs (because, really, med school is too much work for most people) showing how exciting being a lawyer is, how hot the DA is, how hot all the investigators are, how you and your team have all that cool and newfangled technology at your disposal, and how easy it is to learn those few key psychological triggers that will get a criminal to confess on the stand or while in an interrogation room in front of a two-way mirror.
What's next- CSI: Intellectual Property Theft and Copyright Infringement in Silicon Valley? Saaaay.... not a bad idea.....
And, I just don't get ER and Grey's Anatomy. They are soap-operas in a hospital setting with suspenseful emergencies thrown in to spice things up and appeal to those craving action. I just find it hard to believe that working in an ER is that exciting. I mean, those guys at Cook County have survived bombs, helicopter crashes, and smallpox outbreaks. I bet they didn't know public health could be so exciting when they were in med school!
But then again, I am a hypochondriac and don't like learning about all the new obscure diseases I could have/get or the accidents that could happen to me or my friends. I, for instance, don't want a tree branch to go through my chest and pin me to the seat of my car. Wah wah wah.
(And I definitely don't want this to happen: http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/spiders-make-home-in-boys-ear/2007/05/07/1178390178146.html)
I do, however, like Scrubs. It doesn't take itself too seriously or pretend to be a real hospital show. And Zack Braff is really funny.
Reality TV. What started with Survivor has now turned into Flava of Love and a spinoff of a Flava of Love. Enough said.
I think that, eventually, we won't have real TV shows with real actors anymore. Instead, we'll all be followed by cameras and be able to submit our lives for other people's entertainment. And then someone will decide that it would be cool to videotape the lives of the camermen.....and so on....and so on.
I guess I'm trying to articulate why these trends bother me so much. They show that, as a people, we have a lot of power. And many of us are compassionate, generous, and really want to make a difference- once we are informed. When we are united, we can make people notice us. Further, the momentum of new trends and ideas can be unstoppable.
But, we've often been "harnessing our power" by buying beanie babies and voting for the next American Idol to use this power for something that actually matters. Like stopping a war or making real changes in our government.
We think that by buying a bracelet our social responsibility ends and that we have done our part.