Boomer Blog – Fads and phases and crazy crazes

There is just something in us that covets whatever is “in,” “all the rage,” or “the latest.” As a Boomer and a teacher, I have observed – and occasionally participated in – all manner of crazes and fads.

Like most kids, I wanted what everyone else had; in 1955 that was a coonskin cap. Davey Crockett was the “King of the Wild Frontier” who wore the popular furry hat with an animal tail hanging down the back. Our family seldom followed fads, but someone did bring us a paper coonskin cap from the State Fair.

Stunningly, my mother gave in to one popular craze. When our preschool sister – encircled by a hula hoop – met the bus, we were amazed that there was one for each of us. My uncoordinated self never mastered spinning that hoop around any part of my body, save for my wrist; but one sister possessed spectacular talent at circling the thing around her waist, effortlessly it seemed, for hours.

My siblings probably still have remnants of toys that trended during the childhoods of their kids. Tucked away in garages and attics along with a Barbie or two, may be a Cabbage Patch Kid – hopefully still in possession of its adoption papers. And there might be a Smurf lunchbox or even a Care Bears notebook next to a whole pile of Beanie Babies.

Swooning has often been part of crazy fads, especially when it comes to male musicians who cause their female fans to cry and faint. Before I was born, Frank Sinatra had that effect on bobbysoxers, but Ol’ Blue Eyes merely preceded the Beatlemania that dominated my teenage years.

My father was less than impressed when the mop-topped lads from Liverpool appeared on Sunday night’s “Ed Sullivan Show.” I was disappointed that screaming girls drowned out the Fab Four as they sang “She Loves You,” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” And there were four of them to dream about and faint over. Sitting in our cheer block during one Saturday night basketball game, we ignored the Graham boys out on the court to drool over photos of George, John, Paul, and Ringo in a fan magazine being passed around.

Eventually bobbysoxers and Beatles fans morphed into teenyboppers who shrieked with abandon at the mere thought of The New Kids on the Block. According to a friend who treated her daughter to a NKOTB concert on her thirteenth birthday, Joey was the heartthrob of this mid-80’s boy band.

It was in my classroom, however, that I saw close up whatever took teenage America, or at least Champaign County, by storm. Bouffant hairdos from my salad days at GHS – all teased and sprayed into position – were replaced with long, straight styles. Then came Farrah Fawcett’s feathered look and the Rachel, Jennifer Aniston’s hairstyle style in “Friends.” We survived big hair in the 80’s, only to move on to incessant dyeing – often in neon colors.

Guys went through their own hair phases. Although most opted for tradition – plus or minus length and sideburns, a few also indulged in bright colors along with mullets and Mohawks. One boy spent more time every day sculpting his hair into ten-inch spikes than he did on homework. That was one “sharp” hairdo.

Clashes over clothing styles eventually resulted in annually-updated dress codes printed in school handbooks. Skirt lengths moved up and down during my teaching tenure until girls were finally allowed to wear pants to school. Later we had to ride out the midriff-baring phase when they paired low-rise jeans with crop tops, and we suffered through underwear-revealing saggy pants on guys. Personally, I preferred the preppy look over grunge.

I tried not to be stuffy when kids expressed themselves through their clothing, but the body piercing and tattoo crazes did cause me to bite my tongue on a regular basis. I myself passed through a mild renegade phase when I had my ears pierced during college, but I cringe when I consider other body parts punctured in the name of fashion. I will probably never understand enduring pain to plaster permanent symbols and slogans all over one’s body, but tattooing continues unabated.

I have never been able to keep up with the latest in technology fads; people seem to line up for the newest, must-have device every few months. By the time I recognize a new phone or tablet is even on the market, the more compact, faster, next-generation one goes on sale. And some younger relatives, thinking old people should not be allowed on Facebook, have escaped to Instagram and Snapchat.

Having barely scratched the craze-and-fad surface, I am nevertheless experiencing mental whiplash. The collective “we” have twisted, moonwalked, and done the macarena; kept in contact by CB and Face Time; patriotically painted fireplugs for the Bicentennial; crushed candy and taken selfies with tiny phones; made bestsellers out of Love Story and Harry Potter, as well as that book about the many tones of a metallic color; liked Ike and wanted to be like Mike; chowed down on Big Macs and Twinkies; stayed fit with Zumba and wondered if aliens live among us.

It all updates the time-tested principle of the constancy of change: no one knows which crazy fad we will follow next. We know only there will be one – or many – in which we will very likely indulge.

By Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.